In town you may guess who’s here by the sound of the motor or the squeal of the brakes. In the country you might have an idea of the truck’s imminent arrival when you see a plume of dust billowing from far away. In over 200 countries worldwide, and at home in the U.S., you’re darn certain it’s UPS when you see the Pullman Brown package car arrive with passenger door open and driver wasting not a minute before taking off again.
Welcome to the highly familiar and grandly orchestrated world of the United Parcel Service, a 112-year-old delivery and logistics company that started in Seattle and now calls Sandy Springs, Georgia, home, with intermediate HQ stops in Oakland, California, and Greenwich, Connecticut. Since the start they’ve called them “package cars,” not delivery trucks, and they’ve been painted the same color as the old railroad Pullman cars — brown — and for the same reason: doesn’t show the dirt.
The fellow who graced our driveway last week had art frames for one of us, or so his DIAD told him. That’s the handheld electronic clipboard, an acronym for Delivery Information Acquisition Device. In fact, he could not find our box, and so explained in the briefest way possible that it would be on another truck soon. And then he left. A UPS executive recently told NPR that “one minute per driver per day over the course of a year adds up to $14.5 million” in cost and “one minute of idle per driver per day is worth $500,000 of fuel at the end of the year.”
There are subtle and not-so variations between boxy UPS bodies that rest on (mostly) Freightliner chassis, but you won’t find a logo other than UPS. That’s because UPS scrubs all identifiers that might imply endorsement from the bodies built by Morgan Olson (Grumman Olson), Union City Body and Utilimaster. Its rounded-nose design was patented by the company in 1965. Later, hoods with flat sides were phased in.
Around 2010 you began to see modern composite headlights replacing the round sealed-beam headlights. Originally, package cars were equipped with manual transmissions and steering, although automatics grace the newer ones. You won’t see former package cars on the road the way you see old U-Hauls, as the company gets 25 or so years out of each, pulls the useful parts and systematically crushes the rest, crossing off each serial number in the process. The exception is for internal use, where repainted white package cars are used at company hubs and older semis as terminal freighters.
Next-gen package cars are — you guessed it — electric, and UPS is testing the waters with a variety of suppliers including Arrival, Daimler Trucks, Workhorse and Tesla. The company is working on a goal that one in four vehicles purchased by 2020 will be an alternative-fuel or advanced technology vehicle, and to obtain 25 percent of the electricity it consumes from renewable energy sources by 2025. Gasoline and diesel will be its primary power sources for a long while yet, but not forever.
Carlton Rose, UPS president of global fleet maintenance and engineering, told the American Trucking Association’s annual meeting in Atlanta last year, “You cannot be a linear thinker in an exponential world.” Rose, who started through the ranks as a driver and technician, continued, “It’s understandable to be afraid of all this change. In fact, it’s smart. But fear of the unknown discourages investment…. Don’t sacrifice the good for perfect. We must be willing to change as technology changes. Continuous learning is critical. Far too often we’re mentally enslaved to the familiar. Freeing ourselves may allow us to take the first step.”
As for the best way to free oneself, Rose concluded, “It’s as simple as ABC: Adaptability, bravery and commitment.” And as for those art frames, our driver double-checked his load at his next stop, found our box on the wrong shelf and handed it over with a brief and cheerful, “Thanks for your patience!”
Clifford Fewel’s AutoFewel column appears each week in the Tri-Valley Dispatch, as well as online at pinalcentral.com/opinion/columns.