Part one of a series.

Call it a coronavirus side effect. As millions of homebound customers turn to e-commerce for shopping, a new kind of vehicle is starting to appear on the manifest: the electric delivery truck.

“All the companies like FedEx, UPS and Amazon that are having to make those deliveries are being strained,” said Randy Mullett, a trucking and freight consultant based in Washington. “And almost all of them have very active electric or alternative-fuel programs.”

More delivery means more commercial trucks and vans. And fleets of electric trucks, just a couple of years ago a farfetched notion, are suddenly generating lots of buzz.

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The number on the roads today is tiny, and the pilot programs to test them are early, meaning they won’t arrive in big numbers soon. Enormous barriers stand in the way of the electric delivery vehicle shoving the ever-present diesel truck off the curb.

But UPS and Amazon.com have tens of thousands of them on order. That, along with an assist from some muscular regulations in California and new coronavirus shopping habits, has experts guessing that delivery trucks — ones on the smaller side of big — will be the catalyst to make all sorts of electric trucks possible.

Mike Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency, thinks the last-mile delivery truck — running a short loop from the distribution center to the customer — will be the first to persuade big business that an electric truck can beat a diesel one in terms of cost and performance.

“It’s the first big entry point,” Roeth said. “These
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