Most commercial vehicle fleet chiefs can only dream of fuel costs of 1p per mile, but Gnewt Cargo manages it with a fleet of more than 100 vehicles, which in 2015 collectively clocked up 200,000 miles.
However, Gnewt Cargo – an acronym for Green New Transportation – operates a unique fleet, which it says is the largest commercial fully electric transport operation in any city worldwide.
While it may be in a league of its own at the moment, if the Government’s environmental objectives are to be achieved, then fleets across the UK will be following in its footsteps.
Gnewt Cargo was launched seven years ago as a last-mile logistics company operating within the London congestion charge zone. Its vision was to build on and remain the “zero-emission delivery firm of choice in London and within city centres in the UK and across the globe”.
Today, it operates an expanding fleet of 102 electric vehicles delivering between 5,000 and 20,000 parcels daily in central London.
Electric vehicles, according to Gnewt Cargo director and co-founder Sam Clarke, are “our greatest asset, our USP, our differentiator”.
“Our type of fleet is the future, but we are here now. Businesses and consumers will be driving electric and fuel-cell vehicles. Vehicle emissions in cities worldwide are a major issue and change must happen.”
Clarke says of a recent Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consultation document proposing a nationwide urban network of clean air zones: “If they are introduced, it will play to the strengths of our business.”
Transport Minister Andrew Jones, talking at a recent Future of Business Mobility Summit, hosted by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), said: “UK businesses have a crucial role to play in driving the growth of the UK’s electric vehicle market. Company bosses recognise that electric vehicles are good for business and good for Britain.”
Gnewt Cargo was featured in a ‘Fleet Guide to Plug-In Vehicles’ published to coincide with the summit by Go Ultra Low, a collaborative campaign involving the Government, SMMT and seven motor manufacturers.
Last year, Gnewt Cargo more than doubled its fleet with the addition of 55 Renault Kangoo ZE vans supplied and funded by Alphabet. The French manufacturer said at the time that it was its largest electric van deal in the UK.
It is against that background that Gnewt Cargo was named Green Commercial Fleet of the Year at the Commercial Fleet 2015 awards. The judges said: “You couldn’t get any greener.”
It is the latest in a string of awards. Clarke says: “They mean a lot because they give Gnewt Cargo credibility and recognition on a national scale. The business may only currently operate in London, but it will grow and the awards we are winning are a useful tool in exposing our name and what we represent to potential new clients.”
So what differentiates Gnewt Cargo from other logistics operators and why does the company believe its business model can be successful across other UK cities and worldwide?
Clarke says: “On average, diesel delivery vans are only half-full driving to the centre of a city and going to the same places. We consolidate things that are going to the same place.
“Our service, vehicles and micro-consolidation hubs are precision-targeted to clients’ needs and locations.”
The company launched with a fleet of two- and three-wheel cargocycles. These are still used, but primarily as promotional vehicles.
Clarke says: “Our cargocycles offer a flexible solution that combine the traffic-beating agility of a bike with capacity comparable to a small van. Our vans are able to carry larger and heavier loads. That combination allows us to shape our service to suit all clients while reducing emissions and congestion.”
Gnewt Cargo operates out of eight central London hubs, with the most recent opening in November on the capital’s Barbican Estate. Each site is located to meet clients’ requirements and is equipped with a bank of recharging points. Independent verification by the University of Westminster suggests the company’s business model has cut CO2 emissions per parcel delivered by 62% and reduced kerbside space usage by 54%.
The company’s fleet also includes four Mercedes-Benz Vito E-cell vans, sourced on contract hire through Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, and six Nissan e-NV200s bought as part of a research project.
The remainder of the fleet comprises aftermarket-converted electric vans.
Initially, Gnewt Cargo bought its vans, but as more contract hire companies became prepared to take the risk on electric vehicles, it decided to turn to leasing.
Clarke says: “As Gnewt Cargo expanded, we needed our cash to invest in the business rather than in vehicles. Additionally, electric vehicle technology is moving at such a pace that we didn’t want to own vehicles for many years and find they were outdated.”
