Will anyone be able to satisfy Amazon’s craving for electric vans?

Special for Infobae of The New York Times.

In the fall, Jeff Bezos tweeted praise for Rivian, a startup contracted to build 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon, and its founder, RJ Scaringe, calling him “one of the best entrepreneurs I’ve ever met.”

Bezos then threw a direct question at him: “Now, RJ, where are our vans?”

The comment may have been in jest, but the issue it raised is serious.

Amazon has an insatiable appetite for electric vans, thanks to a growing logistics operation and a promise that half of its deliveries will be carbon neutral by 2030. But that appetite is running up against the reality that the industry car company barely produces any of these vehicles.

While electric cars aimed at the consumer market are finally reaching their peak—Tesla delivered nearly a million vehicles last year—the market for commercial electric vehicles is still nascent, and since they must be able to carry heavier loads, this multiplies. technological challenges. Amazon wouldn’t say whether Rivian delivered the first 10 production vans in December, as expected, and other automakers aren’t building at scale yet, either.

Even though Amazon owns almost twenty percent of Rivian, it has also placed orders with other automakers, to claim as many vans as it can before they go into production.

This month, Amazon said it would buy “thousands” of Ram electric vans from Stellantis, the company formed last year after the merger of Fiat Chrysler and French carmaker Peugeot. It also ordered 1,800 electric vans from Daimler in Europe. And it has formed a partnership with Mahindra, an Indian automaker, as part of its goal to have 10,000 electric three-wheelers on the road by 2025.

“The scale and speed at which we’re trying to do this requires a lot of invention, testing and learning, and a whole new playbook,” Ross Rachey, who oversees Amazon’s global fleet, said in a statement.

According to an internal document from late 2020, Amazon expected to have almost 175,000 of its vans on the road by the end of 2021 and almost all of them would be vehicles with fossil fuel engines.

That number is growing rapidly. Amazon has spent several years — and tens of billions of dollars — invested in a major package delivery initiative to wean itself off large carriers like UPS. To start the expansion, Amazon ordered 20,000 diesel Sprinter vans from Mercedes-Benz.

Through its network of contractors, Amazon now delivers more than half of its orders globally, and much more in the United States. Amazon now has six times as many delivery depots as it did in 2017, with at least 50 percent more facilities set to open this year, according to data from MWPVL, a logistics consultancy.

This logistics boom, accelerated by the shift to online shopping caused by the pandemic, multiplies the challenges that the company faces to fulfill its promise to reduce its climate effect. Its promise to make half of its deliveries carbon neutral by 2030 is part of the company’s broader commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040.

“Electrifying their delivery fleet is a really important part of that strategy,” said Anne Goodchild, who leads the University of Washington’s work on supply chain, logistics and freight transportation.

Delivery vans are well suited to electric propulsion because they typically travel 100 miles or less in a day, meaning they don’t need the big battery packs that add to the cost of electric cars. Delivery vans are often used during the day and can be recharged overnight, and they typically require less maintenance than gasoline-powered vans. Electric vehicles do not have transmissions and some other mechanical components that wear out quickly in the typical routine of delivery routes.

In September 2019, when Bezos announced Amazon’s massive order from Rivian—the largest electric vehicle order in history—he placed it at the center of Amazon’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. At the time, he said he expected all 100,000 vans to be on the road “by 2024.” Later, Amazon said that it had been wrong and that the order was for 2030.

Amazon invested at least $1.3 billion in Rivian, which Amazon says should already make 10,000 vans this year. Additionally, Amazon obtained exclusive rights to Rivian’s commercial vans for four years, with the right of first refusal for two years afterward. The companies have been testing the vans for almost a year.

In November regulatory filings, Rivian said it would make full delivery to Amazon “by 2025.” Last week, Rachey said that Amazon expected to have the vehicles on the road “no later than 2030.”

Rivian declined to comment.

Amazon isn’t the only delivery company interested in the burgeoning market.

FedEx, with its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040, is preparing to buy tens of thousands of electric vans over the next eight years. The company expects battery-powered vehicles to make up half of all its van purchases by 2025, and 100 percent by 2030. The company aims to create a fleet of almost 250,000 small and medium electric vans.

Getting the vans is only part of the challenge. Keeping them charged is another.

Amazon job postings say it is “building the largest fleet of electric vehicles and the largest charging network in the world.” Rachey says vehicle-charging infrastructure is one of the most time-consuming infrastructures, working with utilities, cargo operators and the warehouses where the vans are located.

Amazon is also studying delivery routes and other factors that reduce battery efficiency, such as driving uphill and running air conditioning, things that could require charging the vehicle in the middle of a worker’s shift and not just during a worker’s shift. the night.

“It’s very normal now for transportation and logistics companies to talk about sustainability not as peripheral, but as a fundamental change,” Goodchild said, adding that Amazon, by committing upfront, is “helping to create a market.”


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