Deutsche Post is the next unlikely electric vehicle manufacturer
An electric delivery van designed and constructed by German logistics giant Deutsche Post demonstrates the ease with which companies can now enter the sector, threatening established players.
The company has exploited sweeping changes in manufacturing technology to create the vehicles so that it can use them to meet growing demand for e-commerce deliveries without adding to air pollution in German cities, replacing conventional Volkswagen vans.
But having decided to go it alone with the project, upsetting VW “beyond measure”, the group will soon decide whether to start selling the Streetscooter model and join those set to compete directly with established car-makers.
The Streetscooter has been made possible largely through advances in manufacturing software that allow smaller companies to tap suppliers to design, engineer and test new vehicle concepts without hiring thousands of engineering staff or investing billions in tooling and factories
In addition to Deutsche Post, start-ups, and even larger companies that do not typically manufacture cars such as Google, can enter the sector.
Technical and engineering know-how among this network of suppliers has blossomed since traditional manufacturers began farming out research and development to keep their own costs down after the global financial crisis of 2008-09.
Today, suppliers produce components that make up 80 per cent of a car, up from about 56 per cent in the 1980s, creating a manufacturing system that is being used by new entrants such as Google for its driverless cars, which recently logged over two million miles of testing on public roads.
Deutsche Post says it took this route when the conventional vehicle-makers turned down requests to build the electric vans in what are limited numbers by their standards.
“We are purposely not reinventing the wheel. We do not produce a single component ourselves. Everything comes from a supplier,” said Win Neidlinger, director of business development at Deutsche Post’s car-making arm.
Deutsche Post already has 1,000 of the bright yellow vans on the road, and production has been raised to 5,000 vehicles a year, with the possibility of adding a second shift.
Streetscooter used a software program made by PTC to talk to a network of 80 suppliers including Stuttgart-based Bosch, which provides the electric drivetrain, and Hella, which makes the headlights.
PTC’s Windchill software, which costs 300 to 1,000 euros (£270-£900) per user per year, is used by 90 per cent of the top 50 automotive companies including Continental, ZF , Volkswagen, Audi, MAN, Hyundai and Ferrari.
Dominik Ruechardt, business development director at PTC, said software systems are becoming more accessible. After years of spending millions to customise in-house development programmes, carmakers have begun switching to more standard systems, helping to expand the network of suppliers.
“There is a clear trend to go to out-of-the-box systems. Five years ago the auto industry launched a code of conduct for product lifecycle management. We have a common understanding of an open architecture, interfaces, support of standards,” he said.
Deutsche Post will decide whether to sell its vans on the open market by the year-end.
The rising popularity of electric cars in recent years has led to a rally on the price of key metals used in the industry such as lithium, cobalt, and graphite.