DHL Express Pushes Into A Sustainable, Electrified Future — CleanTechnica Interview

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DHL is leading the charge into electrified delivery vehicles in Germany with its acquisition and integration of StreetScooterCleanTechnica connected with DHL Express USA CEO Greg Hewitt to dive into the transition of DHL Express in the US to a more sustainable transportation model.

A History Of Sustainable Operations

DHL has been working on sustainable operations since before it was cool. The push towards more sustainable operations came straight from the top when DHL’s Global CEO Frank Appel threw down a goal of zero emissions by 2050.

Greg told us that this objective came out of the fundamental realization that moving goods around the world has a large impact on the planet. “Of particular importance to [Frank] was being a responsible company to the planet and recognizing that Transportation & Logistics is not the greenest of industries to start with,” Greg said. “He has always challenged us and heeded us to mitigate and offset the damage we do to the planet when running things like airplanes and trucks.”

Looking at DHL’s fleet of vehicles running around town delivering parcels, that seems very achievable, but DHL’s global operations have a much larger footprint, including fleets of airplanes that move cargo from continent to continent and from country to country. Upon landing, the cargo is shuttled around the airport and onto heavy trucks that are tasked with getting the cargo to the urban delivery vehicles that will then take the cargo that “last mile” to the customer.

DHL looked at the options for cleaning and greening its operations and found that solutions to clean up urban delivery already exist today, and so the company got to work. The push for zero emission delivery led the company to adopt and integrate cargo bikes for urban deliveries and eventually to purchase StreetScooter to build up its own fleet of fully electric, zero-emission delivery vehicles in 2014. The acquisition shook the foundations of the industry and enabled DHL to dictate its own future for urban deliveries.

Since then, DHL has been hard at work around the globe to integrate more and more zero-emission and alternative fuel vehicles into its fleet around the world. The company has set near-term targets for 2025 to ensure that its distributed global business operations are on track to deliver against its commitment to zero-emission operations by 2050. Specifically, the company aims to:

  • Increase its carbon efficiency by 50% compared to 2007 levels
  • Operate 70% of its own first and last mile services with clean pick-up and delivery solutions, such as bicycles and electric vehicles
  • Have more than 50% of its sales incorporate Green Solutions
  • Certify 80% of its employees as GoGreen specialists

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Conversion To EVs Mitigates Future Risk

The conversion to alternative fuel and zero-emission vehicles is not just about the planet at DHL, though that certainly is a foundational reason for the push. Migrating its fleets to zero-emission vehicles today is also a hedge against future change, Greg said. With many cities considering or scheduling bans on combustion vehicles already, building zero emission vehicles into the plan is fundamental in maintaining an ability to provide service to all of its customers around the world.

DHL’s future delivery vehicles will be zero emissions, that much is clear. In the EU, DHL will continue to cut the path for its own zero-emission vehicles, but that doesn’t translate to a US conversion, Greg said. “The regulations and production in Turkey means that StreetScooter is getting more traction in the EU and around the world. We’re looking for a suitable partner here in the US.”

Exploring Fully Electric Heavy Trucks

That starts with the current push to electrify DHL’s smaller vehicles, with larger trucks following closely behind. “By going smaller, the price point variance isn’t as big. You kind of have to start somewhere,” Greg said. Scaling up to the larger trucks, DHL continues to explore options from the frontrunner, BYD, as Tesla continues to move its Semi closer to production, Nikola Motors gets to work on building a factory, Cummins refines its powertrain, and others continue to build zero-emission solutions in the heavy trucking space.

BYD is clearly leading in the space, with numerous pilots that have been running for years now. “BYD — we are partnering with them. We’ll roll out, probably in Q3, our first pilot for heavy equipment tractors.” The first pilot for DHL will allow them to explore the potential of BYD’s vehicles in DHL’s operations. The pilot will give them a first look at what large electric trucks do and don’t do well and what they need from manufacturers in order to increase adoption.

Greg told us that in their experience so far, the larger vehicles do not yet have enough range for all of DHL’s needs at a price that’s competitive, but that will continue to improve over time. He is confident that DHL Express in the US is on track to fulfill its share of the company’s goal of having 70% of the first- and last-mile vehicles being run on alternative fuels. He noted that while they are considering all options for low- and no-emission vehicles, his preference is for battery electric vehicles.

“We have 63 new EVs going into service,” Greg told us, referring to a new fleet of the Workhorse Group’s NGEN-1000s that DHL put into service last month. “Throughout the United States, DHL has proactively sought opportunities in select markets where we can implement AFV fleets that will help us reach our clean transport goals while continuing to provide a superior service experience,” Hewitt said in a press release about the new delivery vehicles. “This year alone, nearly 30 percent of our new vehicles will be alternative fuel. We’re excited about the technologies that continue to emerge in this area and how they are benefiting the logistics industry.”

The future of DHL is electric and zero emissions. The sooner they get there, the better for all of us, and from the looks of it, they are on track to pull the world’s mail and parcel delivery services up by the bootstraps to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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