FedEx All-Electric Truck: Two Transportation Visions
So why are we doing this? Motoring west on old Route 66 demonstrating the first all-electric FedEx truck? Following the route of a highway that doesn’t even officially exist any more with a vehicle that looks like it should be delivering E.T.?
Because we want to remind people of the power of a vision. In this case, two visions for American transportation: one from the past, one for the future.
See, Route 66 wasn’t supposed to happen. A direct route from Chicago to LA wasn’t considered in the early 1920s when they first laid out the grid of U.S. highways (the ancestor of today’s interstate system). But one guy, Cy Avery from Tulsa, was determined to make it happen. He was one of America’s leading highway experts at the time, and he was sure that if a major route went through Oklahoma, it would help his state’s economy. He wanted to call it U.S. 60, but numbers ending in zero were considered very prestigious, and other states blocked him. So he settled on U.S. 66, and helped set up a group to promote it as “the Main Street of America” – the best way from the Midwest to southern California.
Avery’s persistence helped create thousands of businesses in the eight states traversed by Route 66, providing tens of thousands of jobs that might not have otherwise existed, servicing travelers in cities, small towns and hamlets along the way.
John Steinbeck called Route 66 “the Mother Road, the road of flight” in The Grapes of Wrath, but for Dust Bowl refugees during the Great Depression, it was really the highway of hope: the prospect of a better life just down the road. Right after World War II, Nat “King” Cole’s huge hit of Bobby Troup’s song, “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66,” reminded countless returning GIs and their families that America was a mobile society; they weren’t tied to the towns they grew up in. And hundreds of thousands of them followed Route 66 west, amplifying the symbolism of that “Mother Road.”
Even after it was supplanted by Interstates – the “U.S. 66” signs taken down one section after another until the last stretch was formally decommissioned in 1984 – the power of the vision behind Route 66 endures. But in our nostalgia, it’s easy to overlook the reality that America literally outgrew the old U.S. Highway system. Route 66 and other long-distance highway corridors were increasingly crowded after World War II; traffic jams were common in small towns and cities along the routes. The Baby Boomers, growing up on road trips with mom and dad, would have strained the old system past the breaking point once they got behind the wheel. So, one could argue that the Interstates arrived just in time.
There are visionaries today who believe we are just in time to transform our transportation system again. They look at how vulnerable America’s dependence on imported oil makes us today and how much it costs taxpayers to secure the supply lines for that oil. At the same time, they see the need to reduce vehicle emissions.
Fred Smith, founder and CEO of FedEx, is in this group. As co-chairman of SAFE (Securing America’s Future Energy) and a member of the Electrification Coalition, he believes that all-electric vehicles are a big part of the answer, specifically in short-haul application like commuting and local delivery. There’s a ways to go before commercial electric vehicles can match their conventional counterparts in every aspect of performance and comfort, but they’re far enough along to start working within real world applications, and FedEx is one of the first to do that – just as we were the first global delivery company to test, and then embrace, hybrid-electric delivery trucks in 2004.
Our commitment to continuing innovation is why we’re doing this “Charge Up Route 66” tour. We’re demonstrating this sleek-looking van, designed in the UK (where we already operate 10 of them) and about to be produced in the US by Navistar. We’re stopping at FedEx Express facilities in Chicago to LA – and in-between at such Route 66 cities as St. Louis, Joplin, Missouri, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, and Albuquerque – to show FedEx team members, customers, news media and local officials – how these all-electric trucks work, and what it will take to create the conditions for them and electric cars to take over a large percentage of urban transportation.
Some have said that FedEx is in the business of changing what’s possible. We hope to play at least a small part in changing America’s urban transportation.
Join the conversation as we make this trip.