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UPS Composite Van ‘Will Be 40% More Efficient’

UPS is testing a composite-body diesel van that it hopes will be 40 percent more fuel efficient than a traditional aluminum vehicle.

The shipping company began testing five of the CV-23 prototype vehicles (see picture, left) in five locations last month. The vans were developed in close collaboration with Isuzu, using one of the car maker’s own chassis, and a composite body designed by Utilimaster.

The resulting van is about 1,000 pounds – or 10 percent – lighter than the P700, a comparable member of the UPS fleet. The 150-horsepower CV-23 uses a six-speed Aisin automatic transmission and an Isuzu four-cylinder diesel engine, smaller than the traditional UPS diesel engine. The company hopes the smaller engine will use less fuel than that of the P700.

UPS said the CV-23’s cost is comparable to that of its existing fleet. “We’re not going to have to spend extra money on composite at this point,” director of automotive engineering Dale Spencer said.

The company is testing the vans at five locations, between now and the end of December. Albany, N.Y., and Tuscon, Ariz., were chosen for their tough weather conditions. Lincoln, Neb., was chosen because of its tough country roads. UPS is also testing near its corporate automotive department in Roswell, Ga., and in Flint, Mich., close to Isuzu headquarters.

The CV-23 has 630 cubic feet of cargo space, compared to 700 cubic feet in the P700.

Over the past few years, UPS has been trying out nearly every type of alternative vehicle imaginable. The company says it currently has 2,000 alternative-fuel vehicles around the world, including 1,100 running on liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG). It also uses propane, electric and hybrid electric vehicles.

UPS would not venture an estimate of how many CV-23s it may eventually order, although directors said the company will look to maintain a diversified fleet. “As far as this being a platform for all of our package cars, we doubt that very seriously,” director of vehicle engineering Mike Britt said. “It is for lighter-duty delivery vehicles.”

But the CV-23 offers an advantage simply by being an alternative fuel vehicle – meaning UPS managers don’t have to worry about where to get the fuel or where to plug the van in.

Another advantage is that composite materials don’t require painting. The finished van therefore requires less energy to produce, and paints are taken out of the waste stream, Britt says.

“There’s no need for paint because color can be injected prior to producing the composite,” Britt explains. “We will not have as much need for paint as we do now, or as much as any other delivery company.” Because the color is embedded throughout the composite, nicks and scratches do not show up as easily, potentially reducing that aspect of maintenance costs, Britt added.

UPS is a charter member of the National Clean Fleets Partnership, a White House initiative to help large companies incorporate electric vehicles, alternative fuels and fuel-saving measures into their fleets.

An interactive infographic on the new van is available here, and a video of the van in action is available here.

In related news, biofuels company KiOR announced an agreement for the right to supply renewable diesel blendstocks to affiliates of FedEx Corporate Services, Inc. It is KiOR’s first deal with an end user of transportation fuels.

KiOR turns biomass into renewable crude oil. This is then processed, using standard refinery equipment, into gasoline, diesel and fuel oil blendstocks that are compatible with existing fuel infrastructure.

The fuel company’s first commercial production facility, in Columbus, Miss., is scheduled to start production in the second half of 2012.

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