For the 275,000 Amazon drivers dropping off 10 million packages a day around the world, the job can be a grind. But a lot has changed since drivers in 2021 told CNBC about unrealistic workloads, peeing in bottles, dog bites and error-prone routing software.
Among the biggest developments is the arrival of a brand-new electric van from Rivian.
Amazon was a big and early investor in the electric vehicle company, which went public in late 2021 with a plan to build trucks and SUVs for consumers and delivery vans for businesses. Since July, Amazon has rolled out more than 1,000 new Rivian vans, which are now making deliveries in more than 100 U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Las Vegas, Nashville, New York City and Austin, Texas.
The partnership began in 2019, when Amazon founder and ex-CEO Jeff Bezos announced Amazon had purchased 100,000 electric vans from Rivian as one step toward his company’s ambitious promise of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
″[We] will have prototypes on the road next year, but 100,000 deployed by 2024,” Bezos said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in September 2019. Amazon has since revised the timeline, saying it expects all 100,000 Rivian vans on the road by 2030.
Rivian has faced several challenges in recent months. It cut back 2022 production amid supply chain and assembly line issues. Its stock price dropped so sharply last year that Amazon recorded a combined $11.5 billion markdown on its holdings in the first two quarters.
CNBC talked to drivers to see what’s changed with the driving experience. We also went to Amazon’s Delivering the Future event in Boston in November for a look at the technology designed to maximize safety and efficiency for delivery personnel.
For now, most Amazon drivers are still in about 110,000 gas-powered vans — primarily Ford Transits, Mercedes-Benz Sprinters and Ram ProMasters. Amazon wouldn’t share how it determines which of its 3,500 third-party delivery firms, or delivery service partners (DSPs), are receiving Rivian vans first.
The e-commerce giant has been using DSPs to deliver its packages since 2018, allowing the company to reduce its reliance on UPS and the U.S. Postal Service for the so-called last mile, the most expensive portion of the delivery journey. The DSP, which works exclusively with Amazon, employs the drivers and is responsible for the liabilities of the road, vehicle maintenance, and the costs of hiring, benefits and overtime pay.
Amazon leases the vans to DSP owners at a discount. The company covers the fuel for gas-powered vans and installs charging stations for electric vehicles.
The company says DSP owners have generatedand now operate in 15 countries, including Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, Canada, and all over Europe.
about range. An Amazon spokesperson told CNBC the vans can travel up to 150 miles on a single charge, which is typically plenty of power for a full shift and allows drivers to recharge the vehicle overnight.
As for maintenance, Amazon says that takes place at Rivian service centers near delivery stations or by a Rivian mobile service team, depending on location.
Julieta Dennis launched a DSP, Kangaroo Direct, in Baltimore three years ago. She employs about 75 drivers and leases more than 50 vans from Amazon. She now has 15 Rivian vehicles.
“It’s very easy to get in and out with all of the different handles to hold on to,” Dennis said. She said that some drivers were hesitant at first because the vehicles were so new and different, “but the moment they get in there and have their first experience, that’s the van that they want to drive.”
Baltimore DSP owner Julieta Dennis shows off a Rivian electric van at Amazon’s Delivering the Future event in Boston, Maryland, on November 10, 2022.
Brandi Monroe has been delivering for Kangaroo Direct for two years. She pointed to features on a Rivian van that are upgrades over what she’s driven in the past. There’s a large non-slip step at the back, a hand cart for helping with heavy packages and extra space for standing and walking in the cargo area.
“We have two shelves on both sides to allow for more space,” Monroe said, adding that she’d prefer to drive a Rivian for every shift. “And then the lights at the top: very innovative to help us see the packages and address a lot easier, especially at nighttime.”
There’s even a heated steering wheel.
Former driver B.J. Natividad, who goes by, says his non-electric van could get very cramped.
“I remember one time I had 23 or 24 bags and over 40 oversize packages and I had to be able to figure out how to stuff that all in there within the 15 minutes that they give us to load up in the morning,” said Natividad, who now works for USPS.
The Rivian vans have at least 100 more cubic feet than theand up to double the cargo space of the Ford Transit vans Natividad drove in Las Vegas. Rivian vans are still small enough that they don’t require a special license to drive, though Amazon provides its own training for drivers.
One driver in Seattle, who asked to remain unnamed, was especially excited about the new Rivian vans. He offered anon his YouTube channel called .
He said one of his favorite features is a light bar “that goes all the way around the back.” He also likes that the windshield is “absolutely massive,” the wide doors allow for easy entry and exit, and the cargo door automatically opens when the van is parked. There are two rows of shelves that fold up and down in the cargo area.
There’s also new technology, such as an embedded tablet with the driving route and a 360-degree view that shows all sides of the van.
Mai Le, Amazon’s vice president of Last Mile, oversaw the testing of the center console and Rivian’s integrated software.
“We did a lot of deliveries as a test,” Le said. “As a woman, I want to make sure that the seats are comfortable for me and that my legs can reach the pedals, I can see over the steering wheel.”
She demonstrated some of the benefits of the new technology.
“When we start to notice that you’re slowing down, that means that we can tell you’re getting near to your destination,” she said. “The map begins to zoom in, so you begin to find where’s your delivery location, which building and where parking could be.”
The new vans have keyless entry. They automatically lock when the driver is 15 feet away and unlock as the driver approaches.
Workers load packages into Amazon Rivian Electric trucks at an Amazon facility in Poway, California, November 16, 2022.
Sandy Huffaker | Reuters
, at least 10 of which were fatal. Amazon put cameras and sensors all over the Rivian vans, which enable warnings and lane assist technology that autocorrects if the vehicle veers out of the lane.
Dennis mentioned the importance of automatic braking and the steering wheel that starts “just kind of shaking when you get too close to something.”
“There’s just so many features that would really, really help cut back on some of those incidental accidents,” she said.
Amazon vans have driver-facing cameras inside, which can catch unsafe driving practices as they happen.
“The in-vehicle safety technology we have watches for poor safety behaviors like distracted driving, seat belts not being fastened, running stop signs, traffic lights,” said Beryl Tomay, who helps run the technology side of delivery as vice president of Last Mile for Amazon.
“We’ve seen over the past year a reduction of 80% to 95% in these events when we’ve warned drivers real time,” she said. “But the really game-changing results that we’ve seen have been almost a 50% reduction in accidents.”
As a DSP owner, Dennis gets alerts if her drivers exhibit patterns of unsafe behavior.
“If something with a seat belt or just something flags, then our team will contact the driver and make sure that that’s coached on and taken care of and figured out, like what actually happened,” Dennis said.
That level of constant surveillance may be unsettling for some drivers. Dennis said that issues haven’t come up among her staffers. And Amazon stresses it’s focused on driver privacy.
“We’ve taken great care from a privacy perspective,” Tomay said. “There’s no sound ever being recorded. There’s no camera recording if the driver’s not driving and there’s a privacy mode.”
Amazon says the cabin-facing camera automatically switches off when the ignition is off, and privacy mode means it also turns off if the vehicle is stationary for more than 30 seconds.
Safety concerns extend beyond the vehicle itself. For example, an Amazon driver in Missouri was.
Amazon says new technology can help. Drivers can choose to manually notify customers ahead of a delivery, giving them time to restrain pets. Another feature that’s coming, according to Le, will allow drivers to mark delivery locations that have pets.
Natividad said he had multiple close calls with dogs charging at him during deliveries.
“You customers out there, please restrain your dogs when you know a package is coming,” he said. “Please keep them inside. Don’t leave them just outside.”