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How will the transport industry become more efficient and environmentally friendly? And what is the future of mobility? CHARLEEN CLARKE gets the answers to these – and many other – questions at the VDA’s International Press Workshop.
About the International Press Workshop
This extremely prestigious event typically takes place a couple of months before the IAA. It is a precursor to the actual show. It’s a bit of a scene setter … journalists from around the globe gather to listen to the captains of industry. During this event, high-ranking representatives of the commercial vehicle industry from Germany and abroad provide information for the media about innovations and developments in the world of commercial vehicles.
A by-invitation-only event, and the single most important workshop on the commercial vehicle calendar, the International Press Workshop is generally attended by European journalists. However, three international magazines were also invited this year: FOCUS (the sole African magazine), one publication from Japan and one from China. This is the second time that FOCUS has participated in this event.
The Dream Team: That’s what the organiser of the IAA International Motor Show, the Verband der Automobilindustrie (VDA), managed to assemble for this year’s International Press Workshop. We were able to listen to, and meet with, the captains of virtually every major truck company, including Daimler, MAN, Ford, Scania, Volvo and Volkswagen.
Of course, we also able to chat to Matthias Wissmann, VDA president, who kicked off proceedings on a very positive note, pointing out that commercial vehicle markets were surprisingly buoyant. “Western Europe has seen three percent growth in its commercial market this year. The market in the United States has recorded double-digit growth and the Chinese market increased by four percent,” he revealed.
THE QUEST FOR GREEN
Wissmann stressed that the main challenge for commercial vehicle manufacturers was to achieve further reductions in fuel consumption and, therefore, CO2 emissions.
“However, heavy-duty commercial vehicles cannot be compared with passenger cars or vans, for which the European Union already has CO2 regulations. The commercial vehicle business is like a football team; it has not only defenders, but also midfielders and strikers.
“The variety of models among heavy trucks is so large that there cannot be any ‘standard CO2 value’. The range goes from tipper trucks on construction sites, to delivery vehicles and all the way to long-distance haulage trucks. Then there are also urban buses and coaches. Many vehicles are tailor-made for the customers. Very many factors affect consumption – trucks vary in size, weight, usage, mileage, operating conditions and especially their loads,” Wissmann explained.
He noted that the industry has been very proactive in terms of reducing CO2 emissions – without the need for regulations. “Trucks already exist that consume only one litre of diesel for each tonne of goods transported over 100 kilometres, when operating at high-capacity utilisation in long-distance transport,” Wissmann emphasised.
Wolfgang Bernhard, member of the board of management at Daimler, echoed Wissmann’s sentiments. “This industry has made great achievements in terms of fuel efficiency. Fuel consumption has dropped by 60 percent since 1965, and that was without legislation. This was thanks to customer demand. We haven’t only achieved a reduction in fuel consumption; we have also reduced emissions. At the same time, we have increased payload capacities, performance and safety,” he noted.
Anders Nielsen, CEO of MAN, agreed. “The European transport industry has proved its efficiency over the years. We are the benchmark in the world. If I want to beat Bernhard in the marketplace, I have to provide a better vehicle. As such, customer demand is driving economy improvements – not just regulation,” he pointed out.
One way of ensuring future environment progress is the introduction of so-called “long” trucks. “A field trial with long trucks has already shown how comparatively simple changes can increase the capacity of road-freight traffic. This reduces both mileages and CO2 output,” noted Wissmann.
Nielsen was also enthusiastic about the efficiency of long trucks. “The path to ‘greening’ the industry need not be complicated. Why not take the easy steps first – long rigs. Those are available today. They have been functioning successfully in Sweden for decades,” he pointed out.
Daimler’s Bernhard shared his opinion (and also his frustration at the delays in introduction). “We do not understand why it is not possible to introduce long trucks! The Swedes are not known for risking the lives of their citizens! It is difficult to understand why we do not implement this solution immediately!” he urged.
Furthermore, he noted that truck manufacturers don’t have a vested interest in pushing for long trucks. “It will mean that we will sell two instead of three trucks. But it is inconceivable for us that this is not being pushed aggressively. It is a golden opportunity to lower emissions!” he stressed.
Martin Lundstedt, president and CEO of Scania, concurred. “The longer trucks would really help because 70 percent of trucks in Europe are loaded to the maximum volume (not the maximum weight),” he pointed out.
Amadou Diallo, CEO of DHL Freight, was even more outspoken in his comment on long trucks. “We tried to get permission to run these trucks in Frankfurt and it was a nightmare. Then you get emotional and pissed off and you stop trying,” he explained to journalists.
