Germany’s Deutsche Post delivers electric car surprise

Above, Streetscooters being charged at a warehouse of postal and logistics service Deutsche Post in western Germany. (AFP)
Updated 25 July 2018

Germany’s Deutsche Post delivers electric car surprise

  • More than 6,000 Streetscooters number among the 49,300 vehicles Deutsche Post uses for local deliveries
  • Numbers of delivery vehicles making the rounds have ballooned, as booming e-commerce sets ever-more packages on their way to households’ front doors

FRANKFURT: On German streets plied by hulking SUVs and roaring combustion engines, the small, toy-like electric vehicles driven by postmen stand out by their silence and their bright yellow livery.
But even more surprising to many in the car-loving nation is the Deutsche Post horn logo on the prows of the so-called “Streetscooters” — vans that are not much bigger than the iconic Volkswagen Golf.
To some analysts, the former state-owned logistics firm is showing up auto industry giants like Volkswagen, BMW or Daimler by shifting gears toward vehicle electrification even faster.
More than 6,000 Streetscooters number among the 49,300 vehicles Deutsche Post uses for local deliveries, and the company recently opened a second factory to up production to 40 per day.
When the traditional carmakers were slow to respond to its search for a low-carbon, low-cost van, bosses snapped up a small start-up firm to build its own.
Industry expert Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer of the Center for Automotive Research calls the move “a starting gun” for electric mobility in Germany, where headlines are more often dominated by a seemingly endless diesel emissions scandal.
For 20-year veteran of the Frankfurt post office Miroslav Arapovic, the new vehicle just means he is “less noisy and better integrated into the environment” as he makes his rounds.
“I’ve already had compliments from passers-by, like for the fact there aren’t any oil marks” on the street, he says.
Deutsche Post designed its Streetscooter from scratch as a delivery vehicle for inner cities.
Its battery offers a range of just 80 kilometers, massively slashing the costs of production.
Given such “very specific” requirements it was unsurprising that the major manufacturers focused on mass-market models were unable to rise to the challenge, explains Stefan Reindl, director of the Institute for the Automobile Economy (IFA).
Firms like Volkswagen have inflexible production chains, discouraging them from producing at small scale, and they “tend to overengineer” vehicles rather than pursuing minimalism.
For its part, Deutsche Post “does not want to become a carmaker,” seeking only to optimize the “last kilometer” of its deliveries, Streetscooter chief Achim Kampker says.
The “last mile,” a term adopted from the telecoms industry, is a top question for delivery firms, city authorities and environmentalists, especially in crowded, polluted German city centers.
It refers to the question of how to efficiently move goods from central hubs on to their final destination in densely populated urban areas.
Numbers of delivery vehicles making the rounds have ballooned, as booming e-commerce sets ever-more packages on their way to households’ front doors.
A British study found in 2017 that light van traffic in London had increased 30 percent over 1993 levels, unlike car and taxi traffic which has been sinking since the early 2000s.
Meanwhile, German cities are scrambling to clean up their air after a court decision ruled that diesel vehicles could be banned as a measure of last resort.
Hamburg and Stuttgart are among the first local authorities to shut off parts of their territory to older cars powered by the fuel.
Despite Kampker’s claims of limited ambitions, Streetscooter has gradually become a key player in this growing market, offering its product to outside customers for the past year at a cost of around €40,000 ($46,400) each.
In late May, it announced a sale of 200 vans to a British milk delivery firm, while a subsidiary of energy firm Innogy ordered 300 in early July.
Streetscooter is also working on a larger, more powerful model with US-based Ford, which will supply the new van’s chassis.
Such early wins are no guarantee of lasting success in an ultra-competitive industry, where traditional carmakers are increasingly switching their focus to electric mobility.
In 2017, Daimler announced a partnership with delivery firm Hermes to develop and produce some 1,500 vans by 2020.
One analyst asks whether Deutsche Post can “remain competitive over the long term” in a market where the likes of BMW and Volkswagen are beginning to throw their massive weight around.
Industry expert Reindl is “certain” that there will be a broad range of offers from the household names in the near future.
“Perhaps it’s the moment for them to adapt and to think about whether their products need to be so complex every time,” he suggests.
Deutsche Post CEO Frank Appel said in June that he aims to keep Streetscooter within the group “at least for the next two years,” although in the long term it may get a separate stock market listing or be bought out by a major carmaker.


