The first of Gatik’s electric trucks will be Ford Transit 350 HDs that were developed in partnership with electric drive company Via Motors. The new trucks have an all-electric powertrain, a range of 120 miles and can charge in less than 1.5 hours.
Gatik’s self-driving vehicles handle middle mile delivery, meaning that they transports goods closer to a consumer, but not all the way to them. A typical middle-mile route might be between a warehouse and a store location, and Gatik’s trucks become, in essence, a self-driving conveyor belt between points. Since the trucks travel a fixed route, Gatik can eliminate some of the variables that come with self-driving technology. They don’t, for example, need to constantly calculate new routes through a bunch of different neighborhoods to people’s front doors.
Gatik has previously said that this limited scope makes it easier to get regulatory approval and therefore its self-driving trucks on the road. Walmart announced in December that the Gatik trucks on one of its Bentonville, Arkansas routes will be allowed to remove the safety driver altogether and go full driverless this year.
In December, Walmart also announced that it would be adding Gatik’s truck to a second delivery route between New Orleans and Metairie, LA. That route is where the first of Gatik’s electric trucks will be in operation starting this month.
Electrification of its vehicle fleet is actually a stated goal of Walmart as the giant retailer aims to reach zero emissions by 2040. In addition to fewer emissions, with a recharge time of just 1.5 hours, Gatik’s new electric vehicles can recharge as they are being unloaded and loaded allowing for continuous operation.
The middle mile isn’t the only area where Walmart is testing out electric, self-driving delivery. The retailer has also partnered with electric car maker Cruise to test autonomous grocery delivery in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Last- and middle-mile delivery may also begin to blur in new ways, thanks in part to automation. Walmart has indicated that the middle mile may include consumer pickup stations, allowing people who don’t live near a Walmart store to purchase items from the retailer and pick them up closer to their homes.