Tired of waiting on the auto industry, the German postal service built its own e-trucks

Going it alone.
Going it alone.
Image: Reuters/Thilo Schmuelgen
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Most of the attention in the electric-truck sector recently has focused on Tesla, which presented its Semi model to great fanfare earlier this month. Not to be outdone, Daimler beat Tesla to the punch by unveiling its big electric rig a few weeks before Elon Musk’s big moment. Those scene-stealing electric semis won’t be on the roads until 2019 at the earliest. In the meantime, smaller, lightweight e-trucks are desperately needed in cities crippled by air and noise pollution.

Daimler started delivering its small electric truck—the FUSO eCanter— in Europe this week. Made by Daimler’s Mitsubishi Fuso truck division, it has a range of  62 miles (100 km) and can transport 4.5 tons. UPS already uses eCanters in the US. German parcel service DHL will buy some too—but DHL already has a pretty amazing electric truck success story of its own.

While automotive bosses talked up their e-mobility plans, Germany’s Deutsche Post DHL got tired of waiting to electrify its fleet. In 2014, after no car company was willing to partner with it, the logistics company went ahead and bought a small startup called StreetScooter. Within 18 months, it had developed its own basic, electric postal vans to zoom around crowded cities, delivering post, parcels—and handling that all-important “last mile” of delivery.

The disruptive StreetScooter now makes fully electric pickups, vans, bikes, and trikes, which it also sells to third parties. It says that its some 5,000 e-vehicles have driven 13.5 million kilometers so far, and saved more than 16,000 tons of CO2 annually.

The project’s success irked some of Germany’s automotive behemoths: Bloomberg reported that VW CEO Matthias Müller said: “It’s extremely annoying to me. I am asking myself why Deutsche Post didn’t work with us on this.”

DHL plans to ramp up production of StreetScooters to 10,000 a year next year, and is building a second factory in Germany in 2018, allowing it to sell more vehicles to third parties.

The scrappy StreetScooter now has important friends: Ford is now a partner, and the company has plans to build it a fleet of around 2,500 bigger e-trucks, based on the Ford Transit van.