At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

In this Monday, Jan. 20, 2020 image, Lizzie Chimiugak looks on at her home in Toksook Bay, Alaska. (AP)
Updated 22 January 2020

At 90, Alaska Native woman is 1st counted in US Census

  • The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867

TOKSOOK BAY, Alaska: Lizzie Chimiugak has lived for 90 years in the windswept western wilds of Alaska, born to a nomadic family who lived in mud homes and followed where the good hunting and fishing led.
Her home now is an outpost on the Bering Sea, Toksook Bay, and on Tuesday she became the first person counted in the US Census, taken every 10 years to apportion representation in Congress and federal money.
“Elders that were before me, if they didn’t die too early, I wouldn’t have been the first person counted,” Lizzie Chimiugak said, speaking Yup’ik language of Yugtun, with family members serving as interpreters. “Right now, they’re considering me as an elder, and they’re asking me questions I’m trying my best to give answers to, or to talk about what it means to be an elder.”
The decennial US census has started in rural Alaska, out of tradition and necessity, ever since the US purchased the territory from Russia in 1867. The ground is still frozen, which allows easier access before the spring melt makes many areas inaccessible to travel and residents scatter to subsistence hunting and fishing grounds. The mail service is spotty in rural Alaska and the Internet connectivity unreliable, which makes door-to-door surveying important.
The rest of the nation, including more urban areas of Alaska, begin the census in mid-March.
On Tuesday, Steven Dillingham, director of the census bureau, conducted the first interview after riding on the back of a snowmobile from the airport to Chimiugak’s home.
“The 2020 Census has begun,” he told reporters after conducting the first interview with Chimiugak, a process that lasted about five minutes. “Toksook Bay isn’t the easiest place to get to, and the temperature is cold. And while people are in the village, we want to make sure everyone is counted.”
Dillingham was hours late getting to Toksook Bay because weather delayed his flight from the hub community of Bethel, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) away. Conditions didn’t improve, and he spent only about an hour in the community before being rushed back to the airport.
After the count, a celebration took place at Nelson Island School and included the Nelson Island High School Dancers, an Alaska Native drum and dance group. Later, the community took over the commons area of the high school with a potluck of Alaska Native foods, including seal, moose and goose soups, herring roe served with seal oil and baked salmon.
Robert Pitka, tribal administrator for Nunakauyak Traditional Council, hopes the takeaway message for the rest of the nation is of Yup’ik pride.
“We are Yup’ik people and that the world will see that we are very strong in our culture and our traditions and that our Yup’ik language is very strong,” he said.
For Chimiugak, she has concerns about climate change and what it might do to future generations of subsistence hunters and fishers in the community, and what it will do to the fish and animals. She talked about it with others at the celebration.
“She’s sad about the future,” he eldest son Paul said.
Chimiugak was born just after the start of the Great Depression in the middle of nowhere in western Alaska, her daughter Katie Schwartz of Springfield, Missouri, said. Lizzie was one of 10 siblings born to her parents, who lived a nomadic lifestyle and traveled with two or three other families that would migrate together, her son said.
Lizzie and her 101-year-old sister from Nightmute, Alaska, survive.
In 1947 Lizzie married George Chimiugak, and they eventually settled in Toksook Bay after the town was founded in 1964 by residents of nearby Nightmute. There are five surviving children.
He worked maintenance at the airport. She did janitorial work at the old medical clinic and babysat.
Like other wives, she cleaned fish, tanned hides and even rendered seal oil after her husband came home from fishing or hunting. Her husband died about 30 years ago.
She is also a woman of strong Catholic faith, and told her son that she saved his life by praying over him after he contracted polio.
For her own hobbies, she weaved baskets from grass and remains a member of the Alaska Native dance group that performed Tuesday. She dances in her wheelchair.
She taught children manners and responsibility and continued the oral tradition of telling them stories with a storyknife.
Chimiugak used a knife in the mud to illustrate her stories to schoolchildren. She drew figures for people or homes. At the end of the story, she’d use the knife to wipe away the pictures and start the next story with a clean slate of mud.
“She’s a great teacher, you know, giving us reminders of how we’re supposed to be, taking care of subsistence and taking care of our family and respecting our parents,” her granddaughter Alice Tulik said. “That’s how she would give us advice.”