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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Primer for Improved Urban Freight Mobility and Delivery
Operations, Logistics, and Technology Strategies

Electric Vehicles
Demonstration of Zero-Emission Delivery Vehicles in the Houston-Galveston Area

Primary Objective

Key Accomplishments

  • The project team completed the manufacture and deployment of 18 all-electric delivery vehicles in November 2016.
  • Through June 2017, the test vehicles had driven nearly 70,000 miles, reducing diesel consumption by almost 12,500 gallons.
  • Estimated reductions in NOx emissions over the same time period totaled about 94 pounds, and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions came to nearly 280,000 pounds.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) is partnering with the parcel carrier UPS to acquire and test the performance of 18 all-electric delivery vehicles in real-world operations. This is just one of many initiatives by H-GAC, the region's MPO, to improve air quality in the greater Houston region. A Federal Department of Energy (DOE) was provided to reduce emissions, and to provide detailed information about the market viability of all-electric delivery vehicles and the emissions benefits from using them.

Implementation Approach

Eight counties in the Houston-Galveston area of Texas are designated as a nonattainment area for ground-level ozone, an air pollutant that can trigger a variety of health problems. Conventionally fueled motor vehicles, including freight delivery vehicles, are significant sources of NOx and volatile organic compounds, which are precursors to ground-level ozone. Therefore, these vehicles are an important focus of efforts to reduce ozone concentrations.

H-GAC has had a long history of working to replace older diesel vehicles with either alternative-fuel vehicles or with newer, conventionally fueled vehicles that produce lower emissions. Therefore, it was not surprising for the agency to apply for a DOE grant that offered Federal resources to promote zero-emission cargo transport in areas of severe air quality nonattainment and severe traffic congestion. H-GAC saw the grant as an opportunity to demonstrate to local stakeholders and others that all-electric delivery vehicles can operate successfully in the Houston-Galveston region and are a viable solution for owners of freight delivery fleets that wish to reduce emissions.

H-GAC was awarded a $2 million DOE grant in 2012. In the spring of 2014, H-GAC issued a call for projects inviting applications from fleet or vehicle operators in the Houston region. Respondents were required to submit a response in partnership with a certified original equipment manufacturer or supplier of all-electric delivery vehicles. Later in 2014, H-GAC selected the application from UPS, which proposed to acquire and deploy 18 all-electric step vans built by Workhorse Group (known at the time as AMP Electric Vehicles). The vehicles were designed for local parcel delivery in high-density, urban settings. The fully electric trucks operate with electric motors and rechargeable batteries that provide a range of up to 70 miles per day.

The first of the demonstration vehicles reached UPS in the fall of 2015. As they were delivered, UPS put the vehicles into operation at three different distribution centers. The last of the vehicles was placed into operations by UPS in November 2016. Presently, the project is in the middle of a two-year performance monitoring period that will end in late 2018. H-GAC, UPS, and Workhorse Group are working through technical issues to ensure that the vehicles remain operational and are utilized by UPS to the greatest extent possible. H-GAC and UPS are also currently working to improve the transfer of operational and utilization data about the vehicles to the MPO.

Through June 2017, the demonstration vehicles had driven nearly 70,000 miles, reducing diesel consumption by almost 12,500 gallons. NOx reductions over the same time period totaled about 94 pounds, and reductions in carbon dioxide emissions came to nearly 280,000 pounds.

H-GAC and its partners have overcome several challenges to get the project to its present state. The first challenge for H-GAC was that the vehicle manufacturer with which they had applied for the DOE grant was no longer in business by the time the grant award was announced. Therefore, H-GAC had to work with DOE to restructure the grant agreement. The agreement was modified to allow participating fleet owners to partner with an OEM or vehicle supplier of their own choosing.

H-GAC also faced challenges in recruiting additional fleets to participate in the demonstration. The MPO continued to recruit fleets to deploy another 12 all-electric vehicles, but it was ultimately unable to sign on any other fleets with the right operating characteristics. According to H-GAC staff, other delivery fleets expressed interest in participating in the project, but their routes were either too long or otherwise unsuited to the current capabilities of all-electric vehicles. Recruitment was also hindered by "range anxiety," the concern that an all-electric vehicle's batteries will be depleted before the vehicle can return to its base of operations. Some potential participants proposed using vehicles with "range extenders," which are small gasoline engines that can recharge the vehicle's battery when necessary. However, this option was deemed inconsistent with the "zero-emission" aspect of the DOE grant.

Initially, identifying matching funds for the Federal grant was also a challenge. H-GAC had hoped to use funds from a State air quality program known as the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan. However, the MPO determined that it would not be possible to use both Texas Emissions Reduction Plan funding and the DOE grant for the project. UPS is providing the required matching funds.

For other agencies engaging in demonstrations of new vehicle technologies, H-GAC staff recommend including a driver education component to make sure the vehicles are used correctly. In addition, they suggest that it is important for vehicle makers to have ready access to replacement parts so that demonstration vehicles are not sidelined for long periods of time.

Local Contacts

Shelley Whitworth, Air Quality Program Manager, H-GAC, 713-627-3200,

Andrew DeCandis, Senior Planner, H-GAC, 713-627-3200,

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