To do so, it's going plastic.
Last year, UPS announced an ambitious goal: The company planned on increasing its package-delivery fleet fuel efficiency by 20% between a 2000 baseline and 2020. The obvious path to those goals is combination of hybrid electric vehicles and natural gas-powered trucks (both are technologies that the company is exploring). But UPS is also going for a more revolutionary solution: The shipping giant is testing plastic trucks that are supposedly both lighter and more fuel efficient than their sheet-aluminum counterparts.The cost savings will help deal with higher energy costs and improve the bottom line. Those kinds of moves are likely to be copied by other delivery companies, and that should help lead to a revolution in how energy costs are reduced. It may not lead to lower shipping costs, but it may prevent spikes in prices due to rising energy costs.
According to UPS, the diesel trucks come with body panels made out of ABS plastic, which makes them 1,000 pounds lighter than standard trucks. This lightness--and the smaller engine it allows--makes the trucks 40% more fuel efficient, a feature that could save the company 84 million gallons of fuel each year if the technology becomes widespread.
Why isn't UPS ditching diesel altogether for more efficient alternatives? UPS does actually operate 1,900 alternative-fuel vehicles, but the company claims that their fuel systems aren't efficient enough for high-mileage routes.
Some folks might wonder why we should make a big deal about a jump in mpg from 11 to 15 mpg (that's 40%). We get a much greater improvement when upgrading the worst performing vehicles and these vehicles put serious miles on annually. Every little bit helps - and in UPS's case, it's a whole lot of help.
Now, if long-haul shippers would only get on the bandwagon and implement more efficient designs for trucks and trailer rigs ahead of the EPA regs that are going into effect.
The savings adds up.