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Truck Wars

The nation's package-delivery giants are racing to test and adopt cleaner engine technologies. Here's how their fleets compare.

fedex ups
In March, two FedEx Express trucks with hybrid electric-diesel engines began delivering packages in Sacramento, California. By year's end, FedEx will add 18 hybrid trucks in four cities. It expects to replace all 30,000 of its medium-duty vehicles by 2014. UPS began testing a Mercedes F-Cell car powered by a hydrogen fuel cell on the streets of Ann Arbor, Michigan, in March. The EPA is supplying the hydrogen fuel station, and UPS expects to add at least two DaimlerChrysler vans to its hydrogen fleet by year's end.
The hybrid, with an electric motor and a diesel-engine power train, is 50% more fuel-efficient than a standard FedEx truck and emits 75% less nitrous oxide and 90% fewer particulates. Ultimately, operating costs should be about the same. UPS once banked on compressed natural gas as the fuel of its future. It introduced CNG trucks in the mid-1980s and today has 1,024 of them, plus 764 propane-fueled vehicles, in its fleet. But CNG technology never took hold, and fueling stations didn't proliferate as expected.
FedEx experimented with compressed natural gas and liquid propane gas in the early 1990s. But such trucks require special fueling stations, which are costly to build. FedEx figures the hybrid will cut more emissions, for less investment, more quickly than other alternative fuels. Like FedEx, UPS has found hybrid religion. It tested a hybrid truck for a year in Huntsville, Alabama, and it hopes to add 100 more in the next 12 to 24 months.
Bonus points: FedEx and General Motors began testing a fuel-cell delivery truck in Tokyo last July. Bonus points: UPS has developed new ways to track the flow of trucks and packages more efficiently, which should cut 100 million miles off its routes and save 14 million gallons of fuel each year.

A version of this article appeared in the Table of Contents - May 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.