Electric cars might be the future, but for some uses, like the demands of a delivery truck, they just don't have the power or range quite yet. But that doesn't mean giving up and using inefficient materials and construction while waiting for the electric revolution to come.
UPS is testing out prototype plastic trucks that reduce the usual truck weight by 1,000 pounds, increase the mileage by up to 40%, and are even more easily serviced.
The trucks are constructed from ABS plastic, a lightweight and rugged material that reduces the weight of these vehicles by around 1,000 pounds, compared to the usual sheet metal. Trucks of this size typically weigh around five tons, depending on the packages being delivered. The plastic body has a few other benefits as well.
Painted sheet metal is both heavy (the paint alone can weigh about 100 pounds!) and fragile--a slight dent or nick makes the metal beneath the paint visible, at which point UPS has to service the truck to keep it looking fresh. But this plastic is brown all the way through, so it can suffer dents without looking mangled.
There are a few other thoughtful elements to the new design, like switching all lights (besides headlights, for some reason) to more efficient LEDs, and a nearly modular design that allows for various parts (bumpers, side panels) to be replaced easily, quickly, and cheaply. Those adjustments make the new truck efficient enough that the typical 200-hp engine could be replaced with a sprightly 150-hp engine without losing power.
The important thing here is that this prototype is actually cost-effective, right now. It's not as exciting an advancement as, say, a fleet of hydrogen-powered trucks or cars made of hemp, but unlike a fleet of hydrogen-powered trucks, there's a legitimate chance of immediate adoption. The prototypes are undergoing testing this year, and provided they're found road-worthy, could start hitting the road in 2012.