Last September, Amazon ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles from the Michigan-based startup Rivian—the largest EV order ever placed—as part of a companywide goal to become carbon-neutral by 2040. Today, it offered a glimpse inside the factory where the vans are being built.
The vehicles are being designed from scratch. In a blog post, the company notes that it spent 18 months evaluating different electric vehicles, but decided that a custom van made the most sense. Designers are working with drivers to optimize factors like loading and unloading packages; in one room in Rivian’s factory, drivers can use virtual reality to test the van. (In another room, sculptors are working on clay models of the design.) Amazon’s logistics software is built into the display screen to map each route. As with some other new vehicles, it has safety features including warnings about pedestrians and distracted driving.
The biggest difference from most current delivery vans, of course, is the fact that it doesn’t run on gas or diesel. The vehicle will come in three sizes, with various battery configurations, to handle different routes. The vehicle, and the size of the order, is a sign that Amazon felt it could make the move to electric vehicles more quickly than the shipping companies that continue to deliver many of its packages, although some are beginning to transition: UPS recently announced that it planned to buy 10,000 electric delivery vehicles from Arrival, another startup. (Amazon led a $700 million funding round in Rivian in February 2019 and participated in another $1.3 billion funding round in December, and so the large order serves an important second purpose: boosting Rivian’s valuation—and thus the value of Amazon’s investment.)
The first new vehicles will be delivered in 2021, with 10,000 on the road by 2022, and the full 100,000 by 2030. The company says it will save millions of metric tons of CO2. Still, many Amazon employees argue that it could be moving faster to cut emissions overall—and that the company needs to make more comprehensive changes, including moving away from its support of customers in the oil and gas business. “I am thankful Amazon is committed to net-zero emissions by 2040, but we simply do not have the time,” Amanda King, one employee, wrote on Medium in defiance of a company policy that asks employees not to speak out about climate change. “For a company like Amazon, we need to be net-zero by 2030 at the latest.”