Drones, electric vehicles, autonomous robots and green transport methods are slowly replacing traditional delivery trucks to handle last-mile logistics

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Faced with the boom in e-commerce and the growing congestion of city centres, carriers are forced to look at alternative solutions for last-mile logistics.

Last-mile logistics, the end of an era

KEY INFOLast-mile logistics must change

It is a problem which carriers have so far been unable to solve: how can we adapt last-mile logistics to the exponential growth of e-commerce and growing congestion – generally in urban zones and more specifically in city centres? Delivery costs have increased so much over the past few years that they now amount to 20% of the total logistics value chain. Similarly, according to a study carried out in 2015 by France Stratégies, an organisation responsible for helping define future guidelines for the Prime Minister, delivery occupies a third of roads and is responsible for a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in a city. It amounts to 20% of motorised traffic, and driving time represents just a third of delivery duration. However these figures are not unique to France – they are representative of a situation experienced by all Western countries, including Europe.

New delivery drone at UPS, credit: UPS.

New delivery drone at UPS, credit: UPS.

Métro BlueTruck electric buses, credit: Métro.

Métro BlueTruck electric buses, credit: Métro.

New solutions being tested

What does these figures actually tell us? Currently, for a good portion of deliveries – and particularly low volume deliveries – the favoured system i.e. with a truck, or even a van, is no longer a good fit. In the future, they will be even less appropriate, as e-commerce and urban congestion are unlikely to decline – quite the contrary. Package deliveries, for example, should increase 20% per year over the next few years. To address this situation, the sector is getting organised and testing new solutions. One possibility is collaborative delivery, like Colis-voiturage, for heavy shipments, something which is already used by major brands like Amazon, which is preparing an Uber-style system for road transport. There are also drones, something which UPS is investing in, autonomous robots, popularised by the Swiss Post, but also “green” deliveries by boat, on foot or by bicycle, which are becoming increasingly popular. There is a growing interest in environmentally-friendly solutions, which have the major advantage for a company of improving brand reputation while also reducing fuel costs. There are many examples, like the electric buses used by the wholesale brand Métro for its deliveries.

New types of green transport

Credit: UPS.

A four-player game

In reality, and more generally, the current focus is the implementation of a new balance in the road transport sector, and more specifically urban transport. A balance in which local authorities play an increasingly important role, since they are no longer reluctant to ban certain vehicles from city centres. In line with this, the second player is e-commerce: retail sites want solutions which satisfy customers who are more demanding than ever, and want deliveries straight away, wherever they are, at a low price. Finally, innovative start-ups in the sector are a logical source of disruption, or development at the very least. With all these partners, or just some of them (the innovators in particular), transport professionals will successfully deal with this digital transition, and even make use of it to develop further.

The emergence of new delivery methods to handle last-mile logistics:

Last-mile logistics change

Last-mile logistics change


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