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7 companies to watch in sustainable shipping

Delivery supply chains are inching toward electrification. Here are the leaders where EVs and old-school logistics converge.

In the realm of consumer cars, going all-electric today can be as simple as deciding which brand you prefer, how much range you need and the amount of money you want to shell out. For instance, are you shopping Tesla versus BMW or Chevy versus Ford?

The same can't be said, however, for commercial fleet operators looking to electrify their transportation supply chains. Limited range, lacking alternative fuel infrastructure, long charging times and rapid turnover in vendors offering all-electric commercial vehicles are all barriers to more aggressive action. 

"The problem is the industry is just not there yet," PepsiCo Senior Supply Chain Director Mike O'Connell told me earlier this summer. Still, he added, "I’m very optimistic about what’s coming."

That's not to say the sustainable shipping space has stagnated, though. From new types of on-demand trucking models to incremental electrification among large corporate fleets, here's a rundown of seven companies to watch in the delivery space:

1. UPS

Amazon may be out in front when it comes to electric drone delivery, but logistics giants such as UPS and DHL also already are at work on honing new alternatives to traditional gasoline- or diesel-powered trucks.

In addition to testing out designated neighborhood drop-off locations in a bid to cut emissions from driving door to door on multiple delivery attempts, UPS late last year announced an investment in 200 new hybrid electric trucks. Employing smaller vehicles with much lower emissions footprints is another ongoing effort.

2. Workhorse

When big brands such as UPS and FedEx need un-traditional delivery vehicles, truck and drone manufacturer Workhorse is one player they look to for supply.

The company, an outgrowth of a company called AMP Electric Vehicles founded in 2007, sells a range of vehicles with different delivery capabilities, from all-electric pick-up trucks to electric helicopters to bigger electric trucks with up to 120 miles of range.

3. Chanje

Los Angeles-based electric delivery vehicle startup Chanje (yes,  it's still pronounced "change") publically launched this spring with ambitions of cornering the market for electric vans with up to 100 miles of range.

Companies such as e-Tuk are experimenting with even smaller electric vehicles, particularly in dense, urban delivery environments. All told, a recent Research and Markets analysis predicts that the last-mile vehicle industry could be worth up to $792 billion by 2028.

4. Uber

Ridesharing company Uber is best known for shipping customers from location to location at the touch of a smartphone. But as the Uber Eats food delivery venture and more recent forays with Uber Freight illustrate, the company's logistics platform isn't short on potential variations.

How exactly ridesharing providers including Uber and primary rival Lyft might move to further integrate electric vehicles into their fleets is one question across the board. What that effort might look like in an on-demand freight hauling service (with or without a human driver) is another.

5. Convoy

Ironic though it may be, the Uber-for-trucking idea didn't actually start with Uber. On-demand short-haul trucking startup Cargomatic was an early leader in the space before making headlines for reportedly burning through an initial $15 million in funding. 

Now, however, a new crop of intermediary platforms aim to match companies in need of shipping with available truck space. Just look at Convoy, which raised $62 million in a Series B funding round this spring to expand offerings for customers such as Unilever and Anheuser-Busch.

6. Transfix

Also active in the category of tech-enabled trucking is Transfix, a four-year-old New York company that has raised north of $78 million for its software platform designed to connect small-scale truckers to customers in need of freight services.

Like Convoy and other customers, the pitch is that companies can save money and cut emissions by opting for on-demand services instead of maintaining their own fleets. Down the road, one prospect to watch is how Transfix and others in the space might look to integrate hybrid or electric offerings.

7. Walmart

Given the amount of merchandise the world's biggest brick-and-mortar retailer has to move, it makes sense that the company would be testing the waters with delivery alternatives. Light-weighting, aerodynamics and driver training have been priorities of late as the company looked to double fleet efficiency, Director of Logistics Sustainability Elizabeth Fretheim recently told me.

Now, however, Walmart is taking a closer look at alternative fuels and electric options as part of the company's broader efforts to wring 1 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas from its supply chain by 2030.

"To fill the gap, we're going to have to find alternatives," Fretheim said.

[Learn more about next-generation transportation at VERGE 17, Sept. 19-21, in Santa Clara, California.]

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