Pepsi may be driving the first Tesla Semi, an electrified 18-wheeler, in the southwestern US, but for most of Canada, the prospects of electrified long-haul transport seem far off.
The top range of Tesla’s tractor is 804 kilometres, which for a long-haul driver, under ideal conditions, is only about 60 per cent of the allowable daily drive time. So a load from Winnipeg to Calgary – a single shot for most drivers – would demand an overnight in Regina for recharging. That’s a non-starter for truckers, who are typically paid by the mile. Which means that outside major urban corridors – British Columbia’s lower mainland, Montreal-Windsor, etc. – we can likely expect to see traditional diesel-powered 18-wheelers plying the road for some time.
Watch: Why hydrogen is the key for long-haul trucking
But that doesn’t mean battery electric vehicles (BEVs) aren’t suited to delivering our goods in Canada. It’s the last-mile deliveries – those smaller vans or trucks that take the loads from these big-truck depots and delivery goods to stores, businesses or even private homes – where a BEV makes sense. On top of being emissions free, these trucks would generally be used during the day and then brought to a central depot in the evening, where they could be charged with Level 2 chargers overnight during off-peak electricity hours.
Already, many companies are testing the waters; Winnipeg-based Gardewine, a long-haul transporter, late last year bought a fleet of seven Ford Transit EVs, which it is dedicating to last-mile delivery of cargo 23 kilograms in weight or less. Amazon has a deal with Stellantis to purchase a bunch of Ram ProMaster EV delivery vans, with delivery slated for later this year, and BrightDrop, the EV maker under the General Motors umbrella, has a deal to supply global logistics giant DHL Express with EV delivery vans, also with delivery coming early this year.
Andrew Williams, CEO of DHL Express Canada, said the electrification of the company’s fleet began in 2011 in New York City, and is part of the company’s pledge to reach zero emissions by 2050 and having 60 per cent of its ground fleet be electric by 2030. It’s investing $15 million in electrification in Canada.
“While we do have electric trucks in the US for longer hauls, I’d say that electrifying our vans for last-mile delivery is not only ideal, but an obvious step for us,” he says.
While the BrightDrop Zevo 600 vehicles will eventually be deployed across Canada, the company is starting with the Hamilton-Montreal corridor, Ottawa and Vancouver starting in the first half of this year.
Williams says the Zevo 600 can cover upwards of 400 kilometres on a single charge while carrying more than 16,000 litres of cargo. Operating costs, he said, aren’t a factor in the decision.
“We are still reviewing the cost difference between fossil-fuel and electric, but our switch to electric isn’t based on cost,” he says. Costs such as oil changes and gasoline give way to infrastructure costs such as charging stations, he says.
Williams said that while reducing emissions was a key goal in the switch, he said it’s having coincidental benefits with customers.
“We have noticed that our customers are also growing more environmentally conscious, so we’re happy to provide them with a great service that comes with cleaner operations as a special bonus,” he says. “It’s also a great advantage that our drivers seem to love the vehicles and how they operate.”
Ford Motor Company of Canada is happy to sell its electric E-Transits to companies such as Gardewine, but is quick to point out the EV delivery vehicle isn’t limited to last-mile operations.
Ford Canada spokeswoman Megan Joakim says the Transit EV is marketed to any business with an urban delivery need, such as florists or caterers, and can be outfitted to hold the tools and supplies of plumbers, electricians and carpenters.
GM Canada spokesman Philippe-Andre Bisson is similarly reluctant to pigeonhole the Brightdrop Zevo vehicles into last-mile operations, saying, “We defer to DHL on how they plan to integrate vehicles into their fleet.”
Bisson says the Zevo brings the Ultium battery platform into the commercial segment with high range and a low step-in height to ease loading and unloading. As of Jan. 20, there have been more than 25,000 reservations. It’s designed for any business use where a range of 402 kilometres is sufficient.
“We are laser-focused on helping commercial customers move everything more efficiently, reducing harmful emissions in our cities and congestion on our streets,” he says. While Brightdrop has set prices for its vehicles, it is not disclosing those prices publicly.
The Zevo was first launched in a low-volume facility in Michigan, with the first customer, FedEx, taking delivery of the first vehicles in December 2021. Over seven months, the company retooled the former Chevrolet Equinox assembly line in Ingersoll, ON, for the Zevo. All Zevo production will now come from Ingersoll.
Stellantis is expected to enter the space later this year with its electric BEV Ram ProMaster vans, though company officials wouldn’t provide details. Speculation on various online automotive news sites, based on spy photos of the ProMaster EV testing in Europe, suggests the ProMaster EV will be based on the Fiat Ducato EV delivery vehicle now on sale on the other side of the Atlantic. If similar to the Ducato, expect the Ram ProMaster to have ranges of 235 kilometres or 370 kilometres depending on the size of the battery pack (47 kilowatt-hours or 79 kWh). Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares has said a hydrogen fuel cell variant is also in the works.
And Mercedes-Benz has just announced it will bring its eSprinter commercial van to North America in the second half of this year. The eSprinter has a 113 usable kWh battery with a range of up to 400 km rated by the European WLTP cycle. It will arrive here as a rear-drive, long van and high roof configuration, with 14 cubic metres of cargo area.
With more automakers seeing the value in selling electric delivery vans and trucks, the last-mile and other industries will have more and better options to see the value of going emissions free on the job.