More and more manufacturers have begun to develop and improve electric vehicle (EV) technology, but adoption of this newly emerging market is in its infancy. One company, FedEx, has begun a pilot program to test this new technology. The transportation logistics vehicle corporation is in the process of putting the International eStar electric vehicle through its paces in select areas.
The eStar is a Class 2c-3 electric truck - the first in its category – that has a range of 100 miles per charge. It can be plugged in and fully recharged within six to eight hours.
Keshav Sondhi, chief engineer for global vehicles for FedEx, manages the Electrical Vehicles segment for the company. He suggests the process of implementing EVs be done in two steps.
“Identify the best truck, and find the most repeatable and responsible (efficient) way of charging these trucks,” he explains. “Any fleet trying to go mainstream would have to at least address those two concerns.”
One reason a fleet would want to go through the process of implementing electric vehicles is that electric vehicle drivetrains are much more efficient than other conventional drivetrains, says Sondhi.
“If you look at how energy can be recovered out of a stored means, like a battery, and then transferred to the wheels, an electric drivetrain is one of the most efficient drivetrains.”
Another clear advantage is no tailpipe emissions, especially while driving urban routes.
“Inner-city routes, even with CNG, will still have some sort of emissions,” he says. “But with electric vehicles, the emissions is basically zero.”
An additional advantage of adopting EV technology is that it helps reduce dependence on crude oil by displacing oil use, in exchange for electricity. Electric technology offers fleets the ability to power their vehicles through ‘multiple sources,’ instead of relying heavily on one source of fuel, notes Sondhi.
For all of these reasons, FedEx decided to move ahead with testing electric vehicles, among other alternate fuel sources.
FedEx first visited the idea of alternate fuels to power their vehicles in the mid-1990s. Among other technologies, the company looked into electric vehicles with lead-acid batteries and eventually moving to nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries, until testing was stalled.
It wasn’t until 2007 when FedEx began revisiting all-electric vehicles because of the development of lithium-ion battery technology.
After introducing electric vehicles to select fleets in their London markets in 2008, the company began a pilot program in the Los Angeles area. With its pilot program, FedEx has the opportunity to test EV vehicles wherever suitable, usually sticking to shorter, urban routes.
FedEx has developed a regular maintenance program in order to handle maintenance and repairs for its electric vehicles.
Its technicians are trained through the EV manufacturers to handle the high voltages of EV systems, Sondhi says. “Rather than just a 12-volt system, you’re now dealing with 300 volts, depending on the manufacturer.”
Along with education on handling these high-voltage systems, he explains repairs will move away from the mechanical side to an emphasis on fully electrical systems. “There will be more electro-mechanical systems. We won’t be changing a lot of fluids, because these are all electric motors.”
FedEx began its domestic pilot program in L.A. with the rollout of 19 International eStar electric vehicles. Sondhi says the plan is to introduce another set of pilot vehicles in a different market very soon.
“What we’re specifically looking at targeting right now is the pick-up and delivery vehicle segment, which is typically the Class 3 to 4 segments,” he notes.
Because of the urban routes, the company needs to determine the size of the vehicle they’d like to use. A truck which has a longer mileage range isn’t necessarily always the best option.
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