Nongasoline powertrains may suit some delivery vehicles, which operate on shorter, usually predictable routes. The onboard battery would also be capable of powering tools used by contractors, turning the vehicles into workshops on wheels.
New demand for electric delivery vans already has emerged in the wake of the country's seismic shift to e-commerce — even before this year's pandemic.
Amazon invested in U.S. EV startup Rivian and has put in an order for 100,000 midsize electric vans by 2030.
"Amazon's buying anything and everything that looks like it might have a battery in it," said Conrad Layson, an analyst with AutoForecast Solutions.
UPS Inc. has ordered 10,000 electric delivery vans from British startup Arrival, which is backed by Hyundai.
Electric vehicles are "poised to revolutionize the commercial fleet world," said Scott Phillippi, UPS senior director of fleet maintenance and engineering.
"We're partnered with smaller disrupters already, and we would like nothing better than seeing more players putting the innovation pedal to the metal in this space."
Automakers are responding to the demand. Ford will offer a battery-electric version of the Transit cargo van in the U.S. and Canada for the 2022 model year. And GM will begin production of an electric van, code-named BV1, in September, according to AutoForecast Solutions.
Ford and GM are Mercedes' largest competitors in the commercial segment, said David Ellis, general manager at RBM of Alpharetta, a major Sprinter retailer near Atlanta.
"So we have to stay competitive and release an electric vehicle that will have longer range and larger carrying capacity," Ellis said. "The future of the auto industry is electric."