16 Mar 23

One-third of Belgian DHL fleet is fully electric - here’s how

The Belgian branch of logistics company DHL took delivery of its first batch of 100 Ford e-Transit vans. It’s the first phase of operating an entire net-zero fleet by the end of the decade. “Entrepreneurs still suffer from cold feet when it comes to electrification,” commented DHL Belgium CEO Danny van Himste, “because there are many more pieces to the jigsaw puzzle.”

‘This vehicle is powered by electric drive’, says the slogan on the back of the small selection of vans, coloured in the characteristic yellow paint, on the parking lot of the DHL hub in Antwerp. They belong to a batch of hundred vehicles which the logistics company strategically starts operating on shorter delivery routes. However, the deal between Ford and DHL stretches far beyond Belgium.

On an international level, DHL aims to run a fleet comprising 60% zero-emission battery-powered delivery vans by 2030. But Belgium wants to move faster. Himste: “By 2025, two-thirds of the fleet must be electric. And by 2030, we don’t want to have a van with tailpipe emissions anymore.

Danny van Himste

It’s ambitious. Besides charging infrastructure, Belgium doesn’t provide specific incentives for BEV adoption in the light commercial vehicle sector. Even though the Flemish region pursues a ban on the sale of greenhouse gas emitting vehicles by 2029 (yet to be ratified). DHL found partners in Ford for the vehicles and Shell Recharge for the infrastructure and charging cards to share the burden of the transition.

Overnight charging

The e-Transit, built in Ford's factory in Turkey, has a battery capacity of 67 kWh and a payload capacity of up to 1.724 kilos. The American, German and British departments of DHL even were actively involved in the development of the van, providing preliminary customer feedback on the arrangement of the load compartment, ergonomics and charging, among others. Using a fast charger, the battery pack can recuperate from 15% to 80% in 42 minutes at best. A more common 11 kW solution needs roughly seven hours.

“We use return-to-base operations”, says DHL Fleet Manager Steven Van Den Bosch, “Occasionally, a driver will charge at a public charging point during lunch or so, but that’s more expensive than the electricity from our corporate contract. The vans charge overnight. And as our fleet of passenger cars is gradually being electrified as well, these use the infrastructure during the day.”

Shell Recharge installed 90 connected charging points (11kW, tri-phase) spread over four DHL depots in Belgium, and the charging cards give access to more than 30 000 public charging points.

Shorter routes

As an innovation, the e-Transit also comes with Ford Pro telematics, free of charge for the first year. “We only use that for making direct appointments with the shop for maintenance. As for tracking, we are still negotiating with the unions,” concludes Van Den Bosch.

Steven Van Den Bosch

DHL Belgium deploys the e-Transits only on its shorter routes of 160 kilometres. Theoretically, the range is 317 kilometres, but the reality would fall short of DHL’s longer 300-kilometre routes. Van den Bossche: “For those rounds, we await technological evolution with better batteries.’

The upfront cost of an e-Transit is 70% higher than the cheapest diesel version, so it represents a proper investment. “But well worth it”, adds van Himste. “This first batch of hundred vans represents savings of 2.050 tons of CO2 per year. And cost-wise, over the lifespan of the vehicle’s use, it is not a dealbreaker at all due to more favorable energy and maintenance costs.”

More than operational cost

“But there’s more to it than just the TCO”, continues van Himste. “You need to rethink the whole concept of routing and downtime. Many more pieces to the puzzle are involved, and you need to prepare together with the people inside the organisation for that. It’s giving many entrepreneurs cold feet. Eventually, they will jump, but when is the question bothering them.”

As for city delivery, DHL has partly solved that complexity by introducing delivery by cargo bikes to complement the electric van fleet. “It’s a success. Though reluctant at first, our couriers turning to bikes never want to go back,” says van Himste.

Still, some challenges are only emerging as DHL Belgium took delivery of its first batch of e-vans. “Leasing companies still need to align with their resale values”, says van den Bossche. “And we need to prepare a backup for a worst-case scenario. Because what do you do in case of a power outage in the middle of the night? It would be signalled, but how do you solve it as fast as possible?”

Image Source: captionthisagency








Authored by: Piet Andries