Considered one of the major international players in express airfreight, UPS locally runs a fleet of well over 100 delivery vehicles in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
In the latter city it recently introduced its first battery electric vehicle, a SEA Electric 300-85 EV.
Based on the Hino 300 chassis, the 8.5-tonnes rated SEA Electric rigid is powered by a 135kW battery, and finding its feet fast in the UPS fleet.
Duarte Martins, UPS National Operations Manager, started considering his options for low emissions vehicles five years ago.
Discussions with SEA Electric have, periodically, taken place over that time as both organisations exchanged notes on their respective operational readiness. Originally, the two companies had been in discussions around electric vans.
When it was time to pull the trigger, SEA Electric instead of a van, had a six-pallet truck available, and Duarte, as he recalls, jumped at the idea.
“They were purchasing a Pantech new and providing it could fulfill a range of requirements for us, which it could, UPS, from my perspective, were interested,” he says. “I then told SEA Electric we were applying for a grant and would they like to be a partner with UPS on the Commercial Sector Innovation Fund. The decision regarding the type of truck that we needed soon followed.”
Of course, UPS had specific targets in mind. The vehicle would be required to cover a certain number of kilometres. The previous vehicle in the application was travelling, on average, 200 kilometres daily. Anything less than 150km therefore would not suffice.
The task would involve recovering the loose cargo that comes in on common carriage into the domestic but mostly international terminals at Melbourne Airport. From there it would be brought back to the UPS building in Tullamarine.
Then, beyond this, the truck would be utilised on metropolitan deliveries.
“That includes anything palletised that we can’t get on a 16-pallet truck,” Duarte says. “So multiple shipments.” These runs take place between Tullamarine and Springvale. The Electric 300-85 EV here is primarily used for topping up drivers with additional volume.
“Depending on the seasonality throughout the year we have additional volume,” says Duarte. “We use this Pantech for the overflow. That was predominantly the reason behind our decision to go with this SEA Electric truck.”
With capability of kilometres an important metric, payload, with the application requiring 65 stops in a day, was, as it so often is, crucial.
“Most drivers are averaging anywhere between 150km to 200km a day,” says Duarte. “Therefore it was really important that the vehicle that we chose could actually give us that outcome. From day dot I said to SEA Electric we’ve got to be able to get to this level.”
A few years back doubts that SEA Electric could meet that requirement would have been justified.
But with major improvements made to their technology in recent times they can now clearly demonstrate the vehicle is able to perform with a full payload.
“The truck had to be able to give as close to 200 kilometres a day on full charge,” says Duarte. “We calculated it on full load at all times and it’s actually delivering on that. We pulled some data last week and we’re averaging 180 kilometres a day. It’s actually doing its job — it’s been great.”
The Sea Electric 300-85 EV has a capacity of six pallets. It can be driven on a Medium Rigid licence. In Melbourne the UPS delivery fleet consists mainly of long wheelbase Toyota HiAce vans.
Heavier freight is handled between depots by three heavy rigids.
The SEA Electric 300-85 EV, as a mid-range vehicle, sits somewhere between the two other categories according to Neil Douglass, UPS Business Operations Manager.
“With air freight, if something is in a container, we won’t use that. We’ve got a roller truck,” he says. “But coming in as Less than Container Load, which is basically broken down, we use the Sea Electric to go to the airport to pull those smalls. We also use it throughout the suburbs to do small pallet deliveries and pickups.”
Plans are in place to use the battery electric truck in a residential area of Geelong with additional stops made along the way to Melbourne.
“We needed to ensure that on full load we can still get those kilometres in the vehicle at all times,” says Duarte. “The truck had to do that regardless. When the driver returns, he’s light on, but the distances still must be covered and managed.”
A fast charger is not needed given the duty cycle of the vehicle. It can sit overnight for a minimum of eight hours.
“We stop using the truck around 7.30pm and the next day the truck will be out at 6.30am,” explains Duarte. “So, we have plenty of time to fully charge.”
UPS relies on four-phase power at its Melbourne site.
“At this stage we’re plugging it into a 415 outlet on site,” says Neil. “We haven’t had to charge it out on the road yet. We bring it back at night and effectively triple charge it.”
For the moment, the four-phase power on site is more than adequate according to Neil.
“If we need to fast charge that’s usually going to happen out on the road,” he says. “There’s enough charging stations around that we can access if needed. Obviously, we’re driving around certain areas, and the driver is taking note of what charging stations are around. We can pull up an app and most of the Ampols and a few BPs around have some sort of charging infrastructure in place. At this stage we’re keeping the truck local and seeing how far we can extend it as we get used to it a bit more.”
The vehicles in just over half the total national UPS fleet are benchmarked to cover a range of between 200 and 250 kilometres each day. The mileage so far offered by the SEA Electric 300-85 EV is, in this context, most promising.
In fact, the initial numbers, according to Neil, won’t at this stage count against the case for UPS adding another SEA Electric unit to the fleet.
“There’s no reason why UPS wouldn’t consider expanding its fleet especially in the delivery task,” he says. “That said, it’s still early days but if we can do the right thing with it and all the numbers match up right there’s certainly potential.”
One driver has been assigned the truck. When near the airport, where many other truck drivers and couriers frequently descend, he has been met with great interest with many asking if they can have a look at it.
“These drivers have taken note of it and asked him a few questions,” says Neil. “There was another driver who had a similar sort of truck at one stage, and they shared information. That’s been positive.”
The act of driving the vehicle is much the same as a legacy vehicle according to Neil.
“Being an automatic you don’t really need to run through gears, you’ve just got forward and reverse on it,” he says.
Most of the training involved with using the new SEA Electric 300-85 EV appertains to safely using the charger and what some of the dashboard displays might represent but that’s proven relatively self-explanatory according to Neil.
“The driver has definitely improved his understanding of operating it,” he says.
“What I mean by that is if you just keep your foot on the accelerator, you are chewing juice such as you are with a diesel engine. But if you’re trying to extend the range on it over hills and whatever and you just allow the thing to drive itself it’s set up to get some sort of power recovery out of it in which the wheels start reversing through the generator and topping up the battery.”
Identifying the cost of charging worked out on a kilowatt/hour charge to compare it to the older internal combustion engine rigids is a point of priority when analysing the data from the vehicle.
Data collated in the Geotab telematics and shared with the Department of Transport and Planning, confirms power consumption of 6.34kWh per 100 kilometres at 22.79 cents/kWh or the equal of $1.25 for 100 kilometres.
That’s a significant saving when compared to the vehicle it is replacing which was costing $38 per 100/km, consuming 17.5 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres for an average of $2.10/100km.
Data retrieved from the telematics after the first month of operation confirmed the maximum distance covered by the vehicle in a day before recharge was 184 kilometres.
“This is our first electric vehicle for UPS throughout Asia,” says Neil “Naturally, it has quite a bit of focus on it.”