Truck News: When greening your fleet, focus on existing vehicles first: FedEx exec

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- Greening your fleet starts with optimizing the vehicles that are in the fleet today, Russell Musgrove, managing director, global vehicles with FedEx Express explained during his keynote address at the recent Green Truck Summit.


While it’s easy to become enamored with all the new technologies and alternative fuels now available, Musgrove said significant gains can be had simply by understanding the power requirements of your application and spec’ing vehicles accordingly.


“It’s very important to understand what you can do with today’s technology,” Musgrove said. “Maximize the fuel efficiency of the vehicles you have today.”


FedEx, which operates 50,000 trucks worldwide, set an ambitious goal of improving the fuel efficiency of its fleet by 20% by 2020. By January of this year, it already had improved fuel mileage by 15.5%, and Musgrove said “the majority of that was from rightsizing the vehicle and ensuring we have the right truck on the right route.”


FedEx has analyzed the power requirements for every one of its routes and applies the technology that best suits the need, whether it be internal combustion engine, fuel cell, electric or hybrid.


“It’s amazing how many people in the fleet industry today don’t understand what their power need is,” Musgrove said. “We know exactly what that truck is going to do in that route profile around the world. We have a complete understanding of what that vehicle does.”


In many cases, Musgrove admitted, a diesel-powered internal combustion engine is still the optimum setup.


“You still can’t beat the energy density of diesel,” he said. “That keeps it in the game for a long time.”


FedEx is pushing to achieve 22 mpg as a minimum for its internal combustion engine-powered delivery vehicles. Musgrove said a new walk-in van built by Isuzu and Utilimaster using lightweight composite materials “has a tremendous amount of promise.” 


While diesel has not been eliminated from the FedEx vehicle fleet, the global courier company is implementing various alternative fuel-powered vehicles, most notably electric. Musgrove pointed out discussions about alternatives to fossil fuels can be traced all the way back to 1890, when the internal combustion engine competed with steam and electric power for dominance.


“The energy density of petrol made it the winner,” Musgrove said. “It won that battle back in the 1800s and quite frankly has held dominance globally ever since those early days.”


Today, however, electric vehicles are making a comeback. FedEx typically runs electric vehicles on dense, urban routes with less than 15,000 miles per year. Musgrove admitted they don’t like extreme temperatures and they come with a high capital cost outlay. Infrastructure requirements such as copper cabling could amount to $10,000-$20,000 per truck before a charging station is installed, he noted.


“It’s very important you understand the real hard capital costs associated with this technology,” he said.

FedEx deployed 10 electric vehicles at a 120-van station in Manhattan and found overnight charging drove its off-peak power consumption to levels equal to peak.


“Charging 10 electric vehicles during off-peak times will increase off-peak to peak levels or higher, which can result in additional infrastructure costs and additional demand rate charges,” Musgrove noted. He pointed out the power requirements of a single, 80-kW battery pack on an electric vehicle is equivalent to the energy requirement of an entire household. If rolling out a fleet of 120 electric vehicles, he surmised, “all of a sudden I have a subdivision within the footprint of this warehouse and I need a substation of half a megawatt to a megawatt.”


Musgrove also pointed out while electric vehicles may have no tailpipe emissions, they are sometimes dirtier than diesel if you take into account all the emissions generated while creating electricity in the first place.


“Clean diesel is cleaner than electric vehicles in some places today,” he admitted.


To make electric vehicles more compelling, Musgrove would like to see manufacturers scale the battery packs based on the application. Currently, he said, an 80-kW battery pack is standard, which drives up costs on routes where less power is needed.

“I manage my fleet at a route level,” he said. “We know what our needs are, so let us choose a battery combination that’s right for us. If I need to go six miles a day, let me buy a battery that gets me six miles a day. If I have to buy an $80,000 battery, I’ll never get my money back out of that truck.”


And then there is the issue of “range anxiety,” which Musgrove said is a serious concern with drivers.


“We intentionally test vehicles on routes that do not exceed 60% of their claimed range,” he said, noting drivers get antsy when the truck reaches 70% of its available range.


“The courier becomes extremely uncomfortable and starts developing range anxiety,” he said. “It’s been a significant issue for our drivers.”

Musgrove said FedEx has about 7,000 vehicles that could be replaced with electric vehicles, but he said cost remains a factor.


“We need to find a way to mass produce electric vehicles,” he said. “The manufacturers say they need volume. You can’t get volume until you get product out there. Until mass production comes about, it’s going to be very difficult for this technology to compete.”


Meanwhile, Musgrove said FedEx is finding success with hybrids. “It carries its infrastructure with it,” he said, noting the company still wants to see improved reliability and smaller engine sizes from hybrid truck providers.


Finally, Musgrove cited several examples that highlighted the challenges facing global fleets trying to compete in a world with regional differences in energy philosophies. In Florence, Italy, the mayor decided only electric vehicles could operate in the city centre and provided just 10 days’ notice. “Now, I have to find a way to get 28 electric vehicles into Florence in less than a month,” Musgrove complained. “There was a whole lot of renting and leasing going on.”


Meanwhile, Milan decided only trucks operating on compressed natural gas would be allowed into the city centre. Shanghai is considering only allowing deliveries to take place at night. And Amsterdam proposed banning all but electric vehicles from its downtown core, suggesting FedEx – and all its competitors – drop packages off at a single warehouse outside the city centre, and from there the city would transport them by electric train into the downtown core and deliver the packages themselves.


“They forgot we have this thing called a brand,” Musgrove said. “It was a horrible solution to us. The fear in the US is that they’ll come up with the same brilliant ideas. We need to make sure we’re working with government agencies who will give us the end game and let us choose the technology.”