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Germany’s MAUT changes will faci...

Germany’s MAUT changes will facilitate switch to electric trucking, says sennder’s Graham A. Major-Ex

Germany’s MAUT changes will facilitate switch to electric trucking, says sennder’s Graham A. Major-Ex

Companies are increasingly dabbling in electric trucking in a bid to lower emissions, avoid expensive road tolls, and to get to grips with electric vehicles before they eventually become the norm. Even so, electric trucks still make a small proportion of the total trucks sold in Europe.

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Gregor Gowans

Gregor Gowans

Journalist Trans.INFO


Companies are increasingly dabbling in electric trucking in a bid to lower emissions, avoid expensive road tolls, and to get to grips with electric vehicles before they eventually become the norm. Even so, electric trucks still make a small proportion of the total trucks sold in Europe.

Germany’s MAUT changes will facilitate switch to electric trucking, says sennder’s Graham A. Major-Ex

The reasons for a lack of serious take-up are many. The cost of purchasing a truck can be prohibitively expensive, which is why leasing models have emerged. Charging infrastructure also remains limited, while range is still not quite where some road transporters would like it to be.

In spite of all this, Graham Major-Ex, Director of Green Business and eMobility at sennder, remains steadfast in his optimism for electric trucks, and believes a number of factors will soon see the rollout of electric commercial vehicles accelerate noticeably.

In this interview with Major-Ex, we delve into the key factors influencing the speed of the shift to zero-emission road freight, and learn how electric trucking is poised to evolve over time.

How software updates can genuinely improve efficiency and range

The aforementioned lack of range for long-haul operations is often cited as one of the factors discouraging hauliers from investing in electric trucks.

Major-Ex is nonetheless confident this will be addressed in the not-too-distant future on the basis of the speed of technological development we’ve seen in recent years.

In addition to that, Major-Ex was keen to stress during our discussion that extra performance potential can be extracted from existing vehicles courtesy of manufacturers’ over-the-air software and firmware updates.

“It’s important to point out that the electric trucks you buy today can actually improve emissions-wise over time in two ways. The first is the grid getting greener, which means less emissions from charging. The other thing is that the truck itself can improve via software updates. You can really change the operational capabilities of vehicles over time, albeit within certain physical limits each vehicle has,” said Major-Ex.

According to sennder’s Director of Green Business and eMobility, there is potential for these updates to yield as much as a 13% range increase in the near term, which is not insignificant.

The evolving charging infrastructure ecosystem

Another major concern hauliers have about switching to electric is access to charging.

In Major-Ex’s opinion, as it stands, it’s possible to operate an electric vehicle almost anywhere in Germany provided the vehicle has sufficient range for the route and can be charged overnight.

Nevertheless, once the size of the electric fleet gets up to 50 vehicles or so, he believes the need to have access to charging corridors or stations becomes apparent.

“At this point, if other companies are doing similar operations, there will be a lot more electric trucks needing to be charged at these facilities. We need to have really significant grid connection capabilities, because if you have that number of trucks charging, you’re several orders of magnitude more than standard car charging. Having charging infrastructure available brings robustness to the system as there won’t be delays due to chargers being occupied.” Major-Ex told Trans.INFO.

As Major-Ex pointed out, this desired charging capacity can come from a variety of different sources:

“We’ve public charging that’s already there, which we’re focusing on right now. Secondly, we’ve truck charging infrastructure available; there’s probably between 6-10 truck charging locations in Western Germany and the East of the Netherlands in operation. Then we’ve overnight charging at a carrier’s base or a warehouse. Finally, there’s customer operated charging. So we’ve public charging that’s available now or is in process, and then carriers are also developing their own charging.”

The operational considerations of cross-border electric road freight

Variations in road toll prices, charging infrastructure availability, and the level of grid-based emissions, also complicate matters when taking electrified road freight cross-border.

As for what factors must be considered when assessing the viability of electric cross-border transport, Major-Ex lists the economics of each region, as well as the total operational set up, which takes into account drivers’ hours, charging time, and time for loading/unloading or swapping trailers and so on.

There are cost factors to take into account as well, notably road tolls.

“I think when we’re looking at this kind of cross-border situation, it really comes down to the operating details. For instance, you’re paying MAUT on the autobahn for every kilometre you drive in Germany with a diesel truck. Electric trucks are of course exempt from that, which essentially acts as a subsidy per kilometre. This is exactly what the German Government wants to happen, and that’s a good thing for e-trucks,” said Major-Ex, somewhat contrasting the wave of criticism seen among many road transporters in Germany.

However, as Major-Ex added, the situation differs from country to country:

“Once you cross the border to the Netherlands, or to Belgium, or to France or Poland, that same MAUT, or effective subsidy per kilometre, does not apply. You want to take into consideration all these factors, as well as the price of electricity and how much carbon emissions you can actually reduce.”

Regarding the emissions that come from charging electric trucks via the grid, Major-Ex and his colleagues at sennder recently presented figures that showed electric trucks charged in Poland actually emit more than a diesel equivalent.

