In November 2019, about two years ago, Yamato Transport announced the introduction of Japan’s first light-duty commercial electric vehicle (EV) trucks specialized for home delivery (in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama), which were deployed at sales offices throughout the Tokyo metropolitan area and began operating in January 2020.
The vehicles were jointly developed with Street Scooter, a member of the Deutsche Post DHL Group, in consideration of environmental aspects such as CO2 reduction and noise reduction in residential areas, and also designed from the standpoint of the driver.
However, according to statistics from the Japan Automobile Importers Association, the number of new registrations had been “zero” since April this year. We followed up on the truth behind the introduction of the EV delivery vehicles, which were jointly developed with a foreign manufacturer over a period of two years ahead of other companies in the industry, and which attracted a great deal of attention, but were terminated after just over a year of full-scale operation.
It was announced as a “pioneer in the transportation industry,” but…
The small commercial EV delivered to Yamato Transport attracted a lot of attention when it was first announced. In order to maximize the use of the cargo area, it was designed to be wide, with an overall width of over 2 meters, but with an overall height of less than 2.1 meters, it had the advantage of being able to fit into the underground parking lots of buildings and condominiums.
In addition, the number of female drivers in charge of pickup and delivery at Yamato Transport is about 30% of the total. In consideration of the increasing number of female drivers, the cargo bed has been lowered to make it easier for them to load and unload. Since it can be driven with a regular driver’s license, it was expected to contribute to the increase in the number of female drivers in the delivery industry, which is facing a serious labor shortage.
However, the feedback from drivers who actually drove the vehicles was not always positive.
“My impression was that there were a lot of breakdowns. They would stop in the middle of delivery. It has a big impact on the delivery schedule.
“During the summer, I mainly use it at night. During the summer, we use them mainly at night, so even if they break down and stop, it’s not noticeable.
“Some of the vehicles that are not delivered to our office have not been used or recharged for months, and some of the vehicles at neighboring offices have been sitting in front of the chargers for a long time.
“Some of the vehicles have not been used for months and have not been charged.
“The hood is unnecessarily long and the load capacity is not as expected; why was this introduced after two years of joint development? It’s too useless.”
Unlike gasoline and hybrid vehicles, EVs are not just about installing a vehicle, but are usually installed with a dedicated charger. Naturally, Yamato has also installed chargers for street scooters at about 100 of its sales offices, which are said to cost over 7 million yen each, and the total cost of installation including chargers was announced to be 4 billion yen for 500 units.
However, the rapid shift to EVs has been taking place in the transportation industry as well, with major transportation companies such as Sagawa Express (about 7,000 units) and SBS Holding (about 10,000 units) announcing the introduction of EV delivery vehicles manufactured in China on a fabless basis since this spring. Yamato, which was one step ahead of the competition in introducing imported EV delivery vehicles, could have continued to deliver these vehicles even after the 500 units were completed if the vehicles were superior.
The Toyota Quick Delivery developed for Yamato
Reported sale” of the company that co-developed the product with Yamato
We asked the Yamato Transport spokesperson a few questions about the reasons for the end of deliveries, feedback from drivers, and the actual operational status. Although not much was revealed, we were able to obtain some valuable information.
“It was announced that they would stop manufacturing the cars around the beginning of March 2020, not long after the full-scale introduction, so the importation of the first 500 cars will end.
“Our goal of replacing 5,000 units with EVs by 2030 remains unchanged. Our goal of replacing 5,000 units with EVs by 2030 remains unchanged. 500 units of street scooters will be the end of the line, but we’ll let you know when we decide on new vehicles after that.
To our surprise, the decision to discontinue the street scooter was made just two short months after the start of operations in January 2020. After two years of joint development…. How is this possible? We asked a number of people in the industry who are familiar with the situation of commercial EVs.
“The first time I saw the news, I had the impression that it was poorly made. Yamato’s familiar delivery vehicle was the specially developed Toyota Quick Delivery (a courier car often seen on the streets), but the street scooter was introduced to replace it.
However, the loading capacity of the street scooter was not as high as that of the Quick Delivery, and the handling on narrow roads was not so good. Its shape with a long hood makes it very wasteful as a delivery vehicle. Nissan’s one-box EV (e-NV200) or commercial EVs manufactured in China seem to be much cheaper and easier to use.
“It’s too costly. It’s just a box with the head of an SUV attached to it and a motor and inverter? I can understand if the price is 3 million yen, but 7 million yen over is too high. The cargo space is less than half of the total length, and the G050, which Sagawa Express plans to introduce in the fall of 2022, is far more competitive in terms of price and completeness.
“This is a reflection of the fact that the only appealing points were (1) decarbonization and (2) ease of use for the driver (ease of entry and exit, keyless entry, optimized ground clearance, multi-view monitor). Rather than joint development, I get the impression that we are being forced to deal with a ‘bad debt’…” (Public Relations, a domestic transportation equipment manufacturer)
In early October, Germany’s DieWelt newspaper reported that Deutsche Post, the parent company of Street Scooter, intended to sell the production rights of Street Scooter to Odin Automotive, a Luxembourg-based company to be established in September 2021. (established in September 2021). Another European business daily also reported that Street Scooter had been looking for a buyer since 2020.
Yamato told this author that it was informed of the discontinuation of production just four months after the press release. In other words, at the time of the press announcement in November 2019, the German company’s management was uncertain and did not have a mass production system or a system in place to reflect and modify the feedback from the field….
I was surprised that only 500 units were sold, but perhaps we should think that only 500 units were sold and the “damage” was minimized. With Sagawa keeping the price down to around 2 million yen and other rivals introducing cheaper and more powerful EVs, how will Yamato regain its footing? The will of the long-established company is being tested.
Reporting and writing by： Kumiko Kato Photography： Hiroto Kato