At a FedEx package distribution center in lower Manhattan, amid the forklifts, carts, and conveyer belts that send thousands of packages out for delivery every day, are 10 vehicles that look like something out of the Jetsons. They’re FedEx’s electric-powered delivery vans, and they’re part of a study by FedEx, Columbia University, and General Electric. The idea behind their initiative is this: To switch from gasoline to electric-powered vehicles, a national delivery service must have a convenient and cost-effective way to charge them.
FedEx has been quietly dipping its toe into the electric vehicle, or EV, market since it deployed a few vans on London delivery routes in 2008. Currently, the company has 43 EVs in service—in the U.S., you can find them in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. It isn’t the only company to use electric delivery vehicles; UPS has 29 and Frito-Lay (whose parent company is PepsiCo) has 176 electric trucks running potato chips and other goods to stores across the U.S. and Canada. All three companies are part of the Obama administration’s National Clean Fleets Partnership. But the ones at FedEx are special because they’re part of an important experiment.