Electric dreams

LinkedIn +

The commercial vehicle market is facing unparalleled change as diesel starts to give way to gas, electric and hybrid power systems. Malory Davies looks at the key developments.

Environmental pressures are starting to have a dramatic impact on the commercial vehicle market. The demise of diesel and petrol vans and cars is now on the horizon following the decision by the government to ban the sale of new vehicles from 2040.
And the pressure on heavier vehicles is mounting as well. London is due to introduce an Ultra Low Emission Zone from April 2019.
Transport for London is currently consulting on detailed proposals for two further initiatives to improve London’s air involving tighter standards for the existing low emission zone and expanding the area of the ULEZ.
Not surprisingly the pace of development of more environmentally friendly technologies is increasing. And many of them will be on show at the CV Show when it opens its doors on 26th April.
One area that is well established is liquefied natural gas. Iveco, for example, has been offering LNG powered vehicles for some time and Volvo is due to launch LNG versions of its FH and FM heavy duty trucks this Spring. The company is also working with gas suppliers and customers to expand the LNG infrastructure in Europe. It says the trucks, which will come with either 420 or 460 hp engines, will have CO2 emissions between 20 per cent lower than diesel if LNG is used or 100 per cent lower than diesel if bio-LNG is used.
But there is a huge push to develop heavier electric vehicles, most flamboyantly the Tesla Semi.
And there is also a lot of work going into hybrids – notably from Ford which will start trials of a Transit hybrid in London this year. And hydrogen powered vehicles are also being planned.
The potential financial saving of electric trucks were highlighted in a study by Hitachi Capital last year which found that businesses could save £14 billion a year if all the vans and trucks in the UK were electric.
The Future of Fuel report estimates that electricity would be approximately 15 pence per mile cheaper than petrol or diesel for vans, and 38 pence per mile cheaper than diesel for HGVs.
Over the combined 65.7 billion miles commercial vehicles travel each year, the fuel savings would total some £13.7 billion.
A survey of 149 fleet professionals found that 62 per cent of fleets now contain alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs), while 82 per cent of those surveyed believed that it is important for fleets to move towards AFVs.
Some 42 per cent of fleets plan to add more AFVs within the next two years. However, 28 per cent of respondents to the survey said that their organisations should be doing more to switch to alternative fuels.
The all-electric Tesla Semi articulated truck was unveiled in the US by Elon Musk last November, and has already attracted orders from the likes of DHL and UPS. It goes into production next year.
Musk says it consumes less than two kilowatt-hours of energy per mile and is capable of 500 miles of range at GVW and highway speed. The truck achieves 0-60mph in five seconds, compared to 15 seconds in a comparable diesel truck. It does 0-60 mph in 20 seconds with a 36 tonne (80,000 pound) load, a task that takes a diesel truck about a minute. To achieve this it uses four independent motors on the rear axles. One commentator described it as “basically a massive race car”.
In addition, it has regenerative braking which recovers 98 per cent of kinetic energy to the battery, giving it a basically infinite brake life.
However, it does not come cheap. A truck with a range of 300 miles will have a base price of £110,000, while a 500 mile range truck will start at £140,000. Nevertheless Tesla calculates that operators will save £147,000 ($200,000) over a million miles of operation.
The truck will come with a number of safety features including: automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automated lane guidance, and brake-by-wire and steer-by-wire with redundancy.
Tesla “megachargers”, a new high-speed DC charging solution, will add about 400 miles in 30 minutes and can be installed at origin or destination points and along heavily trafficked routes, enabling recharging during loading, unloading, and driver breaks.
And, says the company, the truck will be able to operate autonomously, enabling to take part in platooning.
First to order the truck, which will be available next year, was a Lithuanian logistics company Girteka Logistics. Chief executive Edvardas Liachovicius says: “Girteka Logistics want to be the greenest transport company available, and electric trucks are the future.”
DHL Supply Chain has placed an order for ten, while UPS has placed a reservation for 125.
UPS has provided Tesla real-world UPS trucking lane information as part of the company’s evaluation of the vehicle’s expected performance for the UPS duty cycle.
Juan Perez, chief information and engineering officer, said: “These ground-breaking electric tractors are poised to usher in a new era in improved safety, reduced environmental impact, and reduced cost of ownership.”
While Tesla has been taking all the headlines, Daimler has also been hard at work developing electric trucks.
Daimler subsidiary Mitsubishi Fuso has unveiled the E-Fuso Vision One – an all-electric heavy duty truck concept with a range of up to 350km, which could be in production within four years.
The company says it plans to electrify its complete range of trucks and buses over the coming years.
“Our E-Fuso Vision One is an outlook on a feasible all-electric heavy-duty truck,” said Marc Llistosella, president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation and head of Daimler Trucks.
The E-Fuso Vision One has a gross vehicle weight of about 23 tons and carries a payload of 11 tons – two tons less than its diesel counterpart.
It can be fitted with batteries up to 300 kilowatt hours, thus enabling a range of up to 350 km on a single charge.
The company said that while the electrification of long-haul trucks will still need considerable time, a potential application for the Vision One heavy-duty truck is regional intra-city distribution. A possible market entry for the series version of the E-Fuso Vision One could be feasible within four years in mature markets like Japan, Europe or the US.
Ford, BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen have formed a joint venture, named Ionity, to develop a high-power charging network for electric vehicles across Europe.
The plan is to launch some 400 HPC stations by 2020, to make long-distance journeys easier. With a capacity of up to 350 kW per charging point, the network will use the European charging standard Combined Charging System to significantly reduce charging times compared to existing systems.
A total of 20 stations will be opened to the public initially, located on major roads in Germany, Norway and Austria, at intervals of 120 km, through partnerships with “Tank & Rast”, “Circle K” and “OMV”.

