The race to electrify last-mile delivery is on as e-commerce usage grows and, along with it, the potential for accompanying emissions to rise significantly.
Last year, IKEA and peer-to-peer truck sharing platform Fluid Truck, based in Denver, teamed up to electrify IKEA's entire New York City last-mile delivery fleet.
"IKEA has zero-emission delivery ambitions in the United States, and that's part of a larger global goal to provide all our customers with zero-emission deliveries by 2025," Steven Moelk, fulfillment project implementation manager for zero emission delivery IKEA, said last week during a VERGE Electrify 22 panel.
The challenge of growing an electric vehicle fleet
A primary challenge for IKEA’s electrification efforts is that it does not own the vehicles in its fleet, instead relying on third-party contractors that may not have access to electric vehicles (EVs) to fill the gap.
"We could go out and try to convince some of these contractors to purchase one of these trucks, but realistically, these contractors are exactly what they say they are. They're contractors that can work for one company one day and another company for another day," Moelk said, adding that contractors' concerns about vehicle charging and costs can be a factor.
This is where the company’s partnership with Fluid Truck has come into play.
Fluid Truck allows IKEA and the transport contractors it works with to rent a selection of trucks, vans and SUVs through a 24/7 app. The app also offers employee scheduling functions, GPS tracking and roadside assistance.
It does take a level of sophistication and a plan to make the migration to all electric. Once you're there, you no longer stop at gas stations, and there's all kinds of time savings and maintenance savings that come along with it.
Included within Fluid Truck’s selection are vehicles such as an electric Class 4 commercial box truck from Lightning eMotors. However, according to Fluid Truck founder and CEO James Eberhard, EVs make up less than 1 percent of the company’s fleet, a number the company wants to change fast.
"We've had commercial EVs [in our fleet] for 19 months now in the U.S., but we want to see that number quickly get to 50 percent," Eberhard said.
He added that a challenge has come in the form of early-generation EVs that are limited in their capabilities and prone to operational problems. Still, Eberhard said Fluid Truck is seeing EVs move past many first-generation challenges. In addition, vehicles are starting to offer increased range and deeper payload capacities, he said.
Transitioning companies and preparing employees
Making EVs appealing for corporations starts with laying out details such as evaluating efficient routes, use cases and what a company needs from a charging infrastructure standpoint, according to Eberhard. Planning for changes in seasonal weather is also crucial to map out, as cold weather can significantly degrade batteries used by EVs, he said.
"It does take a level of sophistication and a plan to make the migration to all electric," Eberhard said. "Once you're there, you no longer stop at gas stations, and there's all kinds of time savings and maintenance savings that come along with it. But ultimately, you've got to [ask], ‘Where do we need to be and how are we going to get there?’"
Details such as the ones highlighted by Eberhard not only contribute to the process of convincing companies to electrify their fleets. It’s also essential to ensure drivers and dispatchers running operations are prepared and trained.
Moelk said that early on in IKEA’s last-mile electrification mission, the company had to consider the learning curve for drivers depending on the vehicles they operate, such as being aware of regenerative braking, which affects range and factors into routes. "Of course, you also have the dispatchers themselves trying to make sure that the routes fit within the range constraints of the vehicle and that kind of thing, so there's a lot to it," he said.
Eberhard followed up on Moelk’s point, adding that educational components and assistance through the Fluid Truck app are crucial if operations are to run smoothly.
Some ways Fluid Truck has tried to make things easier on drivers include showing the charge levels of vehicles on the app and implementing a mechanism that scores drivers on how they are driving, giving them corresponding tips that can maximize efficiency.
Figuring out how to solve driver-oriented logistics or technological problems has been a staple of trying to increase last-mile electrification according to Eberhard. Fortunately, he said, he is noticing original equipment manufacturers making a concentrated effort to drive electrification.
"Ultimately, we're going to be driving zero-emission vehicles," Moelk said. "The question is, how fast can we solve some of these problems on the commercial side to get these [transportation service providers] in the mix?"