We went for a ride-along with a DHL driver to see what he thinks of their electric-vehicle fleet

Tightly packed cities are ideal for last-mile EV vehicles. In New York, DHL is all-in.
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· 4 min read

There we were on a recent Friday morning, in a DHL delivery truck, driving through the chaos of 38th Street in midtown Manhattan. But it was so quiet inside that when you spoke, you half-expected a librarian to shush you.

We were in a Ford Transit 350 cargo van, but this one had been souped-up (souped-down?) by Lightning eMotors, which installs battery power under the hoods in place of rumbling gas engines.

It’s one of 51 fully electric vehicles in DHL’s last-mile delivery fleet in Manhattan, with another 45 being hybrid-electric. Manhattan, it turns out, with 53.1% of its delivery fleet fully electric, is nearly a microcosm of DHL’s ambitious global plans for electrifying its delivery fleet.

  • DHL has stated that by 2030, 60% (a total of more than 80,000) of its last-mile global fleet will be fully electric.
  • By comparison, the USPS announced this year only 10% of the 50,000 last-mile trucks it was purchasing would be electric; now it says it will purchase 50%.

Tony Grimila has been delivering for DHL for almost seven years. We tagged along because we wondered, as carriers electrify their fleets, whether these EVs are up to the task. And if people like Grimila who are driving them day in and day out think that they—in every sense of the word—deliver.

“You just charge, you know?” Grimila said as he stopped for a light at 9th Avenue. “There’s not that many gas stations in Manhattan…so it could be a 40-minute, 45-minute wait. Electric, you don’t have to worry about that.”

Charging ahead: The dashboard indicated that the fully charged truck had another 66 miles. And for a delivery truck in Gotham, that’s plenty.

In 2021, The North American Council on Freight Efficiency, which promotes greener transportation alternatives, monitored 18 consecutive days of Grimila making his deliveries in this truck.

  • The total daily mileage for the vehicle ranged from 15.7 to 18.8 miles.

While Grimila has never run out of juice with the latest EV crop, when he started almost seven years ago, there were electric delivery trucks that dated back to 2011, when the facility purchased 30 Ford Transit Connect vans that had been converted to electric by Azure Dynamics. But there were…issues.

“The older ones would die all the time,” Grimila said. “You’ve got to get a tow truck, and then you’ve got to wait for the tow truck [to] come and it’s a headache. But with the new ones, no one has really had that problem.”

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Voting with your fleet: Gordon Culver, the station services manager overseeing DHL’s Manhattan facility, won’t be filling in for Grimila anytime soon.

“I’m not very good at driving trucks,” he told us.

But what Culver does offer is both an MBA in logistics, materials, and supply-chain management, and a previous position as a policy analyst with environmental group the Clean Water Network.

“DHL is very proud of…chasing this idea of becoming green, especially through electrification of the fleet,” Culver said. “It’s something that we want to be at the forefront of, and I think that we definitely are—especially here in Manhattan.”

Culver also noted that, until batteries have a higher capacity and fast-charging stations become ubiquitous, it will be more challenging to make EV delivery vehicles work in more rural or even suburban areas.

“Our territory obviously lends itself much better to electric vehicles because the range demands aren’t as high,” he said. “I have people that only ended up driving a few miles in a day. It’s different than when you’re going to do rural deliveries, and…do 240 miles a day. The technology isn’t quite there to always support that.”

But what makes electrified trucks work so well for New York might be exactly why the city needs them.

“We have a very crowded city with a lot of delivery vehicles. And just when you think about how much pollution is going into the air…anything we can do to advance that a little bit, step by step, is what we can do as corporate citizens for the world.”

Driving the point home: Back in the delivery truck, Grimila is stopped in traffic on 38th Street—not idling, technically, because there’s no engine humming—between a diesel UPS truck parked on our left and a hybrid FedEx truck on our right.

Grimila’s personal car is an Infiniti Q50, but when it’s paid off next year, he’s making a switch that’s all too familiar to his employer.

“I want to do a Tesla,” he said. “Because…gas prices are going crazy.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.