• Transport and Logistics Innovation
  • Amazon
  • BEVs

Are Electric Delivery Vehicles Greener than Individual Shopping Trips?

William Drier
Nov 27, 2019

EV Fleet

There has been much debate around the efficiency of the online shopping trend. How inefficient is it for me to order something from an online retailer, when I could drive my own car to a brick-and-mortar shop? Finding the answer requires asking many other questions. How efficient is the vehicle being used? How far is the vehicle traveling? How many stops is it making? It’s difficult to come up with average values, especially as the equation changes with whatever variety of goods are being purchased.

Worth Investigating

It is a difficult question to answer. It is also one that deserves renewed intrigue following Amazon’s recently announced plan to purchase 100,000 electric logistics vans from EV startup Rivian. While Amazon has yet to officially announce where and in what capacity these vehicles will serve, Amazon’s ownership of Whole Foods and its entry into the grocery delivery space raises some interesting questions. Is it more efficient to buy groceries from the store or online?

There seems to be more data available on groceries than other consumer goods. This makes some assumptions more reasonable for back-of-the-envelope calculations. First, the average round-trip distance to and from the grocery store is about 8 miles. Second, a calculation of an average miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) by vehicle type is helpful. The table below uses data from the Alternative Fuels Data Center for internal combustion vehicles and estimates for MPGe of battery EVs (BEVs) based on available market data. 

Estimated MPGe by Vehicle Type

Estimated MPGe by Vehicle type table

(Source: Navigant Research)

Finally, a sensitivity analysis uses a range of estimates in places where data is not available, such as average distance of a grocery delivery van and average number of deliveries per route. These numbers are from assumptions of a similar Environmental Protection Agency study that did not analyze EVs.

How to Use the Numbers

These calculations create a compelling case that conventional logistics vehicles have the potential to deliver groceries more efficiently than an individual car trip through highly optimized route planning. If routes cannot be optimized, a personal vehicle trip is likely to be more efficient. However, battery electric delivery vehicles give grocery delivery fleets more flexibility in achieving efficient operations. For example, the grocery delivery service Peapod shares real-world data where routes and delivery times are not optimized, requiring drivers to double back on their route to make deliveries within a certain time window. This data plugged into the same calculation would show that a personal vehicle trip is more efficient, unless the logistics vehicle is electrified.

Other Strategy Tools

There are realistic strategies logistics fleets can use to further prove greater efficiency over traditional models. One strategy is to pursue fleet electrification combined with a commitment to procure electricity from only renewable sources. Fleets could also work toward route optimization, through some combination of greater route efficiency (fewer deadhead miles and minimizing the need to double back), increased stops per route, and operating at times with less traffic congestion.

Although comparing deliveries of groceries to other consumer goods is a bit like comparing apples to oranges, the analysis makes a compelling first step in qualifying that the growing e-commerce market can make in-roads in reducing overall transportation emissions given the right circumstances. Fleet electrification can improve the capacity to realize those benefits.