FedEx: The Electric Path to Energy Security

As political, military and business leaders gather in Chicago for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit, one of the great security challenges of the 21st century is energy security. Cities like Chicago and companies like FedEx are working to contribute to energy security. Given the international impacts of energy security—from rising demand in developing nations to geopolitical volatility in oil-rich regions of the world, this is an important opportunity for NATO countries and the broader international community to work together to turn the tide on this global challenge.

In fact, it was NATO’s first Supreme Commander who warned of the threat posed by importing oil from hostile regimes. In 1959, as President, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the grave security risks the nation would incur if we were to import more than 15 percent of our oil.

More than half a century later, the United States now imports approximately 45-50 percent of the oil we consume – spending more than $320 billion on oil imports just last year. Right now, transportation fuels account for nearly 70 percent of the United States daily oil consumption.

We see a similar problem around the world. What will answer the global demand for increased transportation with more than 1 billion people set to join the global middle class in the decades to come? A lasting and sustained commitment is needed to help solve this dilemma.

The path forward must analyze the costs, benefits, and feasibility of reducing oil in the transportation sector with energy that features diversity of sources, price stability, affordability, less impact on the environment and a domestic origin.

Electric vehicles can meet these criteria.

We need to speed up the electrification of passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks. At roughly 14 million barrels per day, our transportation sector alone consumes more oil than any national economy in the world. American cars, trucks, planes and ships rely on oil for 94 percent of their fuel, with no readily available substitutes.

Chicago plays a role in addressing the global energy security conundrum through its contribution to all-electric vehicle development.

I am proud to say that FedEx was the first to deploy all-electric commercial delivery vehicles in Chicago, in August of 2011, and there are now six electric vehicles (EVs) in service on routes in the downtown Chicago area. In fact, five of those six current were made by local Chicago supplier Navistar, which builds the eStar in northwest Indiana. And, while the numbers are low, the potential is high.

FedEx is testing electric trucks from several manufacturers head-to-head in daily service in Chicago to accelerate the development of the vehicles and the EV industry. These trucks produce no smog-forming exhaust, and when powered by carbon-free electricity – such as wind, bio-gas, hydro, geo-thermal, solar, or nuclear – these electric vans are also zero-emission vehicles.

The benefits of EVs can go far beyond curbing exhaust emissions – we will be closely studying them with a local Chicago organization, comparing pros and cons of the different designs, to help evolve all-electric vehicle technology. We want to help identify and develop the most cost-efficient and reliable models for large-scale, national use.

As leaders from the NATO countries gather in Chicago this week, they will do so in one of the key test locations for this rapidly developing technology. There is no doubt that electric vehicles should be a part of our nation’s long-term energy security strategy. It is my hope that we can see past political divisions at home and abroad in order to embrace a cleaner, more secure energy future.