Tiny electric vehicles used by South African ecommerce companies to facilitate deliveries are in high demand.
The creator of these electric vehicles is MellowCabs – a business founded by Neil du Preez.
Du Preez said that the MellowCabs idea came to him after he spent time overseas, and it was originally planned to be a passenger vehicle. The idea soon transformed into cargo-specific vehicles, though.
He said his goal with the vehicles is simple: to “take over the world.”
“No, really. We want to be the preferred supplier of last-mile delivery vehicles globally,” said du Preez.
MellowVans – the delivery vehicles created by MellowCab – use a 4kW, 48V brushless DC engine, although du Preez said the business is considering moving to a belt-driven synchronous motor in the future.
It is powered by a specially-developed lithium-ion battery, and the top speed of the vehicle is about 80km/h, said du Preez – although due to vehicle class speed limitations in South Africa it is limited to 60km/h.
“Most of the chassis manufacturing and final assembly happens in Stellenbosch, with our bodies/shells made in Strand,” he added.
The vehicle is powered by technology, he added, with the control unit being the “brain of the powertrain system”.
“It converts the driver’s requests into intelligent commands for the system components and in this way ensures the perfect response at all times,” du Preez explained.
It also has a diagnostic tool which allows for basic guided diagnosis on a component level, while software updates are available for the complete powertrain system.
The vehicle also includes IoT functionality such as the ability to aggregate, filter, and analyse data while in the vehicle.
One of the biggest selling points of the MellowVan is that it is an electric vehicle – meaning it is eco-friendly.
The vehicle has a range of 100km and comes with an on-board charger to make the charging process simple.
“The onboard charger allows the vehicle to be charged anywhere, from any wall outlet,” explained du Preez. “Without it, we would be dependent on charging stations.”
According to du Preez, the MellowVan results in significant reductions in CO2 emissions, about 11.5kg per vehicle per day.
These vehicles also result in significant cost savings for customers, he added.
He said that on average, it costs delivery drivers about R3.47 per day in electricity costs when using the MellowVan – translating to about 15c per kilometre.
Ecommerce on the rise
Du Preez said that the cost savings of the MellowVan are important as last-mile delivery costs tend to be higher in Africa than elsewhere in the world.
“It is estimated that the average international cost of the last mile for any manufacturer works out to around 28% of the cost of the product,” explained du Preez.
“But within Africa, this cost spirals to around 35%-55%, pressured by issues such as weak infrastructure and limited delivery options.”
“As ecommerce gains momentum, retailers need to expand their distribution networks, build more fulfilment centres, and leverage more on third-party logistics partners.”
He said these third-party partners are often individual delivery drivers, making the leasing solution of the MellowVans business attractive.
“You can imagine, many delivery drivers would never be able to finance a vehicle, but we are willing to lease it to them,” said du Preez.