This Christmas season we delivered and collected all WunderTrees without carbon emissions. To put this in perspective, we had 8 electric vans driving up to 12 hours per day for a total of 31 days. We did a combined total distance of just under 20,000km+. That’s almost like driving from Berlin to Vladivostok in the easternmost outreaches of Russia and BACK! And we did all of this with fewer emissions than if you drove a petrol-powered car around the corner.
To achieve this we used Mercedes-Benz electric eSprinter and powered them with 100% renewable energy. We’re proud that we could make over 3,000 stops without putting a puff of C02 into the atmosphere so we’re very grateful for our sponsors at Mercedes-Benz Niederlassung who made it possible.
While on the outside WunderTree looks like a Christmas Tree business, if you look closer we are just as much a logistics business. We do our logistics because many traditional packet delivery services are stuck in the past and can’t provide the service we need. While it’s quite easy for logistics service to deliver to your door, the collection and return shipping is more complicated and requires you to take your packet to a collection hub. This is fine for sneakers in a box but very difficult for items like electrical goods or in our case Christmas Trees. Making return shipping or peer-to-peer shipping frictionless is one of the biggest gaps that needs to be filled for a circular economy to properly function.
We’re very proud of achieving zero-emission delivery and collection. We proved that zero-emission logistics are possible, they just require a different way of thinking and planning. These challenges shouldn’t be seen as excuses to keep doing things the old and dirty way, instead, they should be seen as the first moments of development and growth. We learned a lot this season that’s why we want to take you through our experience operating an all-electric delivery fleet for the first time.
But first, let’s get our terms straight. The term EV, electric vehicles, is technology slang for any type of electric car that is powered by electricity and battery technology. The traditional cars using petrol or diesel for fuel rely on internal combustion engines, ICEs. ICE is what most of us still drive.
With growing awareness of the negative health impacts of ICEs and the devastation brought by burning fossil fuel, it is clear that the internal combustion engine is on its way out. The European Union is in effect planning on banning the sale of new ICE cars by 2025, and the rest of the world is going in the same direction. Germany is a historical automobile superpower, and many companies such as Mercedes-Benz are now driving the development and rollout of EV technology. One of these developments is the electrification of the transporter vans. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter is hugely popular for transporting goods in Germany so the decision to offer an EV model has the potential to offer a clean solution to the ever-increasing amount of packet deliveries.
A big one: range
We still cannot talk about electric cars without mentioning range, ie. how far can you drive with one charge. For a business whose core value proposition is smooth and reliable delivery and pickup service, we had to be sure that we could make the logistics work. Electric cars have come a long way since the birth of G-Wiz, the first commercial EV in 2001 with a range barely suitable for single inner-city trips at little more than walking speed. The Mercedes-Benz eSprinter can do up to 170km with one charge even with the stop-and-start nature of the delivery driving. Many passenger EVs, being smaller and lighter than delivery vans, already match the range of an average ICE car - and let’s keep in mind that the EV industry is only in its infancy. Although technology does develop in a compounding manner, it has taken the ICE over 150 years to get to the same journey efficiency.
(By offering on-demand delivery our daily routes stretched across Berlin)
The distances we drove required a combination of overnight charging and at least one additional charging break per day. This brings us to the challenge of...
If you are reading this and own a petrol or diesel car, where is the most convenient petrol station near your house or on the way to work? Easy to answer. Now, how many electric car charging points can you locate out of memory? Unless you are an EV aficionado, probably not that many.
Berlin has around 600 publicly available charging points spread out across the city. Some of these are for rapid charging (charge from 10% to 85% in around 25 minutes), while others offer normal charging speeds - think overnight charge at home or during a workday. At an EU level, about 10% of all charging points are for rapid charging while the rest charge at normal speed. Most EV drivers in Germany charge their cars either overnight at home or in the office during working hours, so the low availability of rapid charging rarely becomes an issue. We were driving all day from 8 am to 8 pm delivering WunderTrees, so we needed fast charging throughout the day.
Some maps and apps conveniently show the locations of these charging points. Often the points are located on the streets, which is convenient but also makes them easy to miss. When parking space is already scarce, it is not uncommon to see a regular car parked in an EV charging point - or a fully charged vehicle waiting for its next journey. Each time this happens, there is an electric car circling with a depleting battery searching for an alternative spot.
The top tip we learned about halfway through our delivery period: many Lidl parking lots have great rapid charging facilities! This is just one small example of the type of silent or practical knowledge teams and organisations acquire only by doing, and by definition, this knowledge is not there at the first attempt. Even things like physically plugging in the charging cable to the car and the charging box and connecting the whole process with an app take longer the first time.
This isn’t because electric cars are somehow more complicated or less reliable - in most cases, the technology is mature enough that its use is no more difficult than the traditional ICE cars. It is just new, and therefore requires time and effort to learn. Of course, there is still a lot that can be improved but the whole process is like climbing a ladder: each preceding step is required to reach the next. It’s those awkward and frustrating early steps that give us enough data, learnings, and the technology stack to build on to level up and eventually get to widespread acceptance.
We're excited to improve our zero emissions logistics systems with the Mercedes-Benz eSprinter as we expand across Germany in 2021.