Concept EV, Drive-By-Wire Van Aims To Shake Up Last-Mile Delivery Industry

Developers of a new concept delivery van say it helps solve the key issues of driver fatigue, energy savings, improved efficiency and safety and lowering the total cost of ownership in a segment that’s boomed since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The battery-electric, drive-by-wire Proxima is a class five step van produced by market leader Morgan Olson, a JB Poindexter Co. (JBPCO) company, and powered by the skateboard-like P7 chassis produced by Israeli tech company REE Automotive. Key in its development was the newest innovation and technology unit of JBPCO called EAVX, which works with advanced chassis manufacturers such as REE on next generation commercial vehicles.

“This is a proof-of-concept of the next generation walk-in van,” said

Mark Hope, EAVX Chief Operating Officer and General Manager during a briefing and test drive with reporters and prospective customers this week at the American Mobility Center in Ypsilanti, Mich.

But its key innovation is the “REEcorner.” Each 700-pound REEcorner integrates steering, braking, suspension and powertrain components into the van’s wheel arch.

“It’s the only spare part,” said Daniel Barel, REE co-founder and CEO. “Take one out, put one in. Takes about 20 minutes, followed by 40 minutes of calibration.”

For shippers and fleet operators in a tight margin world cutting costs are an urgent requirement—a requirement the Proxima addresses both in its operation and structure.

REE’s Barel says the presence of four electric motors that capture power through regenerative braking accounts for significant savings, explaining, “By having four motors we add to the complexity of build, maybe, but the yield in terms of energy is significant far more than weight reduction.”

Ohad Stauber, REE vice president of research and development quantified the savings attained by power regeneration above 20% as adding up to some real money offering,

“One kilowatt hour is about $250. 20% of 120, 130 kilowatt hours, that’s a lot, that’s a huge savings and you get it by being more efficient.”

The Proxima’s body design as well as heating and cooling systems are also major contributors to energy consumption by reducing aerodynamic drag and concentrating seasonal ventilation where its needed the most.

Taking into account a typical delivery van daily route of about 125 miles requiring about 180 stops EAVX chief engineer Greg Black estimates the Proxima’s lower profile thanks to the P7 platform and other modifications reduces daily energy consumption by about 18% compared to an internal combustion engine- powered (ICE) van.

“The body by itself is approximately 37% better co-efficient of drag if it were on a normal, conventional 36-inch high type ICE chassis,” said Black. “When you couple this body architecture with a lower REE chassis with smooth underbelly, we actually get an additional 30% from that mid-point so the net gain in aerodynamic benefit on the is about 57% reduction in aerodynamic drag.”

Further energy consumption is achieved by heating the wide and tall windshield glass, reducing the need to run a defroster blower in cold weather, reducing battery energy draw by about 50% said Black.

Depending on the season, heat or cool air is focused around the driver through the seat and steering wheel creating what Black called “micro climates” in the van, saving energy by not ventilating the entire vehicle.

Safety is enhanced though a number of cameras, radar and sensors with electronic systems unified through the VX Control digital infrastructure.

For the drivers who must step in an out of the van more than 100 times a day to drop off packages, the Proxima’s lowered profile is designed to give their knees a break with a 24-inch flat load floor and just two 12-inch steps to get in and out of the truck.

“When you’re jumping in and out of the truck 150 times that’s a lot of steps,” noted Black.

One last, but important feature is the super tight turning radius provided within the REEcorner, making it easier to pull in and out of tricky parking spots and around obstacles.

A number of operators came by this week to get the deep dive on the Proxima and take a test ride said EAVX’s Mark Hope. Some, he said, appear to be sold on at least testing them on their own turf.

“We’ve already had about seven different end users experiencing (the Proxima) and already are taking orders for the pilot phase, about 100 units by next year,” said Hope. “Reception has been very, very good.”

He wasn’t willing to get specific on what companies expressed interest but said the trials would likely begin in the fourth quarter of this year and continue into Q1, 2023, but hinted the announcement on those specifics and more should be expected in October of next year.

Indeed, as demand for last-mile deliveries exploded with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, so has demand from operators to get the job done more efficiently and less expensively and that’s why REE’s Daniel Barel sees demand for vehicles like the Proxima taking on new emergency as well.

“The commercial market is emerging much faster than passenger vehicle,” Barel said. “People moving more towards mobility as a service, for last mile delivery, mid-mile delivery. We do see an increasing commercial market.”

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