United Parcel Service of America Inc. is leasing 42 ZAP Xebra 3-wheel, pod-like electric vehicles in a 6-week trial for its small-parcel delivery service in Petaluma, Northern California.

The delivery company paraded the vehicles through the main street at the start of the lease that runs to Jan. 1.

Analysts say it’s an important breakthrough for the California-based electric-vehicle maker. A successful trial offers huge potential.

UPS has a vehicle fleet of 94,542 cars, vans, tractors and motorcycles to deliver 3.9 million packages annually.

The delivery company says it is using the ZAP vehicles in conjunction with its trademark big brown vans. It has set up strategic distribution nodes for the vans to transfer packages to the EVs for final delivery in smaller communities, neighborhoods and downtown areas where larger vans are less efficient and have a more difficult time navigating or parking.

The ZAP initiative is the first time UPS has used EVs for this purpose. Company drivers are monitoring their electrical usage to analyze cost savings and emissions reductions.

“Packages go from the airplanes to the tractor trailers to the delivery vans, then to the drop-off nodes,” ZAP CEO Steve Schneider says.

“From there, the ZAP trucks make the final delivery to the consumer in a zero-emission vehicle that costs less to operate. It’s a perfect example of how green technology can help corporate America’s bottom line.”

ZAP says its cars and trucks are believed to be the only 40 mph (64 km/h) street-legal EVs available in production today. They are imported from China and sell for about $10,000, with a cost of about $0.03 per mile for electricity.