Photo: TST Group

E-Mobility Is the engine of the future, claims TST Group owner Frank Schmidt

Schmidt has ambitious plans for a charging network, but has called for significant grid infrastructure investment to help provide energy capacity for the green transition.

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Frank Schmidt, owner of the TST Group, aims to invest over 150 million euros in a nationwide truck charging network in collaboration with a partner. In this interview, he discusses his motivations and explains his confidence in the success of electromobility.

Natalia Jakubowska, Trans.iNFO: Where is mobility in Germany headed?

Frank Schmidt, Owner of TST Group: E-mobility is the engine of the future. Although fossil fuel technologies will continue to play a role, battery-powered systems will inevitably prevail. Hydrogen has potential but faces challenges regarding complexity, cost, and production. I believe that 70 to 80% of the TST fleet in Germany—and possibly across Europe—will ultimately be electric.

What do you see as the biggest challenges in electromobility?

The greatest challenge in transitioning to electric lies in the power grid and building the necessary infrastructure. Despite subsidies for charging stations, the electricity grid is not efficient enough. A massive investment in the grid infrastructure is crucial to address this challenge.

VW boss Blume recently called for state financial support to increase the proportion of electric cars in Germany. Is this the right approach, or should there be more financial support for transport companies as part of the promotion of electromobility?

There’s skepticism about electromobility in Germany’s car sector, primarily due to complexity and inadequate charging infrastructure. The current system is too complicated for many people, myself included. Greater support for the transport industry might be more effective, particularly in the trucking sector.

In what way?

Larger batteries in trucks can significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Although battery weight impacts cargo capacity, they offer specific benefits: Trucks can be charged during breaks or while loading/unloading at ramps. This makes efficient use of downtime and aids the integration of electromobility into logistics. However, challenges around battery performance, range, and charging network expansion still need addressing.

How many electric trucks are in your fleet?

Currently, we have eight electric trucks. The limited range of these vehicles—around 350 kilometers—is insufficient for our needs. However, I expect significant advances in battery capacity and range in the next two to three years. We’re in the early stages, but I believe that rapid technological progress is on the horizon.

Would additional financial incentives encourage you to add more electric trucks, or is the eight-truck limit due to inadequate charging infrastructure?

Our electric trucks are currently used only for local transport due to insufficient charging infrastructure. For longer distances, I must carefully plan stops for recharging, making route planning more complicated and reducing efficiency. The limited use isn’t solely due to acquisition costs but rather the lack of a charging network. Even with increased financial incentives, we wouldn’t add more trucks without improved infrastructure. The federal government must establish a reliable and comprehensive charging network.

Was this lack of infrastructure the motivation behind creating an energy supply company in partnership with PVSM Energy GmbH?

Visionary ideas often arise from dissatisfaction with current circumstances. Over the past 34 years, I’ve pioneered innovative solutions that shaped TST’s independent profile in the industry. With PVSM, we’re doing this again. TST has 75 logistics centres with vast rooftop spaces, which made it logical to install photovoltaic systems. However, the feed-in regulation hasn’t allowed us to cover costs, and some regional networks can’t accommodate this much power. That’s why I proposed creating our own energy infrastructure.

What was the response?

The response was enthusiastic. We quickly set up a project group and established a joint venture with EWR. We have the ideal conditions for building a nationwide e-charging network: access to the grid, expertise in transformers and storage, and suitable roof space for photovoltaic systems. We’re installing large energy storage units at each charging station and primarily using green electricity.

Will the project receive state subsidies, or will it be privately funded?

We’re financing everything ourselves for now. There’s no state funding model yet, but we’re pressing ahead with investments of 150-200 million euros. The first major truck stop and charging station should open in August. I believe in electromobility’s success and that vehicle manufacturers and transport companies will share this belief.

What are your goals and timelines?

Our goal is to have at least 40 stations near the motorway by the end of 2025 and 80 by the end of 2026.

So the charging stations will be distributed across Germany?

Yes, we’re active nationwide. We’re planning a charging station every 80 square kilometers, except for rural regions in Lower Bavaria.

Are you planning megawatt charging stations according to the MSC standard?

Our charging stations will provide at least 400 kW. Some sites will have smaller stations, while others can deliver up to eight times 400 kW. Nearly all our stations are equipped with photovoltaic systems capable of generating 3-10 megawatts of electricity.

Why is it important to power everything with green electricity?

It’s about environmental awareness. The idea is to refuel vehicles directly from the roof while connected to the grid. We can’t do without grid power, as it’s essential.

Are there any restrictions on charging capacity?

It depends on network access. We can’t just park and recharge; we need sufficient energy, which we source from EWR and Tüga. We plan to install four to eight superchargers and overnight chargers with capacities ranging from 50 to 200 kilowatt-peak to allow overnight charging.

You’re planning to allow third parties access to the charging stations. How will that work?

We’re currently in discussions with partners, truck manufacturers, customers, and industrial companies to present our concept. Forwarders can secure quotas, though our roof space is limited, and some electricity is fed directly into the grid.

Has there been interest in the project?

Absolutely, the interest is tremendous. We’re in contact with several major players. Integrating SMEs remains challenging, but we’ve found solutions. As one of the well-known market players, with logistics centres conveniently located near motorways and industrial areas, we benefit greatly from our partnership with the energy provider.

Is there competition for projects like this?

Yes, other companies are considering similar projects. However, we’ve been in this area for a long time and have gathered valuable insights. Large oil producers are also considering adapting their service stations, but our approach focuses on industrial areas.

Are you considering brownfield investments?

Yes, we’ve already acquired some land.

How do you foresee the future development of the charging network in Germany? Will it be primarily driven by private initiatives, or will the state become more active in this area?

Private investment will dominate. Eventually, a blueprint for scaling e-mobility with a comprehensive charging infrastructure will emerge. An arrangement like ours with PVSM could become a model. The logistics industry is well-suited for this, as vehicles can be recharged during loading and unloading.

The state should still consider supporting innovative entrepreneurs like us, as the investments are substantial. A special support program or low-interest loans would have been helpful. However, I’m confident we’re on the right path—someone has to lead.