Vehicles travel on average 10-15 miles per day, but Clarke says to achieve the company’s 100% zero-emission fleet dream has been a steep learning curve: “In the early days, van range, payload and weight were issues. But over the years we have become experts in the operation of electric vans and know their limitations, although the technology has improved.
“We still have our original vehicles on the fleet and one of the reasons that electric vehicles last longer than diesel vans is because there are fewer moving parts so less maintenance is required and they travel fewer miles.”
Gnewt Cargo does maintenance in its own workshops: “After seven years of running electric vehicles, we understand how to look after them and keep them on the road as long as possible.”
Go Ultra Low’s fleet guide suggests the financial benefits versus conventionally powered vehicles include fuel savings of up to 10p per mile and an estimated 20-30% saving in service, maintenance and repair costs.
In terms of cost, Clarke urges fleet managers to ‘do the maths’: “You will be surprised at how much money you can save without compromising your business operations. What’s more, range anxiety in the right applications is not an issue.”
Efficiency continues to drive the business. In the past 12 months, Gnewt Cargo has installed tracking and telematics software, which helps drive productivity and improve driver behaviour.
Supplied by Canadian company FleetCarma, the analytics system monitors electricity consumption, battery charge and health as well as driver behaviour behind the wheel.
Monitoring driver behaviour is a key tool in reducing accidents, further underpinned by the recent fitting of cameras to all vehicles.
Although incidents are limited to “two or three minor shunts a month” – its insurance claims last year were restricted to those by third parties – ‘crash for cash’ incidents are a challenge.
“We have fitted cameras to all vehicles to provide us with better visibility of incidents,” says Clarke. Our own-fault accident rate is exemplary, but we are the victims of fraudulent claims, so fitting cameras will enable us to provide video evidence of what happened and further mitigate our risk exposure.
“It is one of the biggest challenges we have faced and has hurt us in terms of insurance premiums, because we were not on the ball. But we believe our investment in vehicle cameras will prove to be successful.”
Gnewt Cargo employs all its delivery drivers, which is key to customer service, Clarke believes.
“We give them a reasonable amount of work which means their quality of work is better than most peoples’ perception of delivery drivers. They deliver a ‘doorstep experience’ and as a result our service levels are excellent.”
The company operates on a ‘one driver, one vehicle’ basis and the fact that it is interested in employing people who are not from a delivery driver background means they have no pre-conceived idea of the job or the vehicle provided.
“Our employees have a different mentality to the traditional delivery driver. They are salaried and their demographic is typically young with a genuine interest in the environment,” Clarke says.
A second challenge is investing in sophisticated IT to both manage vehicle utilisation and maximise productivity as the company continues its expansion in London and beyond.
“We are developing new IT functionality so we can replicate what we have achieved in London in other cities,” explains Clarke.
Gnewt Cargo is a bronze member of the best practice-focused Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme and is hoping to achieve silver standard.
Clarke and his co-founder Matt Linnecar met via the internet. Linnecar decided he wanted to start a business with a strong environmental basis and started to look into distributing electric vehicles. During his research, Clarke’s name constantly cropped up.
Clarke’s university dissertation had been in electric vehicles and – after selling Christmas trees to raise cash – he went to China and noticed many people rode electric scooters.
Figuring there may be demand for such scooters in the UK, he shipped a container-load back. After a struggle, he sold the lot, but build quality meant aftercare was an issue.
Looking for a better product, he went to Germany, and ended up being the sole UK distributor for another brand of scooter. At that time, Linnecar was searching the internet and that led to the duo meeting and ultimately the launch of Gnewt Cargo.
“We founded the business with the mission to disrupt the logistics industry for the better, reducing pollution, particulate emissions and congestion while delivering better performance and doorstep experiences than any of our competitors,” says Clarke.
“Over the last year we have grown more than 150% – compared with the 50% year-on-year growth previously.”
The company’s growth record shows, as the Commercial Fleet Award judges said, that organisations were “buying into the business offering”.
Clarke concludes: “Businesses use Gnewt Cargo because they applaud the fact that we provide them with an environmentally friendly option.”