Green Car Journal has been documenting the evolution of light-duty, personal use transportation over the past three decades. A lot has changed over the years, with fuel efficiency now reaching previously-unexpected levels and electric cars achieving surprising momentum. While environmentally friendly vehicle choices have expanded greatly, the same can’t be said of commercial transportation. But there is significant movement in the form of electric trucks and potentially commercial vehicles running on hydrogen.
Today, legacy truck makers and smaller start-ups alike see the imperative to clean up commercial transportation. Chalk it up to increasing government regulation and the recognition that mitigating carbon emissions and climate change must be resolved on all levels. Not to mention, in these days of extraordinarily high fuel prices and petroleum supply volatility there is even greater reason to look toward new and cleaner answers for motor vehicles of all classes. Larger commercial vehicles are now part of the momentum.
Green Car Journal’s prestigious Green Car Awards™ have been recognizing new vehicle models exhibiting laudable environmental achievement for the past 17 years. Deserving light-duty vehicles were recognized in eight popular categories earlier in the 2022 model year auto show season. Now, it’s time to turn attention to the next frontier: medium- and heavy-duty commercial trucks.
While the mind’s eye can conjure images of large diesel trucks emitting plumes of soot from years past, this has been changing for the better through the application of advanced emissions technologies and alternative fuels. Now, there’s movement afoot to remake the image of medium- and heavy-duty trucks through electrification. The result? Silent, zero-carbon, powerful trucks running exclusively on batteries and electric motors, charging up in lieu of fueling with liquid hydrocarbons.
There’s no better example of this than Volvo’s zero-emission VNR Electric, a battery powered model that’s been undergoing trials through the Volvo LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions) program over the past several years, conducted in partnership with the South Coast Air Quality Management District and a dozen other organizations. The result is the new production Volvo VNR Electric, Green Car Journal’s 2022 Commercial Green Truck of the Year™.
The Class 8 Volvo VNR Electric, based on Volvo Trucks’ popular VNR model, aims to provide a sustainable transportation strategy to fill local and regional distribution, pickup, and delivery needs. Power is provided by a 455 horsepower electric motor featuring 4,051 lb-ft peak torque that’s coupled to a two-speed I-Shift automatic transmission. Top speed is 68 mph. It’s available with six-battery pack options that provide up to a 275 mile driving range and comes with fast-charge capability that enables gaining up to 80 percent state-of-charge within 60 to 90 minutes. The VNR Electric is available in five straight truck and tractor configurations.
There’s significant competition out there in the evolving field of ‘greener’ commercial trucks with environmental leadership exhibited in many high-profile ways. The following models are standouts being honored with Green Car Journal’s 2022 Green Car Product of Excellence™ award.
Freightliner eCascadia: This Class 8 electric truck is intended for short haul or last-mile delivery, regional deliver, and drayage. It features 500 horsepower and a 250 mile range.
International eMV: An electrified version of International’s proven MV medium-duty truck, the eMV features 215 continuous horsepower, a 135 mile range, and DC fast-charge capability.
Kenworth T680E: Available as a Class 8 tractor or straight truck, the zero-emission T680E features 536 horsepower, 1623 lb-ft torque, and a 150 mile electric driving range.
Lion Electric Lion6: The Lion6 is a Class 6 urban electric truck featuring 335 horsepower, 1800 lb-ft torque, a 252 kWh battery, and a driving range of up to 200 miles.
Mack LR Electric: The next-generation Mack LR Electric is a Class 8 truck aimed at refuse and recycling duty. It has a 376 kWh battery and twin electric motors producing 448 horsepower.
Nikola Tre BEV: Nikola’s Tre BEV is an all-electric Class 8 tractor for regional applications featuring 645 horsepower, a 753 kWh battery pack, and an operating range up to 350 miles.
Peterbilt 579EV: The 579EV is a Class 8 Day Cab configuration intended for short haul and drayage operations. It features 536 electric horsepower, a 396 kWh battery, and 150 mile range.
SEA Hino M5 EV: Sea Electric’s Hino truck-based M5 EV Class 5 electric truck integrates the company’s electric SEA-Drive Power System to provide 110 horsepower and a 200 mile range.
