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UPS Introduces Lightweight 'Plastic Trucks' to Delivery Fleet

UPS is introducing composite-body vehicles to its fleet of brown delivery trucks as a way to lighten the vehicles by 900 pounds and improve fuel efficiency by 40 percent.

The logistics company announced that it intends to purchase 150 composite-body vehicles following a year-long pilot program to test the composite materials. Delivery of the so-called “plastic trucks” is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2012.

UPS has had limited composite materials included in previous vehicles but this version extends the material across the entire vehicle with the exception of the floor. This area still requires metal structures to protect and support the weight of the shipments inside.

UPS says a year’s worth of testing five composite-body trucks in high-mileage settings showed that composites are durable, work well in all kinds of climates (especially where corrosion from road salt is an issue) and are easily repaired since they are modular.

With fuel savings of 40 percent, composites rival the fuel savings of alternative fuel vehicles — without the technology obsolescence threats, fueling infrastructure issues and production challenges that come along with new alternative fuel vehicle types like natural gas, hybrids and electrics. Next, UPS will test the materials in larger, heavier vehicles to see if composites are as well-suited there.

UPS isn’t alone in pushing the commercialization of light-weight composites as a way to reduce fuel consumption in vehicles. Passenger car manufacturers also are introducing composites and the U.S. Department of Energy will provide $14.2 million funding toward fuel-saving projects, including those that use new materials to cut vehicle weight.

In April, Ford partnered with Dow Automotive Systems, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company, to research the use of lightweight carbon fiber composites in high-volume vehicles.

Since the year 2000, UPS has improved its U.S. fuel efficiency in miles per gallon (MPG) by more than 20 percent. Other recent design changes include prototype hoods that improve aerodynamics, perforated mud flaps on tractor-trailers to fight wind resistance, hydraulic hybrids, and telematics to help reduces the miles the vehicles travel to deliver packages. 

Bart King is a PR/marketing communications consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications. 

Bart King is the principal of New Growth Communications, a network of affiliated content producers and strategists serving clients in the emerging green economy. He is also Associate Editor of Sponsored Content for Sustainable Brands. Follow him @bart_king [Read more about Bart King]

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