Oct 17, 2023 - Economy & Business

Amazon reaches 10,000 Rivian electric delivery vans in U.S.

Rivian electric delivery vans for Amazon charging. Photo: Amazon

Amazon announced a significant expansion of its electric delivery van fleet from Rivian at an event in Seattle on Tuesday afternoon.

Details: The company says it now has 10,000 of its co-created vehicles — with a range of up to 150 miles — on roads in the U.S. covering 1,800 cities. The fleet, launched last summer, is now double the size that it was in July.

  • In addition, Amazon says it now has 12,000 chargers for its vehicles at over 100 delivery stations.

Context: Amazon currently has about 100,000 gas-powered delivery vans worldwide, which will be "slowly retired.”

  • Over 20,000 drivers have been trained around the country to drive the Rivians.
  • Globally, Amazon has 279,000 delivery drivers dropping off 20 million packages a day.

The big picture: Amazon is now operating one of the largest fleets of electric delivery vans in the country.

  • Tracking the speed and scale of its progress is key to helping electric utilities plan for the future, as they bulk up their own capabilities to meet upcoming energy demand as logistics operators and automakers move away from gas-powered vehicles, experts tell Axios.
  • Decarbonizing transportation — the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. — through electric vehicles is one of the key actions to helping the country meet its net-zero emissions target by 2050.

“Bellwether” for transition

The utility industry is "very interested" in understanding where electrified transportation patterns of cars, buses and trucks are going to show up on the grid, because they can show up anywhere — such as highways and rural farmlands, Britta Gross, director of transportation for EPRI, an independent, non-profit energy research and development institute, tells Axios.

  • "As a leading logistics provider, [Amazon can] send clear demand signals to the entire utility industry" about what they need in coming years so that the grid operators can prepare in advance, she says.
  • "No one can react in days or weeks."

Zoom out: The utility industry over the last 100 years has been designed for building electrification.

  • Transportation and electric power have "lived in separate silos" so Amazon is acting like a "bellwether" for the overall transition to electric vehicles, says Kellen Schefter, senior director of electric transportation at Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for investor-owned electric companies in the U.S.
  • Carmakers and logistics providers meeting early with electric companies about their plans, like Amazon has, will be critical to maintaining the reliability of the grid, he adds.
  • One of the benefits that Amazon has is its many locations, which helps inform capacity, he says.

Be smart: Amazon has an overall goal of using 100,000 Rivian vans by 2030 as part of its 2019 Climate Pledge to achieve net-zero carbon by 2040, which is 10 years ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement.

  • "We really want to share progress ... because it continues to demonstrate [that] we're actively working across some of the hardest parts of our fulfillment network," Kara Hurst, Amazon's head of worldwide sustainability, tells Axios exclusively ahead of the news.
  • Currently, 450 other companies have also signed onto the climate pledge, which aims to increase transparency, partnerships and infrastructure development, she adds.
  • (As a major investor in Rivian, Amazon also has a stake in its success.)

The intrigue: Amazon continues to invest in new warehouses to quicken delivery speeds, but says those goals don't conflict with its sustainability commitments.

  • "Our fastest delivery speeds actually come with the lowest emissions, because those are sales that are actually happening much closer to the customer," Udit Madan, Amazon's vice president of transportation, who tries to drive routes quarterly, tells Axios.

What to watch: Ramping up its fleet from 0 to 10,000 has been the hard part because there's been so much to learn in the design of the vehicles, their deployment and partnerships with utility companies, Tom Chempananical, Amazon's director of global last mile fleet, tells Axios.

  • Long-haul trucking electrification is another difficult part of the transportation transition, as they carry so many goods and battery range still being an issue, says Madan.
  • "Our goal is a completely zero-emissions fleet. We may very well have a range of solutions, but we think the vast majority of the fleet will be electric," says Madan.

Our thought bubble: It's easy to be cynical about sustainability projects. And Amazon has also come under a lot of criticism for its size, which Hurst says is not her area to worry about.

  • But size and scale are key to the kind of large transformational change needed to achieve the Paris Agreement's stretch goal of holding temperature rise to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels.
  • My household alone composting feverishly or agonizing over packaging decisions isn't going to do it.
  • "In sustainability, which I can speak to, we are very welcome at all the tables because the scale that we bring is so important," says Hurst.

Go deeper: Biden admin unveils $7 billion plan for regional hydrogen "hubs"

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