Package delivery vans are so common on neighborhood streets that some people can tell who has arrived by the sound of the brakes stopping, the engine idling and the doors opening. But metro Denver residents should prepare for another sound on the streets, that of near silence, as Amazon rolls out more custom-made electric delivery vans from Rivian.
On Cyber Monday, row after row of delivery vans used by private contractors lined up nine vehicles across at Amazon’s Aurora Delivery Station, the largest one it operates in Colorado. Traffic controllers waving batons more commonly used to guide aircraft into their gates orchestrated the tightly choreographed routine. Drivers pull into their slot, step out and walk over to grab racks loaded with packages, which they roll to the back of the vans. After they load them up, they hop back in and wait for an all-clear signal for take-off.
The vans span the spectrum of Amazon fleet vehicles, including Budget rental vans hired on for the peak weekend. And sprinkled in among that massive array on Monday were about 20 shiny new Rivian vehicles running on batteries and emitting nothing.
“This delivery van is a million times better than the others,” said Conner Hicks, a driver with GHG Transport, a delivery service provider that contracts to deliver packages for Amazon. “It drives better, controls better. There are safety features where I can see two cars ahead.”
Hicks, who has been delivering packages for six months, including three weeks with the new electric vans, said he feels less tired and stressed at the end of the day than when he was driving conventional vans.
Amazon and Rivian designed the delivery van from the ground up, with features added to boost vehicle safety and improved ergonomics, said Amber Beard,a senior program manager at Amazon who is training drivers on the new fleet.
Amazon has come under fire for putting its distribution center employees under hectic working conditions with repetitive motions that critics charge contribute to workplace injuries. Where possible, the vans are designed to eliminate repetitive motions for drivers. For example, the bulkhead door to the back where packages are stored opens up automatically when the van is put into park and it shuts as the van goes into drive.
That saves drivers, who can make 200 stops a day, the motion of swinging a door open and closed, again and again, said Nissa LaPoint, a regional PR specialist with Amazon in Colorado. The interior is also 4 inches higher, a benefit to tall drivers when it comes to not having to keep their heads down.
Features, such as lane assist and automatic braking, are designed to improve the safety of the all-wheel drive vans on the road. Without a gasoline engine, the front nose is shorter. Windshields are much larger and reach lower, allowing drivers to see hazards closer to the front vehicle, say a stray pet, and they are heated, keeping them free of ice and frost. Climate controls can adjust the temperature inside automatically and the seats are heated, improving driver comfort.
Fifteen cameras provide a complete view around the entire van and two screens, including one with a route map, help drivers better navigate their deliveries and understand surrounding traffic. A separate device monitors speed, acceleration, braking and other driving skills. A string of red brake lights all the way around the entire rear door provides a more clear signal to other drivers.
If there are any problems, Rivian technicians can patch in and try to fix them remotely, Beard said. Owners or supervisors with the delivery service provider can also check in on things. And if needed, drivers can hit an SOS button next to the steering wheel and summon help.
O-ring headlights, reminiscent of the circular lights found on some Amazon products, such as the Ring doorbell cameras, help distinguish the delivery vans from others in the Amazon fleet. Below them is the Amazon logo with the smile instead of the manufacturer nameplate, typically Ford. And perhaps what people will probably notice most, or not notice, is the lack of noise.
“They are very quiet,” Beard said.
The electric vans can go about 150 miles a day on a charge, more than enough given that most runs are within a concentrated area. They are returned to the delivery station in the evening to get cleaned and recharged overnight.
Amazon expects to double the original 20 vans in Aurora to 40 by the end of the year. The fleet should reach 300 in metro Denver as other delivery stations are added in the near term. Amazon’s larger goal is to provide 100,000 electric delivery vans by 2030, and become net-zero carbon across its operations by 2040, LaPoint said.
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