Electric Last Mile Solutions, appropriately named since its focus is on electrified specialty vehicles aimed at ‘last mile delivery’ of goods from regional warehouses or fulfillment centers, is currently offering the first of its planned products, the zero-emissions ELMS Urban Delivery van.
Classified as a light duty Class 1 (under 6000 pounds) vehicle, The $28,000 ELMS Urban Delivery electric panel van features specifications offering a good fit for a variety of applications like package delivery and service routes. Riding on a 120-inch wheelbase and measuring in at 186 inches long, 64 inches wide, and 75 inches tall, it has 157 cubic-feet of cargo volume accessible via dual sliding side doors or a tall rear liftgate. It features a curb weight of 3,133 pounds and can carry a maximum payload of 2,100 pounds. Turning radius us 20 feet, about the same as a Ford Transit van.
The Urban Delivery offers an estimated 110 mile range on a charge courtesy of its 80 horsepower electric motor and 41 kWh CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited) lithium-iron-phosphate battery. ELMS has secured a long-term battery supply agreement with CATL, a major EV battery supplier with primary production in China and a new production base in South Korea, the latter supplying batteries for Hyundai’s next-generation E-GMP electric vehicle platform. ELMS provides an 8 year/100,000 mile warranty on the battery and a 4 year/48,000 mile warranty for the vehicle.
Based in Troy, Michigan, ELMS starts with vehicle bodies from China's Liuzhou Wuling Automobile Industry Co., then completes assembly at its 675,000 square foot facility in Mishawaka, Indiana, where AM General HUMMERS were once produced. Here, among other things, ELMS adds components including the battery pack, front and rear axles, front end modules, headlights, taillights, and seats. ELMS also upgrades the vehicle’s safety systems and energy absorbing bumper assemblies to meet federal safety standards.
ELMS’ management team is a seasoned one with its senior leadership offering broad experience in the mainstream and emerging segments of the auto industry. Among these are executives who formerly held positions as CEO at HUMMER, CEO of Ford China, CFO of Byton and Ford China, global head of battery cells at Fiat Chrysler, VP of powertrain and EV systems at Karma Automotive, and VP of sales and service for Mahindra Automotive North America.
Initial vehicles have already been sold and delivered to customers. ELMS has also bolstered its service network through an agreement with Cox Automotive. This means owners of ELMS Urban Delivery vans have access to 800 mobile technicians, 6,000 service centers, and 3,000 partner locations nationwide for battery servicing, collision repair, and maintenance. A collaboration with EVgo also facilitates charging solutions for fleets operating ELMs products.
ELMS recently opened an Urban Mobility Lab in San Francisco to focus on advanced in-vehicle technologies and unveiled its second electric model, the ELMS Urban Utility, that’s aimed at those needing a zero-emission. medium-duty commercial vehicle. Production of this larger Class 3 commercial electric vehicle is planned to start in the second half of 2022.
Rivian delivered the first of its R1T trucks to customers late last year, becoming the first auto manufacturer to market with an electric pickup truck. Importantly, it also made initial deliveries of EDV 700 electric delivery van to Amazon.
The Amazon EDV 700 step-in van, which measures in at a 277 inch length and rides on a 187 inch wheelbase, provides a 700 cubic-foot cargo area and an estimated 200 mile driving range. It‘s powered by an electric motor energized by a lithium-ion nickel-cobalt-aluminum battery pack. The automaker plans to offer both single and dual motor, all-wheel drive versions of its commercial van product in the future.
Coming next is the smaller EDV 500, entering the market later this year with a 500 cubic-foot cargo carrying ability. The EDV 500 has a length of 248 inches and a 157 inch wheelbase,. Following this will be the largest of Rivian’s three electrified vans, the EDV 900 that offers a length of 321 inches over a 205 inch wheelbase. This heavyweight hauler will feature an 840 cubic-foot cargo bay and a GVWR of 14,000 pounds.
