We took a closer look at the delivery van set to start moving packages next year.
In the design world, "simple" and "sophisticated" aren't mutually exclusive. Pushing a button on a key fob to unlock the doors is a simple task. However, the series of steps between a thumb pressing a button and a car door being unlocked is a sophisticated procedure.
Another example is someone taking a package from a shelf, handing it over to a driver, and a couple of days later, somebody else finding that package in their mailbox. Seems simple, but consider millions of packages going through the same company all over the world. That's logistics, "a detailed coordination of a complex operation involving many people, facilities, or supplies."
The link in the logistic chain between a transportation hub and the receiving customer is known as "the last mile," and that's where Arrival's all-electric prototype delivery van comes in. There will be other sizes, but this one is specifically for a major customer - UPS. Arrival's keyword when it comes to creating a van from the ground up is simplicity, but to get that simplicity, there's a lot of sophisticated design taking place. While Arrival's prototype was in Los Angeles, we took the opportunity to see it close up.
Delivery vehicles for postal companies like UPS don't need massive range; they only need enough to cover the daily routes. Arrival can provide larger battery packs, but ideally, the truck should have the smallest battery possible. The key is to start with as light vehicle while keeping the payload capacity high. Arrival's main approach to keeping its vehicles light is to use an aluminum frame and composite bodywork. The composite is made using a proprietary blend of plastics and fiberglass that can also be impregnated with color, saving the need for expensive and time-consuming painting. Although the panels can be replaced quickly, they're designed to withstand extra impact and abrasion before needing replacing.
A key point for a logistics fleet is uptime, but accidents happen and have to be factored in. Arrival's approach to this is to add simplicity by making the most common body panels that get damaged quick, easy, and inexpensive to change. That includes the front and rear, as those are common areas of impact on the road, but also side panels as damage often occurs in depots. According to Arrival, the panels the company has identified as most often damaged can be replaced in around fifteen minutes, which goes back to the idea of simplicity as a design concept. Even when they are damaged, it's not as apparent as with painted metal. Arrival also showed us a crash demonstration of an impact at ten mph with their panel versus the same impact with a typical steel panel, and the damage was much less visible. It seems incidental, but we've all seen branded trucks with damage, and it does hurt the company's perception.
Modularity isn't new to the automotive world, and it's why a lot of different model vehicles run on the same platform. Modularity is made even easier with electric vehicles, and now it has become a matter of degree. As Arrival is building for commercial use, there are two angles that modularity is coming from. The first is the technology, so each aspect of its hardware technology stack is, literally, in a black box. We counted nine, including the battery pack, which is available from 44 kWh to 133 kWh. The boxes can be replaced quickly and easily if needed, but the point is more about upgrading as technology or different needs develop - both for software and hardware. The idea is that the vehicle will lead a long and useful life.
What we're looking at here is a prototype for last-mile delivery for a specific company, but different companies have different needs. The front of this prototype is a walk-in design with a foldable jump seat. The back can also be configured as needed, but the cargo space and payload of 1,975 kg (4,354 pounds) for this model is universal, and Arrival claims it comes "a price comparable with fossil fuel vehicles, and with a substantially lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)."
Not only is driver comfort important for general wellbeing, but an unstressed driver is a safer driver. At a corporate bottom line level, a safer driver has fewer accidents and is less expensive. We'd never expect a full-on luxury vehicle, but we've had experience driving delivery vans and wish they had been more like this. Heated seating should be mandatory in a delivery vehicle making regular stops in short spaces of road, and independent rear suspension makes a big difference too. Ergonomics and ease of use are also key components of a driver not getting fatigued, so it's unfortunate that cameras and screens can't replace side-mounted mirrors on US roads, legally. However, the touch control to open and close the doors are.
The cabin also includes a bright 15.6-inch touchscreen interface using software designed to deliver key information quickly and clearly. For safety, advanced Emergency Braking, Blind Spot Monitoring, Traffic Sign Recognition, and Lane Keep Assist are all on the menu.
The Arrival van's display is designed to be easy to read on the fly, which means keeping things simple. The information system keeps track of the vehicle's functions and health, mileage, range, and houses the navigation. It's designed to be controlled by voice as much as possible, but there are steering wheel controls as well. The software is proprietary but has an Application Programming Interface (API) so that it can be integrated with existing systems and apps, ensuring that it can be adapted for just about any use.
As we've become an internet-dependent society, more and more delivery vehicles are on the road, and not just for the last mile. It is the last mile that is most suited to going all-electric in the foreseeable future, though. While commercial fleet sales and leasing isn't sexy, it is a lucrative part of the automotive market and one still growing. Arrival is another company that will beat not just the major automakers to the punch but Tesla as well. In the space, Arrival is going up against companies like Rivian and Workhorse, which also have contracts with major shipping companies. Between the three companies, they will be supplying vehicles to UPS (Arrival), USPS (Workhorse), and Amazon (Rivian) but there are many more that are pledging to start replacing their vehicles with no or low-emission vehicles.
Another advantage Arrival believes it has is in how it builds its vans using rapidly scaleable microfactories. It means that rather than having a central location that's hard to scale and where all the vehicles are built and shipped from, the company can create a plant in an area it needs to service quickly and efficiently.