When the first snub-nosed electric van rolled off the assembly line last month at the Electric Last Mile Solutions Inc. plant in Mishawaka, Ind., it was a proud moment for the company's co-founder and CEO, Jim Taylor. The van, one in a run of 1,000 scheduled for this year, is among the first of its kind in the U.S.: a fully electric light-duty vehicle meant for delivery workers, contractors and other commercial fleets.
"Who else is starting up this month?" asks Taylor, checking through the list of major auto manufactures and startups — from Ford Motor Co. and General Motors to Arrival and Canoo Inc. — that have announced plans to build electric vans.
Delivery vans and other light commercial vehicles offer fertile ground for electric vehicle makers, according to James Martin, a consulting associate director at IHS Markit. Buyers aren't commuters, concerned about range estimates and how to handle the occasional long road trip. Instead, they're fleet managers who know precisely how far their vehicles will travel each day and where they plan to recharge them during off-duty hours.
"We think it's going to be swifter than the ramp-up of electrification in personal vehicles," says Martin.
IHS expects North American commercial van production to grow from about 400,000 vehicles this year to nearly 600,000 by 2028, with EVs growing from almost nonexistent to nearly 40 percent of the market in that span. Electric Last Mile Solutions, known as ELMS, is aiming for the bottom end via a bare-bones vehicle with relatively low range ideal for customers who carry light packages on short, repetitive routes. The segment has exploded with the rise of e-commerce.