The Commercial Vehicle Show - logo image

31 AUG - 2 SEPT 2021 • NEC • BIRMINGHAM • UK

The emerging opportunity of urban last-mile deliveries

Reports state that the global last-mile delivery market is projected to grow to around £44bn by 2025, up from £23bn in 2018 and £29bn in 2020. Depending upon which report you read, this represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of between approximately 9 and 10%.

Given UK cities’ net zero pledge, this rapidly growing market represents a significant opportunity for those embracing a zero carbon future, and a range of urban delivery methods are emerging across the UK.

From electric vans to hydrogen trucks, the CV industry is adapting quickly to the need for reduced emissions and enhanced fleet efficiency, and the last-mile sector presents an opportunity to tackle the challenge even more creatively.

Alongside conventional last-mile options companies are embracing alternative, low and zero emission fuels and new technologies to complement the tried-and-tested truck and van solutions.

This week, TNB takes a closer look.

UK company Electric Assisted Vehicles (EAV) has completed a trial with Asda of its electric assisted eCargo bike. Vehicles such as these, says Asda’s vice president of online grocery, Simon Gregg, help the retailer to “look to the future of retail” and consider new and innovative ways to “navigate low emission zones and pedestrianised areas.”

EAV’s production-ready vehicle weighs 150kg and is made entirely from sustainable and recyclable materials, including carbon composites. It provides a modular rear cargo pod that can be specified for a range of customers – holding up to 10 totes of shopping during the Asda trial – and is pedestrian zone, road and cycle lane friendly.

“The eCargo concept has already proven to be more efficient that any van within an urban parcels and packages logistics scenario,” said Adam Barmby, EAV founder and CEO, of the successful Asda trail, adding that interest in the company’s concept was also gaining traction in Scotland.

Incentivising uptake of low carbon technologies and demonstrating the viability of ultra-lightweight vehicles, the Energy Saving Trust is offering Scottish businesses interest free loans of up to £30,000 for the purchase of electric assisted vehicles such as those developed by EAV.

According to Barmby, “The advent of electric bike technology has meant we can now use a bio-mechanical electric hybrid vehicle, like the EAV 2Cubed, to replace most vans and even cars in urban environments without any loss in business operational efficiency or discomfort to the operator or driver.”

He explained that the 2Cubed 2m3 fixed rear box can carry 20% of the capacity of a mid-sized diesel-engined van, and that technical advancements in wheel and tyre technologies will increase its payload capacity in the near future. The technology referenced by Barmby includes that which is specific to lightweight utilisation and which is ideal for EAV utilisation, such as the Axial Flux Traction motor developed by Saietta: its modular 16kg motor can be scaled up for larger vehicles, but its high torque density is ideal for what the company refers to as the ‘L category’ sector, which includes final- mile delivery vehicles.

EAV has also successfully completed a trial of its 2Cubed eCargo concept with Gordonstoun School in Scotland and London-based on-demand laundry and dry-cleaning company, Laundryheap, among others.

While EAVs represent an emerging solution to urban congestion and emissions challenges, another answer could be found in the sky.

The CV sector has already adapted in the face of Covid – with mobile vaccination centres and transport offered by converted buses, heightened demand for equipment and PPE delivery, and refrigerated transportation of vaccines – and an 18-month trial of aerial drones will launch later in 2021 in an attempt to “revolutionise the way in which healthcare services are delivered.” The trial, in conjunction with the University of Strathclyde and dubbed project CAELUS, will explore the viability of drones as a method for delivering blood, organs and medical supplies in Scotland.

“Although our focus is on healthcare, the CAELUS project could pave the way for the deployment of drone-enabled logistics in other sectors and has the potential to change the way airspace is used by manned and unmanned vehicles,” said Fiona Smith, head of aerodrome strategy at AGS Airports, one of the consortium members. “It also has clear environmental benefits as it will play a key role in reducing the carbon emissions generated by existing, road-based distribution networks within Scotland.”

The project is seeking to overcome challenges that include the continued development of collision avoidance technology, and its scope of work could later evolve to include alternative electric aerial vehicle networks, such as home deliveries and even passenger transport. However, infrastructure development is key for the adoption of any emerging technology, and a UK start-up has recently received government backing for its innovative solution.

According to Essex based logistics company Velta International Freight Management, drones do present an interesting solution for last-mile delivery, but they are not the complete answer and traditional methods will always be in use.

It said, “The limitations of drones in only having the capability to transport small packages, and the weight restrictions of the packages they can carry, means that multidrop deliveries in a dense area or larger deliveries to one location are more economical when made by van.

“That’s not to say that there are not benefits to be achieved from utilising drones. In difficult-to-reach areas, where terrain is rough and roads underdeveloped, drones can certainly have a positive impact. In fact, blood and plasma are already being flown by autonomous drones to clinics in the rural western part of Rwanda, where poor road conditions often delay time-critical delivery of medical supplies for hours or even days.

“So whilst drones are a long way off from completely replacing alternative methods of transportation, the capability to utilise drone delivery to compliment processes already in place is clearly beneficial, specifically when it comes to high value, time critical goods.”

So, the road network is still mainly the focus with many more smaller EVs lining up for the last-mile revolution.

Amazon has formed part of the charge with its first-ever customised electric delivery vehicle, which promises to be a common sight in 2022. It is looking to have 10,000 of the new electric vehicles on the road by next and the full complement of 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2030.

The vehicle, developed with Rivian, was described by Amazon as “the future of last-mile delivery”. Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe explained, “The vehicle we’ve developed with Amazon is not just electric. We prioritised safety and functionality to create a vehicle that’s optimised for package delivery. We thought through how drivers get in and out of the van, what the workspace feels like and what the workflow is for delivering packages.”

For the delivery giant it’s not just about the vehicles. Its Last Mile Logistics Hub has been approved by the City of London Corporation and will involve the conversion of 39 car parking spaces within the underutilised London Wall Car Park into a logistics hub.

The company says that the last-mile leg of home deliveries will be managed from this hub and completed using e-cargo bikes or even on foot, removing, according to chair of the planning and transportation committee at the City of London Corporation, Alastair Moss, “85 vehicles off the road each day, meaning up to 23,000 fewer vehicle journeys in central London every year.”


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