Rivian’s electric vehicles are built on an innovative electric ‘skateboard’ platform that integrates the vehicle’s motors, battery, cooling system, braking, and suspension. This strategy allows straightforward adaptation for varying models, wheelbases, and applications, including the company’s electric R1T pickup, R1S SUV, the EDV series it builds for Amazon, and other future Rivian models. This ‘skateboard’ approach is an advanced strategy being used for next-generation electric vehicles by a number of automakers.
The company has received substantial investment from numerous sources including Ford, and Amazon, along with major funding rounds that total some $10.5 billion. Adding to this is the Rivian IPO late last year that raised close to an additional $12 billion. Thus, Rivian is well-positioned to compete alongside legacy automakers and truck manufacturers as these companies begin to offer their own electric commercial vehicles to the market. The company reportedly has over 70,000 preorders for its R1T and R1S products, and importantly it is under agreement to deliver a total of 100,000 EDVs to Amazon by 2025, with the first 10,000 to be delivered by the end of this year.
Given this, a significant amount of the company’s focus will presumably need to be directed at its Amazon delivery contract even as it scales up production of its initial product, the electric R1T pickup that was recently delivered to initial customers, and its soon-to-come R1S electric SUV. That’s a lot to handle for any start-up auto manufacturer, and juggling production priorities has potential to present challenges. In fact, Rivian announced the delay of its longest-range R1T and R1S models with the Max battery pack until 2023, no doubt as it finds its production sweet spot.
Even with its milestone order and production commitment with Amazon – a company that reportedly now owns 20 percent of this new auto manufacturer – Rivian has launched a fleet page for taking general orders for its Rivian Commercial Van (RCV) variant. The list of potential applications for its electric commercial van models goes well beyond the focused electric last mile delivery purpose of Amazon’s vans, ranging from field service and transport to construction and utility use. These configurable commercial models are designed to fit diverse needs with payload capacities ranging from 1,960 to 5,300 pounds. Rivian says deliveries of the RCV will begin in 2023.
Rivian is making strategic moves to increase production with a 623,000 square foot expansion of its manufacturing facility in Normal, Illinois – a former Mitsubishi assembly plant – to a total of 4 million square feet. The company is also moving forward with plans for a second production and technology facility near Atlanta, Georgia, with a potential build capacity of 400,000 vehicles per year. Representing a $5 billion investment, Rivian is hoping to begin construction of its Georgia facility this summer and start vehicle production there in 2024.
Like most everybody, I see an endless array of delivery vehicles passing by every day and at all hours. While the presence of delivery vans is not a new phenomenon, it’s one that now occurs with increasing regularity because of a preference for buying online and the need to deliver ordered goods to our homes and businesses. These expanded deliveries – largely made with what’s categorized as ‘last mile delivery’ trucks and vans – come at a time when there’s also great concern about carbon emissions, fossil fuels use, and climate change. Thus, the challenge and the growing need for electric delivery vans.
The answer is emerging in real time, taking the form of electric last mile delivery vans of all types from standard vans like the electric Ford E-Transit and ELMS Urban Delivery Van , to somewhat larger electric vans like the BrightDrop EV600 and Rivian Electric Delivery Van. Each represents the leading edge of what is surely an emerging and strategically important class of electric vehicle, and they will be joined by many others in the short years ahead.
One high profile examples comes from Amazon, which is expanding its zero-emission operations through a new deal with Stellantis that will find thousands of RAM ProMaster electric vans entering its delivery fleet in 2023. This adds to the online giant’s options as Rivian ramps up to deliver the first 10,000 of the 100,000 Amazon electric delivery van order with the company this year. Other multinational delivery giants aim to decrease their carbon footprint. For instance, UPS has an agreement with Arrival, a European company with a U.S. headquarters and microfactory in North Carolina, for an initial 10,000 electric van order.
An electric Chevrolet van is coming to complement GM’s electric BrightDrop electric van offerings and Mercedes-Benz will be bringing its electric Sprinter, now available in Europe, to our shores. Other major automakers – from Nissan and Toyota to Fiat and Volkswagen – are either selling electric commercial vans in offshore markets or are preparing to do so, though plans for bringing these electric vans to the U.S. are as yet unknown.
