How electric vehicles are changing the future of delivery in the UK

Electric milk floats weren't such a bad idea, it seems

If you missed it, Arrival recently announced it’s teaming up with Royal Mail to trial a fleet of nine British-built electric delivery vans for a year. RM took the first steps towards going all-electric in July last year by buying 100 electric vehicles from Peugeot, and the new partnership will see them invest in more EVs if the trial is successful.

The UK delivery network is massive, and if electric vehicles turn out to be a useful upgrade, we’ll likely see more delivery firms following suit — especially since the government plans to get rid of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

And Royal Mail isn’t alone in wanting to clean up the air. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), global delivery powerhouse UPS has already said they intend to increase their fleet of electric vans by 40% in London alone after a £3m investment with UK Power Networks, for instance.

Northgate Vehicle Hire, specialists in long-term van hire, join us to take a closer look at the future of the UK’s delivery network.

Delivery that doesn’t cost the earth

The delivery system in the UK handles everything from letters and parcels to people’s grocery supplies. It’s a key part of our infrastructure, and processes a huge number of transactions: in 2014, parcel couriers alone handled over 1.7 billion packages in the UK. A more recent report suggests delivery company DPD averages 1.6 million a week! Meanwhile, Parcelforce accounts for 70m a year, Hermes 190m a year, Yodel 135m a year, and Royal Mail a ginormous 826 million parcels per year.

Evidently, there’s a lot of demand for home delivery in the UK. But as Oxford declares plans to become the UK’s first zero-emission city and other cities announce their commitment to clean air zones, is there pressure on couriers to convert to electric? All that parcel movement will have a significant impact on emissions, after all.

If they want to continue delivering parcels at the same rate, it seems likely Royal Mail and competing delivery firms will need to go electric sooner rather than later. RM alone delivers to more than 30 million addresses across the country, which should pose a significant challenge to their EVs’ stated range of 100 miles.

In addition, the number of parcels moving around the country is likely to grow as e-commerce goes from strength to strength and customers sign up to get not just products and letters by mail but also fruit, veg and other food supplies. These kinds of products have to be delivered quickly to be fresh, which might explain why in 2014-15, more than half of domestic deliveries were next-day.

Quick delivery is becoming hugely important to consumers, particularly with the rise of services like Amazon Prime, which have resulted in most major delivery companies offering expedited services to their customers. Some even offer same-day deliveries — but can electric vehicles handle this kind of demand for speed when they need time to charge?

It’s a fine balance. The costs of electric vehicles and their financial savings in low-emission zones, as well as their contribution to cleaning up the air, have to be weighed against the benefits of the existing fuel sources like diesel and petrol. Royal Mail has implemented training for more than 10,000 drivers to help them drive more fuel-efficiently, while at the same time trialling 9 heavy-duty, all-electric vehicles for a year. Supermarket group Ocado is experimenting with electric delivery vehicles too, with an aim to cut their carbon footprint. If the London trial goes well, they’ll be rolling out the scheme to the whole country — so you could once again soon be getting your milk from an electric vehicle.

As ever, the industry is highly competitive, meaning that successful trials of electric delivery fleets will lead to rival firms copying the strategy to remain in the game. As the government’s 2040 deadline creeps ever closer, delivery demand continues to rise, with a staggering 81% of online shoppers stating a preference to have products brought to their doorstep rather than alternative arrangements like ‘click and collect.’ More retailers are springing up on the web every day, too, adding to the delivery pile.

Current government plans suggest more charging points will be made available in the UK, car manufacturers will bring out better and longer-range electric vehicles, and the choice of EVs will continue to rise. All of which means delivery companies are likely to be left with no alternative but to join the electric revolution.

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash


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