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LA Auto Show: Meet the Tesla of last-mile delivery vehicles

The list of available electric passenger vehicles is growing fast. But the fastest-growing automotive segment — believe it or not — is local delivery vehicles. That’s because global consumers are in an e-commerce frenzy of Amazon orders. Black Friday is coming up. And each one of your orders will trigger a big, loud, polluting delivery truck to hit the streets and deliver your package.

The often-overlooked local delivery segment is expected to grow 40% in the next five years to as many as 40 million vehicles worldwide. If you care about electrifying transportation, then look beyond the big EV brand names and check out StreetScooter, the Tesla of last-mile delivery vehicles.

At the LA Auto Show, we sat down with Ulrich Stuhec, the chief technology officer at StreetScooter. Don’t be fooled by the company’s name. StreetScooter, based in Aachen, Germany, makes all manner of delivery vehicles. The company, a subsidiary of the German postal company Deutsche Post DHL, has 12,000 vehicles on the road, making it the biggest electric-delivery company in the world.

StreetScooter is now poised to enter the US market, starting with a DHL pilot program.

Before joining StreetScooter, Stuhec worked for nearly a decade in product development at BMW — and then 17 years at Ford, where he worked on EVs. He became the leader of Ford’s autonomous vehicle program. He said:

The idea is to decarbonize urban cities and reduce the carbon footprint of fleet customers.

The company makes its own battery packs in-house, using off-the-shelf 21700 cells from Samsung. “We do this in a very similar manner to what Tesla is doing at the Giga factory, but just at a different price point,” he said. “Our batteries are not designed for high-performance cars. We design and use different chemistry for high life cycle.”

The vehicles have a max speed of about 80 miles per hour. Prices start at around $35,000.

The packs range from 20 to 40 kilowatt-hour. But as StreetScooter prepares to enter the US, it’s developing packs as big as 120 kWh, well suited for urban routes in a city like Los Angeles.

StreetScooter trucks, some of which are built on the Ford Transit platform, don’t need to charge during the day. Instead, it will use 11-kW AC charging overnight. The company’s third generation will have DC fast charging. “We’ll have the option all the way up to something like Tesla Supercharging in the near future,” said Stuhec.

The company’s access to data from Deutsche Post gives them a huge advantage.

We get the data about the routes, so we know exactly what charging charge times are and the energy costs. We can optimize all of that for the fleet customer and make sure you get a charge at the right price.

Like Tesla, StreetScooter also designs stationary batteries for optimizing the use of renewable energy. “We will use our battery modules in Beta to design those energy storage systems,” said Stuhec. StreetScooter is also working on vehicle-to-grid solutions.

Stuhec is also working on self-driving technologies for the company’s last-mile vehicles.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.