UPS to Add 'Plastic' Trucks to Existing Delivery Fleet

Seth Clevenger
Transport Topics
July 02, 2012
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UPS said it has completed testing of its "plastic trucks," a composite-bodied vehicle that's lighter and uses 40% less fuel than its current package cars, and will soon add 150 of the new vehicles to its delivery fleet.

This vehicle, named the CV-23, weighs about 900 pounds less than the company's standard P70 package car, which has a traditional aluminum body, UPS said. The CV-23 has less cargo capacity, however—630 cubic feet compared to 700 for the P70.

UPS said five pilot CV-23s demonstrated "high reliability" in year-long testing on five different delivery routes, including the rough back roads of the Lincoln, Neb., area, the heat of Tucson, Ariz., and winter conditions in Albany, N.Y.

"This was a super successful project," UPS engineer Dale Spencer said June 21 in a conference call announcing the results of the test, which ran April 2011 to April 2012. "It's been a great story for us to tell because of the influence it will have on our future as far as building vehicles."

"The tests showed that the CV-23 is certainly appropriate for all kinds of the heavy uses that we have for our vehicles," Lynette McInitre, sustainability communications manager at UPS, said on the call. "We are indeed buying 150 of these, and we are going to be continuing to look at ways we can incorporate them into other package car models that we're going to have in the future."

UPS said it expects to receive the CV-23 vehicles in the fourth quarter. Once added to the UPS fleet, the vehicles will operate on high-mileage routes, the company said.

The CV-23 was built by specialty vehicle manufacturer Utilimaster Corp., which calls the vehicle the "Reach." It features a 4-cylinder diesel engine made by Isuzu.

The 900-pound weight reduction is "a big contributor" to the fuel economy of the vehicle, said John Knudtson, a vice president of product development at Utilimaster which is a subsidiary of Spartan Motors Inc., Charlotte, Mich.

"That's almost 1,000 pounds on every one of those vehicles, and it's really wasted weight," he said. "It's weight they have to carry around every day on their route for the whole life of the vehicle."

The total weight of a CV-23 in use, about half-loaded, is in the 9,000-pound to 10,000-pound range, Knudtson said.

The composite-bodied vehicle also features new body aerodynamics and powertrain technology that contribute to its fuel economy gain, UPS said.

In addition to their lighter weight, the plastic body panels provide maintenance advantages.

The composite material resists corrosion, which is particularly important for UPS package cars because they typically have an operating life of about 20 years.

The body panels also were designed for easy replacement. If a panel is damaged, it's just a matter of snapping on a new one and "you're back in service," Knudtson said. "Your truck isn't even out of operation for a day."

Spencer and Knudtson also discussed the potential for broader applications of composite materials in trucking.

Knudtson said the commercial truck industry, "being as conservative as it is, with the need to make sure that we have proven technologies and proven materials," tends to be a follower of the automotive industry.

"Whatever the automotive industry does, medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks typically fall in line a certain amount of years later," Spencer later added. "Typically, trucking ends up eventually adopting the same technology if it was a winner in the automobile industry."

"I do know that even in the Class 8 trucks, your heavy over-the-road trucks, they're introducing as much composite into their vehicles as they can," Spencer said.

Tim Kraus, president and chief operating officer at the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, said light-duty and heavy-duty vehicle manufacturers alike are looking at "light weighting," but for heavy-duty trucks, weight reduction isn't necessarily a fuel-efficiency issue.

If a manufacturer can trim the weight of a tractor by 1,000 pounds, trucking companies would then add 1,000 pounds of extra freight in the trailer, Kraus said.

"As long as they allow them to weigh 80,000 pounds, they're going to weigh 80,000 pounds when they leave," he said.

For example, HDMA has some member companies that manufacture aluminum hubs that save weight, but "that weight goes in the trailer as additional freight," Kraus said.

For fuel efficiency, Class 8 truck makers are focusing more on the engine and aerodynamics, he said.

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