Sustainable heavy tractor fleets aim to reduce GHG emissions with electrification

 In Fleet Sustainability

Studying the effects of fleet electrification in any economy is difficult, but it proves particularly trying in the European market. Across 26 countries varying regulations, manufacturing styles, tax schemes, OEM practices, and infrastructure all highlight the current lack of standardization within the industry.

Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs) are typically defined as vehicles used for commercial purposes (primarily the transport of freight) weighing more than 3.5 metric tons. Europe is replete with HDVs because most of their transport is done through roadways. Thus the European fleet market is incredibly complex and takes a considerable amount of reflection to understand the issues surrounding electrifying heavy-duty vehicles.

Electrification of Heavy-Duty Vehicles in Central Europe

Germany takes the lead when it comes to positioning itself in the heavy-duty electric vehicle market. BMW just released an all-electric tractor-trailer that recently hit the road in Munich, Germany. This marks the first time a such a large electric vehicle has gone into regular service in Europe.

BMW just released an all-electric tractor-trailer that recently hit the road in Munich, Germany

The 40-ton truck is a monster in terms of EVs. It has a range of 62 miles per charge and travels a stretch of 2 miles, 7 times a day, within the city of Munich. The truck generally takes 3-4 hours to charge and is responsible for transporting vehicle components like springs, steering systems, and shock absorbers.

According to BMW, the truck is completely CO2-free, extremely quiet, and generates no fine particle pollution. Compared to a standard diesel truck, BMW’s heavy-duty EV will save 11.8 tons of carbon dioxide per year. To put it in perspective, that’s the equivalent of the total emissions produced by driving one of BMW’s more efficient cars around the world three times.

Mercedes-Benz also recently unveiled plans to release their Urban eTruck within the next 3 years. Like BMW, they also intend to release the truck in Germany. The prototype is based on a three-axle, heavy-duty distribution truck with a 26-ton capacity. The drivetrain itself has been replaced by an electrically powered rear axle (much like the Mercedes Ciatro hybrid bus currently on the market).

Big Players in Heavy Duty Electric Vehicles

There are only a few of the leading fleet management brands in the world that have the capital and innovation to pursue electrifying heavy-duty vehicles. They are as follows:

  • Athon: An international provider of vehicle leasing and mobility solutions that is active in more than 20 countries.
  • BMW Group: Operating 30 production and assembly lines within a network of 140 countries, BMW has the most vehicles on the road over any other manufacturer in the world.
  • Daimler Trucks: The largest fleet management company in the world, Daimler Trucks took in a manufacturer’s revenue of 33.2 billion dollars in 2016.
  • Fleet Logistics: The leading global fleet services company that is a part of the  German TÜV SÜD Group. The company manages to create transparency through reporting on 350,000+ vehicles and has over 180,000 vehicles in leasing and purchase.
  • LeasePlan: The world’s leading fleet and vehicle leasing company, LeasePlan manages 1.7 million multi-brand vehicles and provides fleet and vehicle management services in 33 countries.
  • Mercedes-Benz: The inventor of the automobile, Mercedes has earned over 2.8 billion in manufacturer’s total revenue in the fiscal year of 2016.
  • The Volkswagen Group: Located in Wolfsburg, Germany, VW is one of the leading manufacturers in the world. In 2016 alone, the group put more than 10.3 million vehicles on the road and has a serious electrification initiative with goals set for 2025.

Each company on this list has taken some steps in the electrification process of heavy-duty vehicles and are considered the leaders in this movement.

Emissions and CO2 Data for European HEVs

Europe is in trouble when it comes to emissions from heavy-duty vehicles because the total greenhouse gas is actually increasing (unlike America and other countries where the figure is dropping due to regulations and economics). According to the European Commission, transportation is the only major sector in which greenhouse gases are still rising (20.5% higher than they were in 1990 to be exact). In order to gauge the success of any EV program, you have to know exactly how much is being emitted by gas-powered vehicles.

Estimating the Total Number of Heavy-Duty Vehicles in Europe

The challenge of pinpointing the number of heavy-duty vehicles in Europe is how each country defines what “heavy-duty” entails. The main HDV types in the EU are rigid trucks and tractor-trailers. These vehicles are responsible for the bulk of HDV sales and fuel consumption in the sector.

