French automaker wants to deploy drones and e-bikes directly from delivery vans
By Jack Daleo
Consolidation in the last-mile delivery space is nothing new. Large national carriers often partner with a network of local delivery service providers to round out their domestic supply chains. A French automaker, however, is putting a new twist on consolidation.
Multinational automobile manufacturer Renault (OCTUS: RNLSY) is looking at a way to consolidate not last-mile companies, but last-mile delivery modes. The Paris-based company last week unveiled a last-mile concept that would combine electric vans, electric cargo bikes and delivery drones in one package.
The solution, which Renault calls E-Tech Master OptiModale, is a triple threat. It features an electric-powered delivery van with a custom-built body that allows the vehicle to deploy both e-bikes and drones. Grahame Neagus, head of light commercial vehicles at Renault Trucks UK & Ireland, emphasized that the concept is not only flexible, but sustainable.
“The all-new Renault Trucks E-Tech Master OptiModale addresses the pressing need to improve air quality and pollution in our cities while improving accessibility and productivity for operators,” Neagus said in a press release. “By harnessing multiple modes of electric transport, this is an all-in-one sustainable solution that is set to transform the rapidly growing parcel market, and can be replicated anywhere in the world.”
At the heart of the OptiModale solution is the all-electric, 3.86-ton L3H1 E-Tech Master van. Its low wheelbase cab uses an R75 electric motor with a 33kWh battery that allows it to travel around 80 miles between charges.
Attached to the cab is a 13.5-foot Low Loader Luton body by Horton Commercials that serves as the vehicle’s “mothership.” It’s equipped with folding shelving for parcel delivery, but it also features a heli-drone pad system, electric cargo bike storage and a bike lift that allows it to directly deploy e-bikes and delivery drones.
The e-bike used in Renault’s model is the flagship eBullitt cargo bike from Denmark’s Larry vs. Harry. Capable of hauling up to 220 pounds worth of smaller parcels, the eBullitt provides up to 31 miles of power assist for cyclists. And once it’s back on board the van, its battery charges fully within four hours.
Above the electric cargo bike storage and lift is a retractable heli-drone pad. From there, Renault will deploy parcel-carrying drones from UAVTEK. The U.K.-based company’s Magpie drone is a quadcopter model capable of carrying about 4.4 pounds of payload for up to 38 minutes, making it ideal for short, time-sensitive deliveries that can bypass congestion or traverse countryside or water.
OptiModale is a two-person operation. One team member drives the van while the other takes the bike in areas where there is high congestion, and either team member can deploy the delivery drone from the top of the vehicle.
Renault’s concept is reminiscent of a model patented by Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) last year. Though it hasn’t yet come to fruition, Amazon’s model would enable its last-mile vans to deploy and control delivery drones, using vehicle-mounted sensors and cameras to direct them. Amazon’s model does not include bikes.
Loveland, Ohio-based Workhorse Group (NASDAQ: WKHS) has also experimented with the model, though customers reported serious malfunctions.
Renault is also working on developing last-mile mobility solutions through its Mobilize brand. Mobilize is innovating and testing technologies for electric, connected and autonomous mobility as it aims to support carbon neutrality and a circular economy.