Deutsche Post, known internationally as DHL, is one of the largest delivery companies in the world. Starting a year or so ago, it began thinking about using zero emissions electric vehicles to complete the delivery process, particularly in congested urban environments. It came up with three designs it thought would ideal for its needs — an electric van, a electric trike, and an electric bicycle. Then it went looking for companies to produce them and came up empty. Nobody has the slightest interest in a production run of a few thousand vehicles. It would take years and cost billions, the experts said.

DHL electric delivery van

So Deutsche Post did it themselves. “We are purposely not reinventing the wheel. We do not produce a single component ourselves. Everything comes from a supplier,” Win Neidlinger, director of business development at Deutsche Post’s carmaking arm told Reuters. When the global economy suffered a meltdown in 2008, auto manufactures started outsourcing research and development to third parties, it led to important new software tools that manage and coordinate the relationship between suppliers and car companies. Suppliers make as much as 80% of the components that go into automobiles today.

Deutsche Post now has 1,000 of its electric delivery vans, which it calls Streetscooters, on the road. It made use of a software program made by PTC to talk to a network of 80 suppliers including Bosch, which provides the electric drivetrain, and Hella, which makes the headlights. PTC’s Windchill software is used by 90% of the top 50 automotive companies including Continental, ZF , Volkswagen, Audi, MAN, Hyundai, and Ferrari.

Dominik Ruechardt, business development director at PTC, said software systems are becoming more accessible. After years of spending millions to staff in-house development programs, carmakers have begun switching to more standard systems, helping to expand the network of suppliers. “There is a clear trend to go to out-of-the-box systems. Five years ago the auto industry launched a code of conduct for product lifecycle management. We have a common understanding of an open architecture, interfaces, support of standards,” Ruechardt says.

According to CleanTechnica, the StreetScooter electric vans are replacing the diesel powered Volkswagen vans Deutsche Post previously used in European cities. That has made top officials at Volkswagen grumpy. “I am annoyed beyond measure. I, of course, ask myself why Post did not talk to our VW Commercial vehicles division about doing something similar,” Chief Executive Matthias Mueller said. “Let’s see if we can still get a foot in the door there.” But apparently, Deutsche Post did talk to Volkswagen, among others, and were told to take a hike. Checkmate, Herr Mueller.

Electric vehicles are far simpler to design than conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines. They require only one tenth as many people to assemble them, which lowers production costs dramatically. The vans are designed to last 16 years, stay in use for six days a week for 10 hours at a time. They need some particularly robust components, such as doors that can be opened and closed up to 200 times a day.

“We designed it as a tool. So the fit and finish does not need to be as good as in a passenger car,” Win Neidlinger says. “It did not cost billions to develop and produce. You will not believe how cheap it is to make.” Now Deutsche Post is considering whether to sell the StreetScooter commercially. “They have opened up a new segment, one which the conventional carmakers have not discovered because they are too hamstrung by their own processes,” said Christoph Stuermer of PricewaterhouseCoopers. If Deutsche Post can design and build its own vehicles, who needs car companies?

Source: Fortune   Photo credit: DHL