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Research Projects

STATUS: Complete YEAR: 2015 TOPIC AREA: Sustainability, energy, and health CENTER: MetroFreight

Electric Vehicles for Last Mile Deliveries

Project Summary

At first glance, urban freight seems to be an optimal use case for electric vans, due to its typical short distances, low average speeds, sometimes fixed every-day routes, the availability of a company garage, etc. In reality, sales of electric vans remain very low in European countries, and there is no sign of a fast-growing market. In this context, the question of a future breakthrough of electric vehicles for urban freight remains open, and raises the matter of the decisive factors and best support strategies.

Two complementary approaches are considered for this purpose.

First, it is necessary to identify the conditions determining the relevancy of electric vehicles for last mile deliveries. The project will therefore explore the issues of range and recharging, looking at operational requirements as well as the present organizations and vehicle use patterns. Two particular topics have drawn our interest. Land requirements for charging the vehicles can actually represent a significant issue. They are strongly related to night parking behaviors (e.g. with an electric vehicle, bringing the vehicle home no longer seems to be an option for many delivery truck drivers). Second, the link between easiness of use and public charging infrastructure is often given as self-evident, but deserves in our opinion further investigations.

Even when electric vehicles seem a viable option, it is often at the costs of operational flexibility. Sometimes, the need for organizational changes can generate unpredicted difficulties (e.g. electrical installation update or trenching for the installation of charging terminals). As an environmental innovation, the best chance for a wide dissemination is to combine private and collective benefits. What does the electric vehicle have to offer? One part of the answer can be image, comfort or environmental commitment. But economic competitiveness can’t be ignored, and will also be addressed, through an analysis of total costs of ownership (TCO) and considerations on hidden costs or non-monetary features.

A quantitative evaluation of technical and economic constraints will be conducted on the basis of the 2011 French SOeS database on light commercial vehicles. The purpose is to evaluate the proportion of electric vehicles that could be suitable instead of conventional vehicles, and compare the subsequent costs. One objective is to gain an outlook on the present and future attractiveness of electric vehicles given several input data evolution scenarios. Indeed, technology as well as regulatory frameworks seem to be moving fast, and the evolution of oil prices is unpredictable.

The same methodology could be applied to other electric vehicle technologies, which present different technical and financial constraints and may still be at an incubation stage.

Then, a second objective of the research is to study the readiness of European companies to consider electric vehicles and to seize the opportunity they represent. Interviews with transport operators will aim at measuring their sensitivity to the potential future competitiveness of electric vehicles for urban freight, and evaluating if a quick change in the vehicle market seems plausible. Many factors (such as the operators’ knowledge of their fleet uses and of electric car technology, their environmental awareness or their decision making processes) might influence success and failure in electric vehicle development for urban freight, and are therefore included in the scope of the study.

This study is on-going. It is supported by Renault, IFSTTAR and the MetroFreight VREF CoE in the framework of a PhD research (supervisor: L. Dablanc).


Pierre Camilleri
21 Boulevard Voltaire
Dijon, Burgundy BP 81110 - 21011
[email protected]

Laetitia Dablanc
Director of Research, IFSTTAR, French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport, Development and Networks - University of Paris-East
14-20 boulevard Newton, Cite Descartes
Marne la Vallee cedex 2, 77447
[email protected]