Some companies seek early entry into important market segments long before automakers begin offering their own specialized products. Lightning eMotors is a prime example of this. The Colorado-based company, a certified Ford Quality eVehicle Modifier, has been electrifying a variety of new medium-duty fleet models for years. including the Ford Transit full-size van. Among this company’s many fleet customers for its electric Transit delivery van is the international delivery service DHL Express. While Ford began offering its own E-Transit electric van starting with the 2022 model year, the automaker makes these available in cargo versions only. Lightning eMotors offers fleet customers both cargo and passenger versions of its electric Transit Van in a variety of configurations.
There’s more electric activity unfolding in the commercial market. Electrified light- and medium-duty vans are but one part of the solution, with many of the companies in this space, or about to enter it, also offering or planning to introduce medium-duty electric trucks to augment local and regional zero-emission package deliveries.
What’s important to note is the near-ideal fit all of these electric commercial vehicles present for delivery services, or for that matter as service vehicles for companies with large fleets like cable companies, utilities, and food delivery services, or tradesmen ranging from carpenters and plumbers to painters and electricians. For the most part, all of these vehicles are tasked with operating within a defined region or along specific routes, thus enabling seamless zero-emission operation throughout the workday.
Electric delivery vehicles represent a positive environmental statement for companies integrating them in their operations. Importantly, they are crucial to decreasing carbon emissions on a truly significant scale. Clearly, their time has come.
Ford’s popular full-size Transit Van continues to evolve, and this year there’s a new and more environmentally compatible option for commercial buyers. While the conventionally-powered Transit will no doubt represent the bulk of Ford’s van sales for a while yet, it’s new electric 2022 E-Transit will surely find a welcome home with those companies and businesses where its zero-emissions operating parameters are a good fit.
The 2021 Ford E-Transit’s powertrain consists of an underfloor battery delivering energy to an electric motor that drives the rear wheels, delivering 266 horsepower and 317 lb-ft torque. A 67 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is located beneath the van’s floor so it’s out of the way and does not intrude on the E-Transit’s flat load floor. Charging is via a port located in the front grille, making it convenient to pull forward head-in to a charging station. Driving range varies from 108 to 126 miles depending on van configuration.
E-Transit is available in Regular, Long, and Extended versions with low, medium, and high roof heights, plus a cab-chassis configuration for those wanting to adapt unique cargo boxes. The vans offer cargo volumes of 246 to 487 cubic feet and payload capacity of 3,240 to 3,800 pounds, depending on configuration. Driving range on battery power also varies between the models from 108 to 126 miles. While typical charging will be via a standard 240-volt Level 2 charging station in about 8 hours, the E-Transit is fast-charge capable and able to charge from 15 to 85 percent charge on a 50 kW charger in 65 minutes, and from 15 to 85 percent in just 34 minutes on a 115 kW DC fast charger.
The driver is placed well forward in the two passenger E-Transit cabin with a large windshield and expansive side glass for maximum visibility. Driver controls include a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, with a large rotary dial for drive mode selection just to the right of the steering column for easy access. Steering is electric-assist for easy maneuvering even when heavily loaded.
Ford kept the interior configuration of the E-Transit compatible with traditional engine-powered Transit vans so existing aftermarket cargo racks and accessories should bolt right in. That’s a real plus for current Transit owners desiring a transition to electric. Since the view out the back of a cargo van is limited, the E-Transit comes standard with Reverse Brake Assist, a rear vision obstruction sensing system that will stop the van before it hits objects behind the van while backing up. The system also provides help when backing around obstacles. Moving forward, E-Transit features both Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control and pre-collision braking assist.
In addition to delivery duties, the E-Transit is well-suited for construction and other traditional van applications. To that end, there’s an available Pro Power Onboard 2.4 kW electrical system that can be utilized run power tools and other electric needs at the jobsite. Convenient outlets are located just inside the rear doors.
Ford is promising a network of over 2,100 EV-certified dealerships if service is ever needed, something that not all electric vehicle manufacturers can offer. The E-Transit cargo van is now in production and starts at $47,185.