Weighty considerations

Electric vans have been around for a while but there is a problem that the weight of the batteries reduces the payload, which can be a problem for sectors like grocery delivery where this is critical.
Last summer, the government launched a consultation on proposals for van drivers to have the right to use heavier vehicles if they are electric or gas-powered.
Iveco supported a government consultation. “Increasingly, customers are looking seriously at low-emission LCVs but at 3.5 tonnes vehicles are usually critical on payload and it has resulted in a much lower take-up of vehicles than we would have liked,” said Martin Flach, Iveco’s alternative fuels director.
“It’s always seemed nonsensical that companies keen to implement innovative technology that is better for the environment, should be penalised on payload and have to pay for additional driver training.”
The Department for Transport is currently analysing the result of the consultation and is promising to reveal the results “soon”.

Best of both worlds?

This year will see trials in London of Ford’s plug-in hybrid electric Transit Custom van.
The company is targeting a zero-emission range of more than 31 miles with the PHEV, which will use the Ford EcoBoost 1.0-litre petrol engine as a range extender to give a total range of some 310 miles.
The EcoBoost engine charges the on-board batteries when longer trips are required between charging stops.
The plug-in hybrid electric vehicle uses a series-hybrid driveline configuration with the vehicle’s wheels driven exclusively by an electric motor, rather than by the combustion engine.
The battery pack is a compact liquid-cooled lithium-ion design located under the load floor, preserving the full cargo volume offered by the standard Transit Custom.
The PHEV approach not only gives a better range than a battery only vehicle, it also offers a higher payload.
Trials of 20 vans will start in the autumn and last for 12 months.
Volume production is scheduled to start in 2019.
The fleets signed up for the tests include DPD, Transport for London, British Gas, and Addison Lee.
Mark Harvey, director of the urban electrified van programme at Ford of Europe, says:
“Seeing the PHEV Transits on the road is an exciting milestone, and we look forward to teaming up with our London partners and customers to explore how these vans can reduce emissions and operator costs in the city.”
To help understand how the benefits of electrified vehicles could be maximised, the 20 PHEV Ford Transit Plug-in Hybrid Van Makes Dynamic Debut Ahead of ‘Transits will use an advanced telematics system to collect real-time data on the vans’ performance.
In addition, the vehicles will feature geo-fencing technology, which is capable of automatically modifying vehicle settings based on each van’s current location. This could be used, for example, to ensure the hybrid system is switched to electric-only mode when a vehicle enters a low-emission zone within an inner-city area.
In the heavy duty truck market, Volvo has been developing its Concept Truck hybrid for long-haul operations. With its latest iteration, Volvo reckons it can reduce fuel consumption and CO2 by some 30 per cent.
It reckons the hybrid powertrain is one of the first of its kind for heavy-duty trucks in long-haul applications. It works by recovering energy when driving downhill on slopes steeper than one per cent or when braking.
The recovered energy is stored in the vehicle’s batteries and used to power the truck in electric mode on flat roads or low gradients.
An enhanced version of Volvo Trucks’ driver support system I-See has also been developed specially for the hybrid powertrain. This analyses upcoming topography to calculate the most economical and efficient choice between the diesel engine and the electric motor, in addition to the optimal time to use the recovered energy.
In long haul operations, it estimates that the hybrid powertrain will allow the combustion engine to be shut off for up to 30 per cent of the driving time. This will save between 5-10 per cent of fuel, depending on the vehicle type or specification and its drive cycle.
It also offers the ability to drive in full electric mode for up to ten kilometres.

