MAN Truck & Bus

There are many positive things to say about the electric vans

Swiss Post is one of the largest companies in Switzerland and it’s forging ahead with its own transition in the field of transport: Swiss Post plans to only be using electrically powered vehicles to deliver parcels and packages to their recipients by 2030. But MAN eTGE vehicles are already taking goods to postal customers in selected areas – coordinated by Thomas J. Ernst, Head of National Transport and Procurement PostLogistics. A conversation about first impressions with e-mobility.

Portrait von Thomas Ernst, Leiter Nationale Transporte und Beschaffung PostLogistics bei der Schweizerischen Post

There are many positive things to say about the electric vans

Swiss Post is one of the largest companies in Switzerland and it’s forging ahead with its own transition in the field of transport: Swiss Post plans to only be using electrically powered vehicles to deliver parcels and packages to their recipients by 2030. But MAN eTGE vehicles are already taking goods to postal customers in selected areas – coordinated by Thomas J. Ernst, Head of National Transport and Procurement PostLogistics. A conversation about first impressions with e-mobility.

22/10/2020

Thomas Jakob Ernst

has been with the company since 1987 and has already held a variety of management positions since then. The Zurich-based Head of National Transport and Procurement PostLogistics has been responsible for, among other things, all rail and road transport at Swiss Post since 2004.

Swiss Post has only been using e-transporters to deliver parcels and packages in four major Swiss cities since 2019 – what are your impressions so far?

Ernst The vehicles are simply great. The eTGE’s range doesn’t matter in major cities so the positive aspects are, of course, particularly striking. Its range will increase even further as better batteries become available in a few years and we’ll be able to commence electrifying the periphery with its open terrain and mountains.

What special challenges do electrically powered vans face?

Ernst E-transporters are first and foremost tools for us. We need vehicles to run smoothly for an average of eight years in order for them to be commercially viable for us. But they’re put to some heavy use: Always driving up on to pavements and then back down again, the doors are slammed and the engines started up 250 times a day. And yet: You pay 90% of the price for an e-vehicle on the first day – after that, it starts paying for itself.

To what extent does the car amortise so quickly?

Ernst The susceptibility to break downs is simply lower, they’re easier to run. There’s no manual transmission, there’s no starting the car and there are fewer parts in the motor that are prone to breaking down. And the overheads are lower – electricity is cheaper than diesel. Even though we’ve been sourcing our electricity from renewables only since 2012.

Is Swiss Post bearing all the costs?

Ernst No. Switzerland levies taxes on fossil fuels that are then funnelled back to businesses. Swiss Post benefits from a total of three million francs and we’re using that to electrify the entire fleet. From bicycles to trucks, that’s what politicians want.

So politics and business are working towards a common goal where the transition in the field of transport is concerned?

Ernst The Co2 law in Switzerland was definitely a boost. We’re now being asked halve our greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2030. It’s not much of a contribution when an individual baker buys an electric vehicle, but it’s a completely different picture when the post office, including its fleet of parcel-delivery cars, switches to e-mobility. That’s between 2000 and 3000 vans.

Will Swiss Post achieve its goal by 2030?

Ernst That’s what we want to do. We’re already looking to see where it’s possible to replace which diesel vehicles and are trying to work out how high parcel volumes will probably be in 2030. We’re planning our fleet accordingly and are building the necessary infrastructure, which obviously includes charging stations. Our question is rather: Will the market be able to provide a sufficient number of vehicles? That’s a relevant question because demand is currently outstripping supply.

But people have known about electrically driven vehicles as an alternative for a long time?

Ernst That’s right. We knew years ago that traffic restrictions were probably going to be introduced in cities. Diesel bans, larger pedestrian zones and the like. We had to prepared for that. One thing was clear where electric drives were concerned: Something was happening. That’s why I decided to look into it.

So Swiss Post has had its eye on e-transporters for a while now?

Ernst I travelled to Amsterdam in 2018 especially to test electric vans in the harbour area. The development in Europe was still in its infancy, the cars had come from the Far East. MAN only informed us later that it was intending to switch to electricity. We now finally have much higher-quality vehicles; the feel, the overall sense of space is beyond comparison for a commercial vehicle.

Will vehicles still be needed at all in 2030? Swiss Post is already experimenting with robots and drones for delivery.

Ernst I think small trucks are still the best, particularly for the final mile. And particularly because they’re able to transport 250 packages instead of just 10. We’re working towards a mix of automated delivery and vans – also because the parcels are getting increasingly smaller and lighter so they take longer to deliver; but they could also actually be handled by drones.

E-vans are still going to be driven by people in the future?

Ernst Definitely. Parcel couriers are actually creatures of habit and have been accustomed to the old vehicles for so long. Deliveries are made in small bursts, it’s rare that anyone drives for 100 metres at a time. Without exception our couriers enjoy driving the eTGE – all they have to do is press a button and off they go. They’re actually delighted. One of our drivers even phoned me and said: “There’s one thing I’m telling you right now: I’m not getting out of this thing until you retire me. This van is now mine!”

Interview Patrick Witte
Photos Marc and David

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