Deutsche Post Builds Its Own Electric Delivery Van, Volkswagen Execs Are Angry

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Rather than contract to an outside firm, the German logistics company Deutsche Post has gone ahead and designed and built its own electric delivery van, as we reported in April and August.

The new vehicles (1,000 of them) are already deployed in various German cities (replacing Volkswagen vans), according to recent reports. Production has now been raised to 5,000 vehicles a year, with the possibility being there to add a second shift.

Interestingly, the approach was taken because “conventional vehicle makers turned down requests to build the electric vans in what are limited numbers by their standards.”

Perhaps more interestingly, though, Volkswagen Group is apparently upset “beyond measure.”

“I am annoyed beyond measure. I, of course, ask myself why Post did not talk to our VW Commercial vehicles division about doing something similar,” commented CEO Matthias Mueller. “Let’s see if we can still get a foot in the door there.”

Considering that the new electric van was apparently very cheap to design and produce, and has been built to be very durable and to last a long time, I’m not surprised that Mueller is pissed. That’s a lot of lost business, and a real black eye to VW’s public image. Why does Volkswagen have to spend vast amounts of money for vehicle development? Why hasn’t it released an electric van yet? Why does it imply that it isn’t possible to release a viable one? (These questions loom large when a company that doesn’t even design vehicles — a delivery company — is able to do so.)

As Deutsche Post board member Juergen Gerdes put it, in an interview with Reuters: “It did not cost billions to develop and produce. You will not believe how cheap it is to make.”

Notably, the company was pragmatic about the vehicle, and focused on the important qualities needed in a delivery van, rather than on marketing fluff. The vans were designed to last at least 16 years, and to work 10-hour shifts 6 days a week. The components chosen were particularly robust ones — such as doors that could be “opened and closed up to 200 times a day” without issue.

This was the focus, rather than aiming for a fit and finish as polished as that in a passenger/luxury vehicle.

Also, notably, the company claims that the total cost of ownership of the vans is no greater than that of “equivalent conventionally-powered vans.”

As many of our readers have noted in comment section discussions before, most big-name automakers don’t actually manufacture all that much at this point — most vehicle components are provided by third-party suppliers.

“We are purposely not reinventing the wheel. We do not produce a single component ourselves. Everything comes from a supplier,” noted Win Neidlinger, director of business development at Deutsche Post’s carmaking arm Streetscooter GmbH.

Automotive News provides more: “Advances in manufacturing software are allowing the likes of Deutsche Post, Google, and start-ups to tap suppliers to design, engineer, and test new vehicle concepts without hiring thousands of engineering staff or investing billions in tooling and factories. Technical and engineering know-how among this network of suppliers has blossomed since traditional manufacturers began farming out research and development to keep their own costs down after the global financial crisis of 2008–09. Today, suppliers produce components which make up 80% of a car, up from about 56% in the 1980s, creating a manufacturing system which is being used by new entrants such as Google for its driverless cars.”

Continuing further on in that article: “Streetscooter used a software program made by PTC to talk to a network of 80 suppliers including Bosch, which provides the electric drivetrain, and Hella which makes the headlights. PTC’s Windchill software, which costs 300 to 1,000 euros ($330–$1,120) per user per year, is used by 90% of the top 50 automotive companies including Continental, ZF, Volkswagen, Audi, MAN, Hyundai, and Ferrari. Dominik Ruechardt, business development director at PTC, said software systems are becoming more accessible. After years of spending millions to customize in-house development programs, carmakers have begun switching to more standard systems, helping to expand the network of suppliers.”

Of potential interest to other small delivery van users in the region, Deutsche Post will reportedly be deciding before the end of 2016 whether it will begin selling to other companies or not.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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