UPS trucks are big and square for a reason: it's the design that fits the most parcels. But that constraint isn't stopping the quick-delivery giant from doing everything it can to make its iconic fleet of brown vans more streamlined.
"When fuel prices got real high and totally out of hand about four years ago, I took my engineering group and said, 'We've seen the peaks and valleys of fuel pricing, and we're going to take a stand here and get serious about developing technology that brings something into place to help with fuel consumption," Dale Spencer, UPS's director of maintenance engineering, told brandchannel.
So in a new gambit, UPS has introduced composite materials to replace certain metal components in a test that lightens the trucks by 900 pounds and boosts fuel efficiency by 40 percent. UPS is purchasing 150 composite-body vehicles in a pilot program to test the materials' durability, repair qualities and structural strengths. These are the same types of materials that have shown up on the Tesla sports car and new Boeing Dreamliner passenger jet.
The composites initiative is one of several UPS efforts to become more fuel-efficient and advance the company's commitment to sustainability. Recently UPS became one of only 10 U.S. corporations registered to date this year with the Global Reporting Initiative to have achieved A-plus status for "superior transparency."
"We are disclosing more information than ever," UPS CEO Scott Davis wrote in the report. "We have reported our five-year progress, successes and challenges. Now, we are focused ahead."
Spencer said the composites helped boost aerodynamics of the test vehicles outside the essentially square cargo compartment, enabling a redesigned swept-back windshield and some drag-reducing elements on the rear of the vehicle.
As formulated, he said, the test vehicles relieved Spencer's concerns "about putting plastic in commercial vehicles. We keep our vehicles so long, they had to be durable enough to survive the day-to-day duty cycle."
In any event, Specner, said "I really have no reservations now, and it's opened up another set of eyes for us in the future about building vehicles lighter. I'm not saying everything we use in this [composite] vehicle will get into our larger fleet, but where we can, we will. At 40-percent [fuel savings], you have to do that.