Electric trucks are the future. Not a particularly surprising statement from Auke. He’s been saying this for years. And given the latest developments in the world of transport, he might well be proven right. Last month Volkswagen opened a factory for electric trucks in Brazil and Tesla will – most likely – soon start manufacture of the Semi. Other major manufacturers are also working on electric versions.
In order to power all this future electric freight transport, Volvo, Daimler and Traton are planning to set up a joint charging station network throughout Europe. They are setting aside 500 million euros for this purpose and want to install around 1,700 powerful and green charging stations within five years. The intention is for the headquarters of this partnership to be established in Amsterdam. “At last we can see that heavy freight transport can also go electric. The batteries are ready and so are the manufacturers. The only thing missing are the fast chargers for recharging trucks along highways. So this is really good news,” says Auke enthusiastically.
“It’s not as though everything will suddenly go wrong without these fast chargers. But a network like this will act as a stimulant for electric freight transport. Definitely for long distances of over 1,000 kilometers,” Auke puts it into perspective. “Except those kind of distances are hardly ever covered in practice, certainly not in the Netherlands,” he adds.
Electric trucks doesn’t have to travel thousands of kilometers
“About 80 percent of the trucks don’t exceed 750 kilometers per day. Drivers are making trips around distribution centers or bringing goods from the port to a transfer point. Generally, they just go home in the evening and then drop the truck off at a central point. This is ideal for recharging the trucks. An electric truck doesn’t have to travel thousands of kilometers. An operational radius of 800 kilometers is in principle enough, especially in our country,” Auke explains.
And that is exactly what the Tesla Semi promises to accomplish on one battery. Auke has to laugh about that: “Yes I know, I’m talkng about Tesla again. I sound like a fanboy. This truck proves everyone wrong who have been whining for years that EV trucks are not feasible. When this truck drives around, they are all going to cry out: ‘Look, there’s one that can reach 800 kilometers! So it really can be done!’ That will be a turning point.”
Auke compares it to the first electric cars. Back then, almost everyone knew for certain: Electric vehicles are for small stretches in the city. “And now look at how fast things are going. That all took off when everyone saw the possibilities with their own eyes. In this regard, of course, it helped enormously that batteries were getting better and cheaper. EV trucks are now benefiting from this. As soon as the Tesla Semi hits the market at a price tag of between 150 and 180 thousand US dollars, the same thing will happen.”
Leaving behind freight in order to carry extra batteries?
And what about the weight? – Which is one of the biggest arguments raised by opponents of electric trucks. “The fear is that an electric truck will not be able to carry as much freight because the batteries wil be too heavy. But you can design an electric powertrain much lighter than that for an internal combustion engine. This can save 2 to 3 metric tons. So you can fit more batteries that way. While you can still take the same amount of cargo with you. Also, due to EU legislation, sustainable trucks are allowed to weigh 2 metric tons more than traditional trucks.”
A study that Auke was invited to review reveals that the weight of electric trucks plays a much smaller role than previously thought. “The assumption was always that the heavier and larger the vehicle, the worse that would be for the business case of the battery. But that doesn’t turn out to be true. If you calculate what hauling a metric ton costs per kilometer, the benefits for the heaviest electric trucks are the greatest. And then they have even been relatively conservative with the weight of batteries.”
Advantages of batteries
With a sparkle in his eyes, Auke turns directly to the camera: “Electric freight transport has the future, that’s what I have always said. Also, if you look at the total cost over the lifespan of vehicles, electric definitely has an advantage. A diesel truck needs more maintenance. On average, transport companies sell their trucks after five years because the maintenance then becomes too expensive. A few years ago, batteries could not cope with this intensive use, so they quickly deteriorated. But this is no longer the case. They last at least five years without losing a ridiculous amount of capacity. And that will only get better over the coming years.”
And Auke hasn’t even mentioned how much diesel electric trucks can be spared. “There’s a lot of material that goes into a battery like that so you better use it well. Trucks are a great way to use a battery, every day you use nearly the full capacity. Every time you charge a battery, you conserve a lot of diesel.”
Especially when you consider that a heavy-duty truck needs almost 40 times as much energy as an ordinary car. “An ordinary car needs about 4 liters of crude oil a day, a heavy-duty truck easily 150 liters. In the Netherlands, the transport sector is accountable for 18 percent of all CO2 emissions, 60 percent of which are caused by heavy trucks. So it really makes a difference to electrify these,” says Auke in earnest.
Auke clasps his hands behind his head and looks thoughtful. “It feels satisfying to finally be proven right. But at the same time, it is also exhausting to keep yelling when no one seems to be listening.” Suddenly he jumps to his feet: “Now that we know electric trucks are coming, at least I feel that now this realization has sunk in across the board, I can start yelling about other things again.”