Celling England by the pound

Renault has been developing a hydrogen fuel cell powered van which is going on trial with CitySprint in London.
The van has a range of over 200 miles and is powered by a battery and hydrogen fuel cell, with the hydrogen combining with the air inside to produce electricity which is used to charge the battery or drive the vehicle. This process means it only emits water as a result of the chemical reaction between the hydrogen and oxygen.
The vans, developed in partnership with Renault, are to be trialled on distribution work for Mitie over the next six months.
“Since the launch of our green fleet this August, we’ve already cut back on our CO2 emissions by as much as ten tonnes,” says chief executive Patrick Gallagher.
“The trial of a hydrogen van is on a long list of environmentally friendly vehicles we have tested over the years. We hope that along with our growing cargo bike fleet, this can prove to be a sustainable option and continue our commitment to reducing air pollution across the UK cities we operate in.”
As will all the alternative fuel technologies, one of the biggest challenges is sourcing fuel for the vehicle.
In the Netherlands, an investigation has started on a scheme to make hydrogen by electrolysing water on a large scale.
The idea being investigated by AkzoNobel Specialty Chemicals and Gasunie New Energy is to use a 20-megawatt water electrolysis unit driven by sustainably produced electricity.

Look… no hands

The development of autonomous vehicles got a boost last year, when the government put up £8 million to fund an HGV platooning trial. And only last month, motor industry giant Toyota unveiled plans for an autonomous vehicle for both goods and people.
TRL will lead a consortium of partners including DAF and DHL in the £8.1 million trial. Chief executive Rob Wallis says: “TRL and its consortium of leading international partners, have the practical and technical knowledge gained from previous projects to understand what is required to put a connected vehicle platoon on to UK roads safely. The team are now taking that expertise and uniquely applying it within live traffic operations.”
The plan is to run a programme of driving simulations, driver training and test track trials. After that will come the on-road trials some time in 2018. These will be part of regular DHL logistics operations.
Of course, there have already been demonstrations of platooning in Europe. In April 2016, six platoons of vehicles took part in the European Truck Platooning Challenge, which was sponsored by the European Union. Platoons started in a range of locations ranging from Stockholm and Munich before finishing in Rotterdam.
The trucks in a platoon use smart technology, and communicate with each other to maintain their stations in close proximity on the road reducing fuel consumption.
Connected vehicles in a platoon require a distance of only 15 metres instead of 50 metres between them producing a significant reduction in aerodynamic drag – comparable to slipstream riding in cycling competitions.
A platoon of three trucks can achieve a fuel saving of up to ten per cent, reducing CO2 emissions in the same measure. Platooning allows much more efficient use of the road space. The development of platooning could also open the way to automated driving and smart mobility.
At the beginning of 2018, Toyota set out plans for a scalable and customisable autonomous electric “e-Palette Concept Vehicle” designed for transporting goods as well as people.
Amazon, Mazda, Pizza Hut and Uber, are all launch partners – they will collaborate on vehicle planning, application concepts and vehicle verification activities.
It is planning three sizes of e-Palette Concept, with different lengths, depending on the purpose-built specification. Lengths vary from 4m to 7m approximately.
The new concept will be a fully autonomous, battery-electric vehicle aimed at a range of ‘Mobility as a Service’ businesses. The vehicle will have an open control interface to allow partner companies to install their own automated driving system.
“The automobile industry is clearly amid its most dramatic period of change as technologies like electrification, connected and automated driving are making significant progress,” said Toyota president Akio Toyoda.
“Toyota remains committed to making ever better cars. Just as important, we are developing mobility solutions to help everyone enjoy their lives, and we are doing our part to create an ever-better society for the next 100 years and beyond.
“This announcement marks a major step forward in our evolution towards sustainable mobility, demonstrating our continued expansion beyond traditional cars and trucks to the creation of new values.”

This article first appeared in Logistics Manager, February 2018

Share this story: