Tucked away in the woods off I-495 at a warehouse in Bellingham, dozens of gray Amazon delivery vans spend the night side by side, plugged in to recharge.
The e-commerce giant is far in the lead in electrifying its commercial delivery fleet, and 67 of the new vans stationed in Bellingham make their rounds daily within a 30-mile radius. The electric vans, quieter than their gas-powered counterparts, arrived starting at the end of 2022. They were made by EV upstart Rivian and feature that California company’s recognizably cartoonish headlight design.
Amazon driver Tamalee Torres, 22, said she prefers driving the electric vans. “It’s very smooth to drive,” she said while giving a tour of one of the vans. The cargo area has a wide aisle and retractable fold-down shelves. “A regular van is crowded, it’s hard,” she said. “This one you can just walk through.”
Amazon helped design the Rivian vans with features to improve efficiency for drivers, including an automatic side door, a large screen with maps and other controls, and a 360-degree camera view from the driver’s seat. “You can see when you’re going close to the edge of the pavement or when you’re backing out,” Torres said.
Amazon also owns about a 17 percent stake in the EV maker.
The vans have a range of about 150 miles, and algorithms in Amazon’s routing software take into account hilly terrain and colder weather, which can reduce EV range. Torres said on a typical day she uses only about 40 percent of the battery.
Amazon is the first major delivery service using electric transport in Massachusetts and said it has deployed more than 10,000 Rivian vans worldwide. The company has also installed more than 12,000 chargers at 100 locations around the country including in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania.
“It’s the first time anyone’s ever done this at this kind of scale,” Chris Atkins, Amazon’s director of worldwide operations sustainability, said on a tour of the package sorting and loading facility in Bellingham.
Because the vans return to the warehouse every night, the company was able to install less-expensive Level 2 chargers for its fleet. They typically add 15 to 30 miles per hour to a battery, better than costlier DC fast chargers.
Rival delivery service UPS was relying on British EV startup Arrival, which has entered administration (the UK equivalent of bankruptcy protection) and had its stock delisted from Nasdaq. UPS will “develop multiple low- and zero-emission solutions, including with multiple electric vehicle manufacturers around the world,” a spokesman said in an email.
FedEx, meanwhile, is using electric vans from General Motors subsidiary BrightDrop and has deployed about 500 in California and parts of Canada to start.
Electrifying delivery fleets, and commercial vehicles in general, should bring several benefits, including lowering greenhouse gas emissions, said Kyle Murray, Massachusetts Program Director at the nonprofit Acadia Center in Boston. The state’s climate plans call for 25,000 electric trucks and buses on the roads by 2030.
“The commercial transportation sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” Murray said. “It is critical that they transition to electric fleets as quickly as possible.”