Not your average truck: UPS uses a combination of refurbed EVs and bespoke electric vans ©Liam Arthur/UPS
Not your average truck: UPS uses a combination of refurbed EVs and bespoke electric vans ©Liam Arthur/UPS

UPS case study: turning the fleet electric

posted by Sara Verbruggen
8 June 2018

By making the depot a smart grid – with onsite energy storage batteries – and engineering its vans, the courier firm is taking a proactive approach

The brown trucks used by global delivery service UPS are pretty recognisable, and they are becoming increasingly eco-friendly as well. Electromobility and alternative technology vehicles are a priority for the firm, with more than 9,000 vehicles worldwide operating using alternative propulsion technologies - from LNG, ethanol or biomethane, to hybrid or all electric.

The UPS depot in Camden, north London, is one of the company’s busiest in the UK. A project with electricity utility UK Power Networks, supported with funding from Innovate UK, will improving charging abilities and enable UPS to electrify all of its 170 vans that use the depot. 

A smart grid set-up at the depot, comprising software tech and a battery for spreading the load from recharging, will enable the vans, of which 52 are electric, to top up at the depot. The project avoids costly upgrades to the electricity grid, which would have been in excess of £1 million. 

The next phase of the project will be to put a strategy in place for any UPS depot, at any location, to move towards full fleet electrification at lowest cost. 

“It could be through some conventional grid upgrading, smart grid load spreading and on-site energy storage,” explains Peter Harris, sustainability director at UPS Europe.  

“We’ve done three of these in Camden, but the fourth is to do energy production. We couldn’t install solar PV at the Camden depot but at another site, we could have onsite solar to produce the electricity and store it for the EV charging, which would reduce costs.”

UPS electric vans first hit UK roads 10 years ago. A challenge has been the lack of commercial electric vans that are larger, in the 7.5 tonne range. 

“Automotive makers are pursuing demand for all-electric commercial cars and light vans, where most of the demand is. There is very little available in terms of heavy-duty vehicles,” says Harris. 

That has meant UPS has converted its diesel trucks, once they have been on the road for about seven years, to electric. 

“We take a mid-life van and strip out the diesel-related components and refurbish the rest of the hardware, such as the steering. It is then shipped to Germany for electrification,” says Harris. The process can take several weeks to accomplish and vans are sent in small batches. “It’s not ideal as you are left with a van with a chassis that was designed to accommodate an engine, not fit round a battery drivetrain.”

So UPS has been working with UK firm Arrival, which is producing electric vans from the ground up to UPS’ specifications.

A pilot fleet of 35 vans, with ranges of more than 150 miles, will be trialled in London and Paris before the end of the year. 

“We definitely see that in a few years’ time it will the cost the same, perhaps even less, to put an EV rather than a diesel van on the road,” concludes Harris. 

Plug and play

Since 2009, UPS has invested over $750 million (£500 million) in alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles. It introduced modern EVs in 2001. 

Today UPS has more than 300 EVs deployed in Europe and the US, and nearly 700 hybrid electric vehicles. 

In addition to its agreement with Arrival to engineer electric vans, UPS announced plans to deploy 50 plug-in electric delivery trucks that will be comparable in acquisition cost to conventional-fuelled trucks, collaborating with Workhorse Group Inc. Like its partnership with Arrival, UPS will design the trucks from the ground up.

“We have quite a strong engineering culture within the company and for our diesel trucks we have imported chassis and have designed and engineered our own bodies, for example. But we’ve never gone as far as this,” says Harris.

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