Heavy-duty vehicles represent 4% of the on-road fleet in the European Union, but are responsible for 30% of on-road CO2 emissions. According to the EPA, oil consumption and greenhouse emissions from heavy-duty vehicles are expected to surpass that of passenger vehicles at the global scale by 2030.

Currently, nearly 99% of new and in-use HDVs in the EU are powered by diesel engines, with the tractor truck representing the largest share of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Almost 92,600 registrations for HDVs were issued in Germany alone — by far the highest in Europe. It is not a coincidence that Germany is also the leader in the heavy commercial vehicle manufacturing market too.

The numbers are quite low for electric heavy-duty vehicles in Europe. Besides the BMW and Mercedes-Benz models, the Swiss “eForce One” is another HDEV coming to market. Weighing no more than 18 tons (and a battery of 2.6 tons) the driving range is equivalent to 300 km.

The stats for electrified heavy-duty vehicles in Europe show numbers under 10, but the next 5 years will see an exponential spike in manufacturing once EVs are fully adopted.

Conventional Fuel Fleets Contribution to CO2 and GHG Emissions in Europe

Heavy-duty vehicles in the EU represent only 4% of the on-road fleet but are responsible for about 30% of CO2 emissions from road transport, and about 6% of emissions in total. This is a greater share than international aviation or shipping. Currently, the EU has the third largest CO2 footprint from HDVs of all major markets, behind China and the US.

CO2 emissions from HDVs is growing in the EU. The real-world efficiency of HDVs has been relatively flat for more than 10 years. However, introducing CO2 standards could change that trajectory. If that does not happen, the projected contribution of HDVs to on-road CO2 emissions will grow from the current one-third to roughly 40% by 2020 and 45% by 2030.

Despite the importance of measuring emissions, there is currently no standard to do so in Europe. CO2 emissions from HDVs are neither truly gauged nor reported. Rather, the strategy relies on short-term action to certify, document, and monitor HDV emissions.

Total Possible CO2 and GHG Emission Savings from HDV Electric Conversion in the EU

According to latest International Energy Agency report, the electric grid is growing greener. 90%  of new electricity production in 2015 came from renewable energy sources. A new transport strategy in London has set a goal for all vehicles within city limits to be emission-free by 2025. (about 3 million vehicles).

To promote climate change across the Union, the EU’s current target is a 40% reduction in greenhouse (GHG) gas emissions by the year 2030. This requires development of stronger batteries, heavier-duty electric motors, and vehicle technologies that will help cut carbon emissions by 25 to 50%  in the coming decades.

The EU Commission requires GHG reductions across all sectors of the economy, and thus heavy-duty vehicles will need improvements in efficiency in order to achieve this goal. Any strategy to reduce emissions from HDVs has to take account of the differences in truck features and styles. Future efforts include setting mandatory limits based on the findings from current studies.

Barriers to Total Electrification of Heavy-Duty Vehicle in European Fleets

Unlike its American counterpart, European adoption of electric vehicles is less spurred by economic incentives. There are a great many barriers to total implementation for European fleets. The following are just a few roadblocks:

  • Legislation – The EU is working on it with progressive analytics tools but has no system in place to collect data that will create definitive laws.
  • Pricing – There is little to no tax breaks or economic incentives to electric HDV adoption, especially heavy-duty vehicles.
  • Infrastructure – There is a very small amount of charging stations for HDVs currently in Europe.
  • Range – For true and total HDV adoption in the electric sector, batteries and range must be greatly improved.
  • Timing – In an industry that is driven by the clock, charging down time for HDVs is still a major issue and impediment to total adoption.

Once European electrified heavy-duty vehicles have a few years to run, the figures will be a little more trustworthy. Currently, the market is so new that governments are still trying to organize efforts.

Increasing production of electric HDVs can lower manufacturing costs, but could also drive battery prices up if the demand exceeds the supply. This can happen through shortages of essential battery ingredients. Although it’s cheaper to drive on electricity than gasoline mile-per-mile, the high price of batteries continues to make EVs considerably more expensive than regular vehicles.

Cleaning up the electric grid is also something that must be done simultaneously with this EV transition. Some parts of Europe still burn coal, and that is a major setback for this type of technology. It’s too soon to tell which way the emission numbers will sway in the European market. Heavy-duty electrified vehicles are just hitting the road in Germany and efforts are already in place to test every movement of these vehicles.

Decarbonizing the transit system is a global challenge, but with the right tools, innovation, and efforts, Europe can get on track to making the world a cleaner place.

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