Jul 21, 2022 - Economy & Business

Amazon's new electric Rivian delivery trucks hit the road

Amazon's Rivian-designed EDV electric delivery van.
Photo courtesy of Amazon

Amazon is beginning wide-scale deliveries Thursday with its Rivian-designed electric cargo van, a next-generation logistics vehicle years in the making.

Why it matters: Significantly electrifying Amazon's delivery van fleet could help the company meet its ambitious target of hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

  • Commercial fleets will probably go electric at significant scale before everyday car buyers — meaning companies like Amazon, FedEx and so on are poised to drive the electrification revolution.

Driving the news: Amazon introduced the production model of Rivian's van, called the Electric Delivery Vehicle (EDV), at a Chicago press event Thursday following a pilot program that began last year.

  • The EDV is also rolling out today in Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City, Nashville, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle and St. Louis, "among other cities" in the U.S., per Amazon.

The details: The EDV isn't just yesterday's cargo van with an internal combustion engine swapped for an electric one — it's purpose-built with tech meant to meet the needs of Amazon and its drivers.

  • Onboard software links up with Amazon's logistics systems.
  • Accelerometers throughout the vehicle monitor for bangs and bumps, signaling that it might be time for preventative maintenance before something important breaks.
  • Driver-assist features like collision warnings and automatic braking are meant to improve safety.
  • The cabin is ergonomically designed, and a powered cargo area door can automatically open at delivery destinations — features that could help reduce driver fatigue and, by extension, turnover.
  • The massive sloped windshield might look a little Pixar, but it improves driver visibility.

What they're saying: "What's happened over the last two-plus years is, we've gone from a whiteboard sketch into detail design, spent a lot of iterations with the Amazon team and with drivers," Rivian CEO R.J. Scaringe tells Axios.

  • His team has been "observing, getting feedback — questioning everything from where our grab handles should be, to where our footsteps should be, to the way the HVAC works in the vehicle, to the way the connectivity platforms work, to the way our in-vehicle systems interact with Amazon's digital ecosystem."
  • "This vehicle is really the first big step in helping us get to an excellent position," adds Udit Madan, Amazon's VP of Last Mile.

Amazon has a handful of other electric vehicles in use around the world, added Madan, including e-bikes, rickshaws and more.

  • The delivery giant will have "multiple partners" in the EV space, Madan said. "Rivian's going to be a very important one of them, but one of many."

Between the lines: The Amazon deal — it's buying 100,000 EDVs through 2030 — is a lifeline for Rivian, which has been seen as a promising Tesla competitor but has struggled to beef up its consumer production numbers.

  • Amazon is also a significant Rivian shareholder, holding about 18% of the company's stock as of March.
  • In part, Rivian has been held back by a big problem recently plaguing every automaker: a serious lack of semiconductors. But Scaringe sees signs that issue is abating, "in part because the suppliers really lean in to work with us, but also in part because there is some slowdown in overall demand," he says.
  • Amazon's support could help Rivian weather a recession, if one materializes. Many other upstart EV makers may not be so lucky.

Rivian's EDV project, Scaringe added, isn't taking attention away from its consumer vehicles, the R1T pickup and R1S SUV. "There's a consumer vehicle line, and then there's a commercial vehicle line, but it's completely different robotics, completely different tooling and fixtures ... we're not competing for real estate in the sense that if for every R1T we build, it's taking a slot from an EDV."

Our thought bubble: Amazon's and Rivian's ability to work together relatively quickly on what appears to be an impressive, purpose-built EV casts the United States Postal Service's struggles to electrify its own fleet in a harsh light. "It's really a missed opportunity," says Scaringe of the USPS situation.

What's next: Amazon plans to roll out thousands of EDVs in more than 100 cities this year, while Rivian competitors like Ford (a onetime partner) and GM are introducing electric cargo vans of their own.

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