24 Aug 21

How DPD is adopting EVs at electrifying speed

The parcel delivery giant has not bought a diesel-powered last mile delivery van this year in the UK, and its Head of CSR, Olly Craughan, urges other fleets to: “Look at what’s achievable with what’s available” and start electrification plans today

The perfect solution to fleet electrification will never exist, so fleets need to act now with what is possible, rather than wait for vehicle technology and charging infrastructure to improve, according to a pioneer of zero emission operations.

Olly Craughan, Head of CSR at DPD (pictured below), urged fleets to: “go through your data and change what you can,” exploring routes and mileages to identify vehicles that could transition today to battery power.

DPD, wholly owned by France's La Poste, is rapidly adding electric light commercial vehicles to its own fleet across Europe as it works towards its international commitment to provide 225 of the largest European cities with zero- and low-emission deliveries. This will cut the company’s CO2 emissions in these cities by 89% and reduce its pollutants, such as particulate matters (PM), carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxides by 80% compared to 2020.

All-electric city

In the UK, DPD operates a fleet of 10,000 vehicles from 84 locations, and created its first all-electric city, Oxford, this summer. The depot that serves Oxford has a fleet of 40 electric vehicles that deliver over 15,000 parcels a week right across the city. DPD plans to have a further nine all-electric cities by the end of this year, and 25 by 2025; an environmental investment that will cost it £111 million (€130m) in new vehicles alone. The company recently announced a deal to buy 750 electric light commercial vehicles from SAIC Maxus, including 500 long wheelbase 3.5t electric vans whose 88kW model is capable of over 320km (200 miles) per charge.

“Last year we only had 149 electric vehicles [in the UK]. Today we have 1,031, and we’ll have 1,700 by the end of the year,” said Craughan. “As a business have not ordered one final mile diesel vehicle this year and we hope not to. Electric is the way forward for DPD, that is our strategy.”

Charging challenges

The company is also fast-tracking its adoption of electric vehicles outside its Vision25 cities. Its business model is for drivers to be franchisees who own their own vehicles, typically leasing them through DPD. So long as a driver has off-street parking, DPD will cover the cost of installing a home charger, matching the UK Government grant. But DPD has no intention of turning its depots into charging hubs – the company started investing in electric vehicles three years ago, and has learned some tough lessons along the way.

“We started installing 3.7kW chargers a long time ago, which are now typically quite useless,” said Craughan. “We have upgraded to 7kWh and 22kWh chargers, and we’re now installing two 50kWh chargers, but that is just to support drivers in case there’s a power cut at home. We don’t want our fleet reliant on depot charging. Our priority is home charging first, then public charging and then depot charging.”

DPD is in talks with several local governments and OEMs that are considering the establishment of fleet charging hubs, which would be “a fantastic solution for DPD and other fleets,” said Craughan. He added that charging is the biggest behavioural boundary for drivers to overcome; they have to accept that they cannot pull up to any petrol station and be back on the road 10 minutes later.

“It’s very important that we communicate that and manage their expectations,” he said. “And we are training them, too, because you can’t drive an electric vehicle in the same way as a diesel.”

On the plus side, added Craughan, drivers love the public perception of EVs as well as the creature comforts; the vehicles are easier to drive, have automatic transmissions and typically have air conditioning, which was not the case with all of the 3.5-tonne diesel vans that they replaced.

Rental and leasing support required

Challenges remain, however, with DPD conceding that electric vans cost about 40% more than their diesel predecessors to acquire, with the affordability and availability of 7.5-tonne electric vehicles a particular issue. The company is also looking for more support from rental and leasing firms to deal with seasonal demand.

“For peak periods where we need to increase the number of our vehicles, we need rental and lease companies to offer electric options,” said Craughan. “There are challenges to delivering all-electric 52 weeks of the year.”

Carbon commitments

DPD started offsetting the carbon associated with every parcel it delivers back in 2013, established its first all-electric depot in London in 2018, buys renewable energy for each of its sites, and has installed 16,000 solar panels to generate its own power, although battery storage is still prohibitively expensive to justify investment.

“We are a business and we want to move as quickly as possible, but it’s not a blank cheque,” said Craughan.

His advice to other fleets is: “Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity because there isn’t one. Look at what’s achievable with what’s available. Look at what you can do that is within reach. There are routes within your business that are achievable with an EV, so start with those and work your way out. Hopefully technology improves – in the past 18 months you can see the growth in 3.5 tonne vehicles and their range; the Maxus EV9 that we have ordered has 150-plus miles (240km) range and the Ford E-Transit that is coming out next year has a 200- plus miles (320km) range. Electrification is a huge change, but this is the defining decade and we all need to be moving quickly.”

Olly Craughan was speaking at the EV Forums.

Images: DPD and Maxus

Authored by: Jonathan Manning