Technology and Tenacity: The Right Time for Transformational Change

We are an industry of industries. But we all want the same things — cleaner cities and safer roads. Working together is how we get them.

I have one big problem with predictions: They’re wrong more than they’re right.

In 1957, Popular Mechanics predicted that in 10 years, by 1967, you’d be able to order a light truck that would fly using fans. In 2013, futurists said self-driving vehicles would be standard by 2018.

The reason these were wrong — and the reason most are — is because predictions rest on the assumption that the future is like the past. We should know better.

So, when I think about the next five years, I’m more focused on the macro trends, especially these three:

  Urbanization

  The E-commerce boom

  The environmental damage accelerated by the previous two trends

But we have two tools that will help us combat these challenges — technology and tenacity.

Looking closer at urbanization

By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities.

Urbanization has some upsides. It gives people more employment options, access to better schools and healthcare and upward mobility.

But it also has some pretty significant downsides.

Pollution, crowding and lack of mobility to name a few — each of which e-commerce exacerbates.

We’re accustomed to getting anything we want, when and where we want it. Online purchases have grown 12 percent annually during the past three years and are expected to keep growing.

Even though single-occupancy vehicles are the real culprit when it comes to congestion, delivery trucks make up a disproportionate share of congestion costs.

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To remain livable, cities must be safe for people to walk and breathe.

The rise of contracted delivery that uses personal vehicles rather than large trucks has also put more delivery traffic on crowded urban streets. Urban freight delivery is projected to grow 40 percent by 2050.

To remain livable, cities must be safe for people to walk and breathe. So some cities are building pedestrian-only, low- or zero-emissions zones.

UPS Low Emissions Hybrid Electric Vehicle [Image: UPS]

This is where challenge meets opportunity.

It’s also where those things I mentioned earlier — technology and tenacity — play critical roles.

Technology meets tenacity

Technology is changing things. Tenacity is what it will take for us to make sure those changes are for the better.

I believe we can make a huge difference in two areas: creating cleaner cities and embracing safer vehicles. Urbanization, e-commerce and environmental sustainability have implications for how people get around, how they buy things and how companies like UPS deliver for customers.

In the U.S. transportation sector, 23 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions are generated by medium and heavy-duty trucks.

Everything comes down to what we put into the air. Carbon is where we can get it right or wrong. Where we can be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Every day, 6 percent of everything manufactured in the U.S. and 3 percent of everything manufactured in the world moves through the UPS network. We’re also a company with a significant global footprint that feels an obligation to customers, consumers and communities.

Today, we have more than 1,000 electric and hybrid electric vehicles in operation worldwide. In 2017, we pre-ordered 125 of the Tesla fully electric Semi-trucks, scheduled to begin production within the next year.

We’re also collaborating with OEMs to add electric delivery vehicles to our fleet, which cost about the same as conventional gasoline- or diesel-powered trucks. Narrowing this gap will play an important role in achieving large-scale adoption.

Getting charged

But the other seemingly daunting hurdle is charging infrastructure. We will have to recharge all these vehicles, right?

Knowing this issue needs to be solved, we joined a U.K. consortium working to deploy smart-grid technology that allows us to recharge a much larger fleet of electric vehicles — at the same time.  This technology could reduce or eliminate expensive upgrades to our facilities and reduce stress on the power grid.

Would you buy a car if you couldn’t find a gas station? Or if the price of gas doubled or tripled depending on what time of day or how much you purchased?

That’s pretty much the case with electricity rates and infrastructure today. Charging options and energy rates will either drive or block progress. Fleets need to know how much these things will cost before making the significant investments in electric vehicles.

But our electrification strategy doesn’t stop at vehicles. It’s part of a broad-based collaboration with city partners to develop new package delivery solutions that limit congestion, smog and noise — critical issues in dense urban areas.

A research study that we conducted with GreenBiz showed that more than 80 percent of fleets are motivated to electrify their fleets as a result of sustainability and environmental goals.

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With the proper design and vision, the shift to electrification could be transformational.

We think fleet electrification has the potential to be more than just a new alternative energy vehicle option. Fleet electrification should be more than just making the wheels turn with a battery pack and an electric motor.

With the proper design and vision, the shift to electrification won’t be incremental. It could be transformational.

For example, an electric drive by wire, brake by wire platform is optimal for connectivity, upgradability, enhanced safety features and other expanded possibilities.

Electric passenger cars are starting to show us what good looks like. Tesla has made electric cars cool, and we know other OEMs are launching products to rival this standard. Commercial electric trucks are still a work in progress.

Once we have good, affordable choices, I expect the right vehicles for most medium duty applications will be equipped with electric powertrains. Fleet adoption is mission critical for significant large scale deployments.

Creating a safer and smarter world

At UPS, we expect to continue leading the charge on fleet electrification and innovative urban logistics solutions. But the benefits of technology extend beyond what it can do for cities.

Technology also helps UPSers around the world work safer and smarter.

Commercial trucks represent just 1 percent of the vehicles on the road, but accidents involving them account for 10 percent of all road fatalities. ADAS — Automated Driver Assistance Systems — could prevent up to 63,000 truck-related crashes each year. And that could save a lot of lives.

Lane departure warning systems. Automatic emergency braking. Air disc brakes. Video-based onboard safety monitoring systems. These are cost effective technologies that make the roads safer for all of us, including truckers at the wheel.

Today, more than 60 percent of our tractor-trailer trucks are equipped with collision mitigation systems. But technology is two-faced. It can be both good and bad at the same time.

The only way we’re going to tackle the challenges to realize the opportunities is with tenacity.

Because in today’s rapidly changing world, perfect is a moving target. We’ve all seen it.

Remember rotary phones? With the long cords that stretched around the corner for privacy? Perfect, right?

But then we got cordless phones. Bag phones, flip phones, smart phones. Now your “phone” is your camera, your computer, your news source. You can even hail a ride with it.

The bottom line is that consumers’ expectations are changing faster than ever before.

In today’s business world it’s not enough just to adapt to change. You better be leading the change, or it’s likely you won’t be around long.

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In today’s rapidly changing world, perfect is a moving target.

A few predictions

We must work constantly on new and better ways of doing things.

There is no doubt fleet owners, OEMs, utilities and regulators have the capability to make it happen and although there is strength in numbers, this powerful force must work in a synchronized, collaborative fashion.

If any stakeholder is rowing the ship out of time, we will be working hard but going in circles.

Solutions won’t just appear. We have to engage — stubbornly — in the process of developing them.

Like I said, I don’t make predictions. But I do make are educated inferences. And here are three:

  We can’t predict the future, but we’d be crazy not to anticipate it. The key? Paying attention to what we see but never making assumptions based on the past.

  We can’t ignore change and the fact that technology is accelerating it. But we must make sure the changes are positive more often than not. That’s where tenacity comes into play.

  We must cooperate. Private industry and public agency collaborations are crucial to ensure exceptional service levels in the transportation of goods and services.

We are an industry of industries. But we all want the same things — cleaner cities and safer roads. Working together is how we get them.

This article was adapted from Carlton Rose’s speech at the 2019 Green Truck Summit in Indianapolis.

Carlton Rose is President of Global Fleet Maintenance and Engineering at UPS.

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