FedEx and the Electric Vehicle Experiment

Posted on April 5, 2012


While most of the fleet that pulls out of FedEx package distribution center in lower Manhattan consists of your average delivery truck, a few of them look more like something out of an episode of the Jetsons.


They’re actually FedEx’s electric powered delivery vans, and they’re part of a study by FedEx, Columbia University, and GE to determine the most cost-effective way to charge them. Since 2008, FedEx has been slowly trickling the green vehicles into its arsenal, as has UPS and Frito-Lay (which has 176 electric trucks running potato chips and other goods through stores). Although all of these companies are part of the Obama administration’s National Clean Up Partnership, FedEx’s experiment is special.


Distribution centers in Chicago,New York, and Los Angeles are all partaking in the experiment. The vans work great, making tighter turns than their gas powered rivals, and getting up to 100 miles per charge, but the cost of charging them is another story. FedEx’s manager of global vehicles, Keshav Sondhi explains that each of these vans “requires the same amount of energy as an average suburban house.” So if FedEx were to use an entirely electric fleet, 100 – 200 vehicles per delivery center, they’re recharge would demand the energy equivalent to an entire small neighborhood.


“If you charged them at the same time, you’d overload the system, and there would be a black out,” Leon Wu, a researcher for Columbia University, pointed out. “Or the transformer will explode. It would happen.”


That being said, FedEx needs to know a lot of statistics- how much electricity is going into the charging station, how many times each truck is being recharged, how many trips they take, and how far they go. The experiment is set to end in 2013, when the company will assess its options for expanding its use of electric vans.


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