Big Brown is going green.
United Postal Service's trademark brown vans will be joined by 100 fully electric vehicles in what is being touted as the largest rollout of zero-emissions, all-electric delivery vehicles in California.
UPS debuted its electric fleet in a Tuesday morning ceremony at its Shore Street distribution center in West Sacramento. Built in Stockton, the trucks will cover routes in Sacramento, Ceres, Fresno, Bakersfield and San Bernardino.
UPS expects the trucks to reduce fuel consumption by 126,000 gallons a year and to lower carbon emissions.
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"Climate change is not waiting. Pollution doesn't wait, so we can't wait, either," Gov. Jerry Brown said, flanked by a handful of UPS drivers, executives and state environmental officials at the ceremony.
The trucks are part of a larger objective put in motion by a Gov. Brown-signed executive order to put some 1.5 million zero-emissions vehicles – or roughly the number of fossil fuel-burning trucks on California roads and highways – onto the state's roadways by 2025.
State alternative fuel and technology funding is giving the growing sector a boost – some $90 million is slated to be invested this fiscal year on alternative and renewable fuels technology, said California Energy Commission officials.
Brown's order also calls for infrastructure to support 1 million zero-emissions vehicles by 2025.
Brown recalled Silicon Valley innovators Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple at the ceremony calling California a "dynamic center of innovation, of imagination, technology and collaboration" and said climate change demands that the state develop a robust clean-energy transportation sector.
UPS' zero-emissions fleet in California is a fraction of the more than 2,500 alternative-fuel vehicles it operates worldwide, but one federal Environmental Protection Agency official said that UPS' rolling electric laboratory is a significant early step toward a cleaner California.
"We're committed to a future that is more electric than diesel. This really is the future," said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA regional administrator. "Not only are we cleaning the air, but employing about 60 people. It's a market that makes sense."
The vehicles' manufacturer, Electric Vehicles International, or EVI, moved its operations from Toluca, Mexico, to Stockton in 2009, lured by California's push for vehicles powered by clean energy.
In August 2011, UPS ordered the 100 EVI-built trucks that make up the fleet.
EVI's goal is simple, said the firm's Sheree Robinson. "Produce clean air and help the environment," Robinson said.
The EVI rigs, costing about $150,000, are more expensive than the roughly $50,000 for UPS' diesel trucks, but the electric trucks are less expensive to operate than their diesel counterparts, said Guadalupe Arredondo, an EVI applications engineer.
"It's less expensive, not only when you compare kilowatt-hours to the price of fuel, but also in maintenance costs," Arredondo said.
The electric vehicles also feature energy-saving and energy-generating twists.
One, a regenerative braking system, stores and recycles the energy generated when a driver applies the brakes. The energy goes back into the vehicle's battery, Arredondo said.
"It reduces our carbon footprint, and maintenance costs go down," he said.
With their 75-mile range, the electric vehicles are ideal for urban UPS routes, and the trucks' electric power plant has other bonuses, too, said driver Joe Thomas, a 29-year UPS veteran.
However, Thomas said, customers may miss the big brown vans' distinctive diesel rumble.
"They're very quiet, like a Prius," Thomas said with a small laugh. "You don't know if they're running. It's easier on the ears."