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FedEx is geared up for electric delivery trucks

The first vehicle, tested on downtown Los Angeles streets, will begin its rounds next month. Three more electric trucks will follow.

April 12, 2010|By Ronald D. White

Express mail giant FedEx Corp. is preparing to roll out the first of four new all-electric delivery trucks in Los Angeles next month, but Chief Executive Frederick W. Smith said there were still significant barriers to bringing large numbers of zero-emission and low-emission commercial vehicles into service quickly in the U.S.

"We would like to significantly expand the number of vehicles we have in this category," Smith said. "But the capital costs are 50% higher than regular vehicles. Production hasn't ramped up enough to bring down the expense. The regulatory requirements are arduous, and there aren't enough tax credits or incentives."

On Friday, FedEx's new truck wrapped up a road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles along historic Route 66, with a final stop at the Santa Monica Pier.

The truck, which is slightly smaller and more rounded than the conventional FedEx delivery van, was built in Indiana by Navistar International Corp. and designed by Modec of Coventry, England. FedEx first tested a small number of similar trucks in Europe.

"It's time for the truck manufacturing industry to create its version of the Prius: clean, affordable and widely available for truck fleets," Smith said as a driver put the new electric truck through its paces on downtown L.A. streets last week.

Smith said that his company's interest in greatly reducing reliance on fossil fuels dates to 2000, when it teamed with the Environmental Defense Fund to develop a cleaner delivery truck. Three years later, Eaton Corp. and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. built the FedEx hybrid truck, which was put into service in 2004. FedEx said hybrid trucks improved fuel economy 42%, reduced greenhouse gas emissions 25% and cut particulate pollution 96%.

There were only about 1,200 hybrid trucks on the road in the U.S. in 2009, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. The FedEx fleet includes 319 diesel-electric hybrids among its 27,000 trucks in its Express division; in the Los Angeles region, 70 of the roughly 1,000 delivery trucks are hybrids.

Worldwide, FedEx said that it would have 1,869 alternative-fuel vehicles in its inventory by the end of June, but Smith said it wasn't nearly enough. Using low-emission vehicles, FedEx saved 45 million gallons of fuel, thereby avoiding 452,573 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions between fiscal years 2005 and 2008, the company said.

In the fiscal third quarter that ended Feb. 28, the company said it spent $694 million on gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

John. E. Formisano, FedEx vice president of global vehicles, said the Navistar electric truck could haul 3,300 pounds and has a range of 100 miles on a single charge.

Two more electric trucks are also going to be tested in Los Angeles, but FedEx hasn't selected a manufacturer yet.

FedEx executives acknowledge that a handful of electric trucks will barely make a dent in the company's fuel consumption and noxious emissions. But by commissioning and testing such vehicles, FedEx helps move the technology forward, they said.

"They have been tested in colder climates," Formisano said. "We're going to see how they operate in Los Angeles now."

ron.white@latimes.com

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