A Big Green Solution for Beer Delivery

Electric Volvo trucks keep the alcohol flowing in New York City.

Volvo electric truck front
Manhattan Beer is now operating five of these electric delivery trucks.

Volvo Trucks

The five bright green haulers look pretty much like the other delivery trucks making their way into Manhattan, but they’re missing an important element—the tailpipe. 

An incredible 365 million tons of cargo enters, leaves, or passes through New York City annually, 89% of it carried by truck. Right now, 125,621 truck crossings enter Manhattan every day, and Brooklyn gets 73,583. And it’s slated to get worse. By 2045 the cargo could be 540 million tons. No wonder that New York is fifteenth on a list of the most polluted cities, largely because on 206 days in 2018 it had air that was judged unhealthy for sensitive people. 

Electric trucks replacing diesels is one way to turn this situation around, and that’s what Bronx-based Manhattan Beer Distributors did earlier this month when it took delivery of its first electric delivery vehicle from Volvo Trucks North America. The beer company has long focused on sustainability, and already replaced some of its diesels with 150 natural gas trucks. 

Technically, these are Volvo VNR Class 8 battery-electric trucks, joining a fleet of more than 400 vehicles owned by the distributor. “We look forward to gaining hands-on experience with our first five VNR Electrics, and then continuing the expansion of our zero-emission fleet,” said Simon Bergson, founder, president, and CEO of the company. Manhattan Beer delivers 45 million cases of beer annually.

Beer is heavy, obviously, and that dictated a big dual-axle Class 8 truck with a beefy 264-kilowatt-hour battery pack, yielding 100 to 110 miles of range. The trucks can carry 80,000 pounds, and have an eight-year estimated service life. Manhattan Beer installed three DC fast chargers at the facility in the Bronx, with each capable of charging a truck up to 80% in 70 minutes.

Brett Pope, director of electric vehicles at Volvo Trucks North America, told Treehugger that the distributor’s return-to-base daily operations lend themselves to electric trucks. “Some of the routes are only 25 miles, but because of all the stops and traffic congestion, they take eight hours to complete. The company is evaluating which routes work best for the electrics.”

Volvo truck charging
The DC fast chargers can get the big battery packs to 80% in 70 minutes. Volvo Trucks

Pope declined to give a retail price for these Volvo VNR trucks, but they’re not cheap. That’s why New York’s Truck Voucher Incentive Program, administered by the state’s energy research and development authority (NYSERDA), is essential. The total subsidy available for this type of battery-electric Class 8 truck is $185,000, Pope said. The subsidies for plug-in hybrid, fuel cell, and natural gas trucks have run out, NYSERDA’s website says. 

Volvo’s sister company, Mack Trucks, is also an electric supplier to New York. The city’s Department of Transportation said last June that it ordered seven Mack LR Electric garbage trucks, one for each borough. 

Volvo partner Mack Trucks is operating seven electric garbage trucks
New York City is operating seven garbage trucks from Volvo partner Mack. Mack Trucks

Electric delivery trucks in New York had a promising future a decade ago, when a Kansas City company named Smith Electric announced that it would be building a factory in the Bronx. The plant was to have gone into operation in 2012, but that didn’t happen—in part because of delays in the NYSERDA grant program. Smith, originally an English company, went out of business. 

Smith CEO Bryan Hansel later created another electric truck company, Chanje, which is fielding a Chinese-made vehicle to play in the last-mile space. FedEx and Ryder were announced as customers, but the Ryder deal has reportedly gone very sour. Last-mile delivery, however, is rapidly electrifying and has attracted electric vehicle companies, such as Rivian and Bollinger, with partners including Amazon. 

In 2011, Mike O’Connell, senior director of fleet operations at Frito-Lay (which was operating 280 Smith medium-duty electric trucks), told Treehugger, “In the short term, buying electric trucks without subsidies is extremely challenging. In the long term, we expect costs to come down pretty dramatically.” 

Frito-Lay, a PepsiCo subsidiary, hasn’t abandoned electrification. Far from it. It said in May that by the end of 2021 all of its Modesto, California, diesel vehicles will have been replaced with zero- or near-zero vehicles. It’s a $30.8-million project, supported by a grant from California Climate Investments.

Volvo electric truck with NYC skyline
The trucks can carry 80,000 pounds of beer fully loaded. Volvo Trucks

Pope said that Volvo is also providing its electric trucks to California, where they’re working in “drayage,” moving goods from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The program is part of the three-year, $44.8 million Volvo LIGHTS (aka Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solution), supported by the California Air Resources Board and the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

Last year, the port commissioners imposed a $20/ton fee on containers moving through the two ports, an amount environmentalists thought was too low. The money is to help truckers replace their diesels with electrics. 

Could the next step with beer trucks be having them deliver their sudsy goodness autonomously? In 2016, the self-driving company Otto sent a Budweiser truck on a 120-mile journey in Colorado, self-guided. But don’t expect it to happen soon. Uber paid $680 million for Otto in 2016, then two years later shut down all its autonomous vehicle operations. Electrification is happening quickly, but self-driving is on a slow boat.

View Article Sources
  1. "Improving the Efficiency of Truck Deliveries in NYC." New York City Department of Transportation, 2019.