A new venture by General Motors and start-up company BrightDrop is now producing all-electric EV600 delivery vans that address the need for zero-emission deliveries. So named to highlight the electric commercial van’s 600 cubic feet of enclosed cargo space, the EV600 features an available payload of 2200 pounds and a substantial maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 9900 pounds. With an overall wheelbase just over 150 inches and a length of 288 inches, the EV600 is large enough for commercial delivery use but also well-sized for city maneuverability. This heavy hauler is also prepared for all driving conditions with its all-wheel-drive traction.
The van’s space-efficient packaging places its 20 module GM Ultium battery below the vehicle’s flat load floor so there is no infringing on cargo space. Ultium is the advanced generation battery developed by GM that will power all of its future EV products and is now being used in the GMC Hummer EV. GM estimates the EV600 will deliver up to 250 miles of range on a full charge. As with most electric vehicles, the BrightDrop 600 can capture lost energy through a regenerative braking system during deceleration and stop and go traffic. Charging via a 120 kW DC fast charger provides up to 170 miles of electric range in just an hour.
EV600 comes with a standard cargo area security system and motion sensors that can alert a driver to shifting cargo loads. The bulkhead between the driver/passenger features an autolocking door and the cargo bay features a large sliding door for easy access. Interior lighting is provided by energy efficient LED lights.
Recognizing that visibility in a panel van can be challenging, the EV600 features an optional HD surround vision system using multiple cameras around the van to give the driver a birds-eye view of the area surround the EV600. A 13.4-inch LCD infotainment screen is provided. Advanced driver assist systems include automatic emergency braking and forward collision alert, along with front pedestrian braking, front and rear park assist, and optional blind zone steering assist.
Fleet managers will appreciate the ability to remotely locate and track the EV600 through GPS, with the added capability of remotely locking, unlocking, starting, and stopping the EV600. Overall, BrightDrop offers a well thought-out product line that’s enhanced with BrightDrop powered pallets, which enable an individual delivery driver to efficiently move heavy cargo at the delivery site. The EV600 comes with a 36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and 8-year 100,000 electrification warranty.
The EV600 is now in limited production with large-scale manufacturing slated to move to GM’s CAMI Assembly Plant in Ingersoll, Canada later in 2022. This electric delivery van will no doubt become a common sight on public roads soon since the first batch of EV600s has been delivered to FedEx in time for holiday season deliveries.
The Mercedes-Benz Metris is this automaker’s offering for commercial vehicle buyers who like the Sprinter van, but desire something a bit smaller. They get it in the Metris mid-size van, a model first introduced to the U.S. in the 2016 model year that’s somewhat larger than compact competitors on the market. Because it’s smaller than the Sprinter, it’s more maneuverable in an urban setting with a reasonable 38.7 foot turning diameter. Notably, the Metris van offers a height that allows it to be parked in a standard garage. For commercial interests like hotels and transport companies needing a people mover, Metris also comes in a passenger version with seating for up to eight.
Mercedes-Benz is associated with luxury sedans, premium SUVs, and upscale sports cars in the U.S, but the Metris – like the Sprinter – charts its own course. This van is devoid of the luxury appointments expected in the automaker’s consumer products, instead keeping things simple with fewer frills and a much greater focus on the features most desired by tradesmen, businesses, and fleets.
To this end, Metris is fitted with sliding doors on both sides and wide-opening rear doors. Power sliding side doors are an option. It has a cargo capacity of 2500 pounds and can tow 5,000 pounds. A standard pallet fits between the wheel wells. The roof can support over 330 pounds. Plus, configuring a Metris for specific commercial uses is made easier with the Mercedes-Benz MasterUpfitter program that offers many options for interior and exterior customization. Fleet operators will appreciate the 15,000-mile service interval.
Metris is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine that’s EPA rated at 20-21 mpg in the city and 23-24 mpg on the highway. It connects to a seven-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddle shifters, an unusual feature on a commercial van. New for 2019 is standard stop/start operation to enhance efficiency and an optional rear liftgate.
Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, Hill Assist Start, and a load-adaptive Electronic Stability Program are standard on both van and wagon. Entry-level versions also include an Audio 10 radio head unit with Bluetooth capability and five speakers. Optional convenience and safety features include Active Parking Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, and Blind Spot Assist, plus parking sensors and a rear view camera.
Businesses requiring a delivery or work van that can fit a diversity of needs will see this Mercedes-Benz product an affordable option, a surprise to some since it has a Mercedes-Benz emblem on the front grille. And it became even more accessible with the more basic and lower cost Worker version added to the mix, which reduced the model’s initial launch price by $3,000 to bring the cost of entry to $25,995.
Ford's Transit Connect, named Green Car Journal's 2019 Commercial Green Car of the Year™ at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show, is available in both cargo van and wagon variations. This popular commercial vehicle emerges as an all-new generation in 2019, with changes in its overall appearance at both ends and inside, through changes were minor. It continues to be offered in both short and long wheelbase versions. The larger van has more cargo volume and an increased payload capability of an additional 60 pounds over the smaller van's 1510 pounds. There are rear-door options - liftgate and panel truck style – as well as dual side doors. It’s available in XL and XLT trim.
Three engine choices are available, two of them new. One new offering is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, direct-injected flex-fuel (gasoline/E85 ethanol) engine producing 160 horsepower and 144 lb-ft torque, featuring 24 city/27 highway mpg. Also new is a 1.5-liter EcoBlue four-cylinder turbodiesel slated to arrive later in the model year. Auto stop/start is standard on both new engines. Six-speed automatic and new eight-speed automatic transmissions are offered. The Transit Connect’s carryover 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder engine features 169 horsepower and 171 lb-ft torque, delivering 20 city/27 highway mpg fuel economy. Fleet buyers can get the 2.5-liter engine prepped for propane or compressed natural gas conversions. The family of EcoBlue engines was developed by Ford engineering teams in the U.K. and Germany to replace the current Duratorq diesel engines. They offer improved fuel economy as well as reduced CO2 and NOX emissions.
Since connectivity is important, especially for fleet managers who use it to enhance productivity, the Transit Connect has a standard 4G LTE modem capable of connecting 10 devices to the internet. A charger for wireless devices and two USB ports are also standard.
This compact van’s list of standard driver-assist features includes pre-collision assist with pedestrian detection, rear view camera, and automatic emergency braking with forward collision warning. Available systems include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, driver impairment monitor, and lane-keeping aid with lane departure warning. Standard Ford MyKey technologies allow fleet managers to preset warnings, set speed limits, and restrict audio volume. Also standard is a rear view camera, curve control, torque vectoring control, trailer sway control, and side-wind mitigation.
Mercedes-Benz has unveiled its all-new Sprinter van, the third-generation of this highly successful commercial vehicle that first came on the scene in 2006. Beyond the model’s updated styling are its many features that mark the Sprinter’s entry into an increasingly connected and environmentally-focused world. The new Sprinter is available for order now in the European market and will be launched there in June, with a gradual introduction into other markets to follow.
Perhaps the most interesting bit of news about the new Sprinter is the coming introduction of an electric variant next year, part of Mercedes-Benz’ efforts to introduce electrification in its commercial fleet. The eSprinter will follow in the footsteps of the eVito van that has been available for order since late last year. Deliveries of the eVito are set to begin during the second half of 2018. The eVito will be followed by the eSprinter in 2019. According to Mercedes, its electric commercial vans will offer operating costs similar to comparable diesel-powered models. Electric eSprinter and eVito models are primarily designed for commercial use in city centers.
An array of important optional driver assistance and safety systems are now available in new Sprinter vans that were only previous offered in Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicles. Among these are the automaker’s Active Brake Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist, Attention Assist, and the radar-based DISTRONIC distance control system, When Blind Spot Assist is ordered with the Sprinter’s automatic parking package, traffic and pedestrians crossing behind the van are recognized and autonomous braking will initiate if needed.
"Our new Sprinter is the first van of a new type – a fully connected integral system solution,” shares Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans. “We have made it even better with regard to its traditional strengths and have supplemented it with intelligent products and services. So, we are unlocking a new dimension in terms of efficiency, flexibility, connectivity, and profitability for our customers.”