FedEx’s Delivery EV

Despite all the buzz about electric cars, the reality is that it will take several years, maybe even a decade, before electric and hybrid cars will reach anything close to a mass market. Consumer adoption takes time, and therefore the environmental benefits of electric-drive vehicles will also have to wait. On the other hand, corporate and government fleets can move a lot faster to go electric and hybrid. That’s exactly what’s happening at UPS and FedEx.

UPS announced Tuesday that its fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles expanded from 50 hybrid-electric delivery trucks to 250. The new hybrid power system utilizes a conventional diesel engine combined with a battery pack to save fuel and reducing emissions. The 200 new hybrid delivery trucks are expected to reduce fuel consumption by roughly 176,000 gallons over the course of a year compared to an equivalent number of traditional diesel trucks. The trucks use lithium ion batteries, which offer faster recharging and last longer than the previous generation of hybrid batteries.

Beginning in late May, FedEx will add four electric delivery trucks to its Los Angeles fleet of 600 vehicles—in a pilot project exploring wider use of electric trucks in the US fleet. The five-ton truck, from Illinois-based Navistar, is capable of traveling 100 miles per charge but will be driven less than 50 miles per day by FedEx couriers. The electric delivery trucks make up a very small fraction of the FedEx’s fleet of 40,000 trucks—but the idea is to stimulate demand for electric vehicles and thereby reduce cost. FedEx first started pursuing fuel-efficient technologies in 2004, when the company has added 325 hybrid vehicles to its global fleet. That has saved an estimated 34 million gallons of vehicle fuel, or 750 million pounds of CO2 emissions, according to FedEx.

The US Postal Service is also getting into the game. Last June, it spent $210 million to buy about 6,500 vehicles that either are ethanol-capable, have gas-electric hybrid powertrains or use smaller gas engines.

A few months ago, Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) introduced a bill to convert about 15 percent of the US Postal Service’s highly inefficient fleet of 142,000 local-delivery vehicles to electric drive over a three-year period. Those vans today average just 9 miles per gallon. The $2 billion price tag to complete this level of conversion will make the bill tough to pass. But you have to dream big, and start somewhere.