Drug store chain Duane Reade lists the eco-friendly products it sells, from face wipes to glass cleaner to bamboo cutting boards, on its Web site. But the New York-based retailer’s most eco-friendly offering is found on the street, not the shelf.
Duane Reade just purchased 10 electric-powered trucks, bringing its total number of electric trucks to 14 — about 25 percent of its citywide delivery fleet. Those plug-in trucks will save the retailer about 1 million diesel fuel miles a year, cut its total greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent, and reduce energy costs per vehicle by 75 percent compared to its diesel-powered trucks.
Deploying 10 electric trucks is the equivalent of taking 1,000 tailpipes off city streets, said Charles Hayward, Duane Reade’s fleet operations manager, who launched the retailer’s electric power program in 2010. When it comes to deploying electric trucks, “we’re not kidding around any more,” he said. “I tell my drivers they’ll tell their grandchildren they were the rocket scientists of the trucking industry.”
While much of the U.S. and the general media focus on the merits of natural gas as a truck fuel, the Big Apple is testing the limits of battery-powered transportation.
Electric trucks aren’t exactly rocket science or even new — battery-powered taxicabs jostled next to horses, wagons and carriages on New York streets as early as 1896 — but New York has become an incubator of sorts for electric vehicles, partly because of incentives offered by local, state and federal governments.
Companies from FedEx to Frito-Lay are deploying electric trucks in the city, along with smaller transport operators such as New Deal Logistics in South Kearney, N.J. Grants from New York’s Private Fleet Alternative-Fuel/Electric Vehicle Program can cover a portion of the cost of a medium-duty electric or natural gas truck.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and New York City Department of Transportation have made substantial awards to companies deploying alternative fuel vehicles. The city’s own municipal fleet has more than 430 electric vehicles, and there now are more than 73 public charging stations in New York, according to the 2012 EV Casebook, a report on electric-vehicle friendly cities published by the International Energy Agency. And New York state plans to build 325 charging stations across the state, with several located in New York City.
Smith Electric Vehicles, which produces electric trucks used by New Deal, Frito-Lay and Duane Reade, plans to open a truck plant in Bronx, N.Y., this year as part of its localized assembly, sales and service strategy. That will give Smith, which is planning an initial public offering, a direct presence in a major market.
The manufacturer currently builds chassis in Kansas City, Mo., and ships them to local body shops for final truck assembly. The strategy allows customers to have a greater say than usual in truck design, Hayward said. “You can customize the truck to the job you’re trying to accomplish,” he said. “The electric truck becomes a very job-specific vehicle.”
Duane Reade, a Walgreens subsidiary and the largest pharmaceutical retailer in New York City, supplies 255 stores in the region from a warehouse in Maspeth, Queens, Hayward said.
Electric trucks, he admits, aren’t for all distribution networks. They have a more limited range than trucks that run on compressed natural gas or diesel. Fully charged, Duane Reade’s trucks can travel about 100 miles, though energy efficiency and total daily mileage can depend on how much power can be regenerated through braking in traffic.
“There is no silver bullet, but there are solutions for every problem,” Hayward said. “Is this the solution to over-the-road trucking? Of course not. But if you are in an urban environment, an area you can define on a daily basis, you don’t need diesel.”
He should know. The son of a truck driver, Hayward can trace his transportation lineage to the 19th century, when one of his great-grandparents ran a moving business in Brooklyn, at one point using electric trucks. He’s come full circle.
“I’ve still got a set of horse bells in the basement somewhere,” he said. But for the 21st century and Duane Reade, the electric truck is a true New York solution.
Continental Truck Body in Maspeth assembles the 26,000-pound gross vehicle weight trucks for Smith. The vehicles were purchased through Milea Truck Sales in the Bronx. “We can do our jobs without contributing to an already noisy, polluted environment,” Hayward said. “And we can provide jobs in our own neighborhoods. We’re a unique New York company. If we don’t do this, who is going to do it?”