When we asked him about the figures, Major-Ex did state that sennder had updated its calculations here, though electric is still emitting 2% more than diesel on average due to Poland’s dependence on coal power.

The potential role of electronic trailers

Besides electric trucks, we’ve also seen electric trailers with drivetrains arrive on the market.

Could e-trailers play a key role in the future of zero or low emissions transport? As far as Major-Ex is concerned, “the jury is still out” and it remains to be seen how commonplace these trailers will be on Europe’s roads.

“You still need charging infrastructure,” said Major-Ex. “There’s also the consideration of whether electric trailers should be paired with an electric truck or a diesel one. You may be able to reduce your fuel consumption significantly as the electric battery on the trailer is doing its job. You could also have a different set up for cold chain logistics whereby the e-trailer not only reduces fuel consumption while driving, but also when running its refrigeration unit.”

Naturally, price will also be something operators will have to consider here, both in terms of start-up costs and total cost of ownership:

“Electric truck operations tend to be within striking distance of diesel prices in many operating scenarios, if not, then plus 10% or so. For trailers, if it’s a refrigerated one, you probably add around 10% extra diesel consumption to operate it. Comparing that to the investment in an eTrailer: if the trailer costs significantly more than saving a maximum of 10% of fuel costs, it may not be worth the investment.”

Government support and market dynamics

One of the factors that has made electric trucking more cost viable in Germany is the aforementioned hike in ‘MAUT’ road tolls, which zero-emission trucks need not pay.

A number of industry representatives have labelled the policy as a stick that will fail to spark significant investment in electric trucks. With that in mind, could it be better to have a carrot in the shape of subsidised charging instead?

Major-Ex sees the MAUT increase as a “supporting measure” that “does help the uptake of electric trucks and other zero-emission vehicles”. Moreover, he doesn’t consider the role of the government is to subsidise on a per kWh basis, as that would be “an unending subsidy that wouldn’t make any structural changes”.

On the other hand, Major-Ex is in no doubt that the cost of energy plays a massive role in the adoption of electric trucks. He notes that shippers are recognising this by building charging infrastructure to gain strategic advantage through lower transportation costs. He thus envisages growth in private investment in green-energy infrastructure that can be used to charge electric vehicles.

“If you take a warehouse operator for instance, or a partner using a warehouse, if that facility has solar energy, you could be charging your truck for approximately €0.05 per kWh by producing your own electricity. Compare that to the grid, where you’re typically somewhere between 15 and 30 cents or so per kWh. Moreover, If you go to a fast charger that’s located on the highway and you pay full retail price, you end up paying somewhere between €55 and €0.80 or €0.85 in Germany,” Major-Ex told Trans.INFO.

In Major-Ex’s opinion, this optimisation will naturally happen in the market, and introducing government subsidies on charging on a per kWh basis would hinder growth in the self production of electricity.

“At the end of the day that’s actually what we want to see – more renewable electricity supply, whether that’s on the grid or for self use,” said sennder’s Director of Green Business and eMobility.

Major-Ex nevertheless sees things differently when it comes to subsidising vehicles or making certain vehicles exempt from road tolls:

“Every time there’s support for a new technology, you’re likely to see an uptake in it. If we look at China, and the subsidies that’ve been put in place for electric cars, you can see the country has had an absolutely massive uptake in electric vehicles. As far as Europe is concerned, we need only look back at the decision to exempt LNG vehicles from the German MAUT. That saw a large uptake in LNG vehicles because at that time, it became cheaper to operate without MAUT than to operate diesel trucks with MAUT..”

What will trigger the inflection point that sees electric trucking grow exponentially?

“I think the biggest inflection will come from the truck operator side when we really start to see that electric trucks make sense from an economical perspective. We’re seeing a lot of influential factors that can push things in that direction,” said Major-Ex, answering the question in the heading above. “The game will change when it is cheaper to operate electric.”

When we eventually get to this point, Major-Ex argues that businesses who have sufficient experience using electric trucks will be in the driving seat:

“I’d say we’re going to see a split between companies in the market. The companies looking for this inflection point that are investing and investigating now will obtain the knowledge and software capabilities, and get their business practices in place. They’ll benefit from this exponential growth in electric trucking once the business case is there. If you wait 10 years to get involved with electric trucks, it’ll be very difficult to catch up. Institutional capabilities will propel those who invested beforehand ahead of companies making that decision later.”

European leaders in the zero-emission transport race

Finally, when quizzed on which European nation is furthest on the path to road freight electrification, Major-Ex stated it was too early to draw definitive conclusions.

“Most countries are at an early stage. So in a 100m race, we’re looking at who’s the leader after 1m. Let’s put it in that perspective. If we’re looking at the leaders after 1m, I think you’d see Sweden. In Germany you see quite a lot of activity too, while the same is true of the Netherlands as well,” concluded Major-Ex.

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