To meet its commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement by 2030, Germany must significantly reduce CO2 emissions. This also requires significant improvements in road freight transport. Electric trucks and thus low-emission vehicles are considered the most important means of reducing CO2 emissions to 55 percent of the baseline level in the comparison year 1990.
With a share of 20.25 percent of total CO2 emissions in Germany in 2019, road transport is the third largest source of CO2. Freight traffic accounts for slightly more than a third of this. That is why the use of electric drives is intended to reduce the emissions generated on site. Both battery-electric vehicles and those powered by hydrogen for electricity production via a fuel cell are in demand. Electric motors operate in both, allowing the trucks to accelerate quickly and quietly and require significantly less energy to move compared to diesel. Which technology is used in a commercial vehicle is likely to be decided in the future by its application scenario.
What is the range of electric trucks?
In addition to payload, range is one of the most important characteristics of an electric truck. Beyond the capacity of the batteries used, it depends on the power of the drive, the effectiveness of energy recovery when slowing down, and the route profile in the area of operation. In urban traffic, for example, the range of electric trucks is generally greater than in interurban traffic with a high proportion of highway traffic. This is because when stopping at traffic lights, the batteries are recharged by this recuperation. Depending on the manufacturer, engine and model, typical guide values for ranges have emerged in practice, starting at 100 kilometers, for example, for factory transport, through 250 to 300 kilometers for distribution transport, up to almost 800 kilometers for 40-ton vehicles in long-distance transport. The approach taken by commercial vehicle manufacturers varies considerably from retrofitters from the Netherlands or Switzerland, for example, to large-volume manufacturers. While the large companies work with ranges of 350 to 400 kilometers for long-distance transport that are suitable for everyday use, the Swiss focus on maximum range with high performance. Thus, with almost 700 hp, they achieve a range of over 750 kilometers. The values show that current electric trucks are enormously practical.
How economical are electric trucks?
At present, the prices for fully electric commercial vehicles are still around two to three times higher than those for conventional diesel trucks. In turn, these require almost three times as much energy in everyday operation as models with electric motors and thus lose their cost advantage over the course of their service life. In addition, most of the electric trucks in use are currently still prototypes. With the establishment of efficient series production, the price gap between e-trucks and their diesel counterparts is likely to narrow significantly in the near future. The economic viability of the vehicles therefore depends not only on the purchase price but also on the energy costs and the planned service life. In addition, companies planning to operate vehicles with electric motors should also factor in recharging times in conjunction with staff deployment. For example, if recharging can be done during the driver's break on a long-distance trip, charging times in local traffic may prevent the electric truck from being used on another trip. Some manufacturers are therefore also working on the development of vehicles with fuel cells, which would be ready for use again much more quickly by refueling with hydrogen as an energy storage medium. Just like the use of a battery-electric drive, the combustion of hydrogen on site is emission-free. An additional technological plus: even with fuel cells, commercial vehicle manufacturers can use the same powertrain together with the electric motor.
Where can electric trucks be charged?
Anyone who wants to use electric or fuel cell vehicles currently has to find the charging and refueling infrastructure themselves. There is still no nationwide energy supply for either technology. For this reason, manufacturers are supporting their customers of battery-electric vehicles through consultants and cooperative ventures in setting up their own charging stations. Because there are still far from enough electric charging stations throughout Germany, a joint venture of major manufacturers will create high-performance charging points and invest a sum in the hundreds of millions over a period of five years. By 2030, they estimate that there will be 50,000 charging points needed for trucks across Europe. Until these are in place, transport companies and freight forwarders will have to consider vehicle battery capacities as an important variable in route planning to avoid running into range problems. After all, the first vehicles are already reaching a total battery capacity of 680 kilowatt hours (kWh). Functional software and mobile apps help to make optimal use of the vehicles. In addition, they can include existing charging points in route planning based on range.
Electric trucks are already a real alternative to diesel today
The higher the price of diesel rises in the coming years because of CO2 taxation, the more interesting the use of electric trucks becomes for all freight forwarders in Germany. Even today, however, vehicles with electric motors can be used economically - in a suitable local transport scenario and with a planned service life in the long term. In addition to subsidies and low energy prices, this is supported in particular by their significantly lower energy requirements. Limitations in vehicle range can also be compensated for with the right planning software and mobile apps.