But it’s not just up to the legislators and the manufacturers to green the industry. “Sure, we have not reached the end of possibilities of fuel consumption savings, but the truck alone won’t do it. We need fleet renewal; older trucks have downsides in terms of consumption.
“Infrastructure is also important – 600 000 km of traffic jams (as experienced in Germany) won’t help. We need the cooperation of our trailer friends. The tyre industry also has a great deal to do in advancing this cause. We need the cooperation of the fuel industry and the drivers need to be properly trained,” he commented.
Of course the trailer companies have long been cooperating with truck manufacturers to try to lower emissions, as Thomas Heckel, Kögel Trailer board member, pointed out. “We have been reducing the weight of our trailers, while retaining or increasing stability and increasing safety for decades.
“Advanced trailers have long been available – for example, trailers that are 1,3 m longer than the usual length of 13,6 m. This moderate extension makes it possible to transport up to eight more pallets per journey (with an unchanged permissible total weight). The benefits are obvious: depending on the transport requirement, up to ten percent fewer semi-trailer combinations are needed, ten percent less fuel is consumed and we can deliver a ten percent reduction in CO2 emissions,” he noted.
These trailers are not, however, in common use because of legislative challenges. “Leading freight-forwarding associations have been asking for legislation to allow the use of these trailers for some time. I would like to send a clear message to the politicians. Have the courage to make pioneering decisions. As trailer manufacturers, we are already very well prepared technologically. Now it’s your turn: please provide the suitable framework conditions.
“I would encourage the representatives of the press to help us to make the general public and politicians aware of the opportunities and to implement measures that provide a more efficient and more environmentally friendly logistics system. If we were given a little more freedom, we could make goods transport by road much more efficient and environmentally friendly,” Heckel pointed out.
Claes Nilsson, president of Volvo Trucks, shared his frustration. “To be able to make a game-changing contribution to a sustainable transport society, we need consistent and long-term policies. For an innovation-driven company, global harmonisation is very important. New paradigm shift concepts are very costly to introduce.
“Society must, therefore, give a clear signal that it is prepared to engage in introducing and implementing them. Here we need political leadership that reaches beyond borders. Determined policymakers and innovative companies are the keys to a sustainable future,” he stressed.
While it was obvious that levels of frustration within the trucking fraternity are at an all-time high, the captains of the bus and coach industry present at the International Press Workshop were somewhat less displeased with the state of play.
The reason is simple. According to the VDA’s Wissmann, coaches are leading the field when it comes to green technology and safety. “A full coach consumes only about 0,5 litres of fuel per passenger per 100 km. Furthermore, numerous driver-assistance and safety systems in modern buses ensure the highest level of safety for the occupants,” he noted.
Hartmut Schick, head of Daimler Buses, concurred. “Compared to other modes of transport, the coach generates the lowest CO2 emissions, as demonstrated by the data of the German Federal Environmental Authority,” he told journalists.
Schick said buses would play a key role when it came to transporting people in an environmentally friendly manner. “Euro 6 has meant dramatically improved emissions, a new generation of engines and costly exhaust purification. The emissions are at the validation limit.
“The disadvantages in fuel consumption that were initially expected with Euro 6 have been completely turned around through new developments in the vehicle and powertrain. In fact, we have achieved an 8,5 percent consumption advantage versus Euro 5. The future of mobility – when it comes to buses and coaches – is definitely environmentally friendly,” he stressed.
ALTERNATIVE PROPULSION SYSTEMS
The manufacturers, however, are not resting on their laurels – they want to produce even greener vehicles in future. Coupled with this desire to do better is a proliferation of demanding legislation. According to Dr-Ing Eckhard Scholz, speaker for the board of management of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, city authorities the world over are marking out low-emission zones, introducing driving bans and issuing targets for CO2 reduction.
“Singapore has set a target of 11 percent by 2020, while Copenhagen wants to lower CO2 emissions by an ambitious 84 percent by 2030. On average we are talking about a 45 percent reduction within the next 16 years!” he revealed.
On top of this come EU directives leading to strict limits of 95 grams per kilometre in 2020 for passenger cars. At the same time the limits for light commercial vehicles are reducing from 175 to 147 grams per kilometre by 2020. “The market pressure will be even greater still and the claims of the customers for corresponding offers will get louder,” Scholz warned.
Scholz said fleet operators would have to prepare for this. “Commercial operators, from bakers to courier services, have to react within the medium-term future if they want to remain able to make deliveries within urban areas. Fleet operators, such as Deutsche Post with 55 000 mail delivery vehicles, are committing themselves to in-house policies with clear targets of up to 30 percent lower CO2 emissions by 2020,” he revealed.
How is this going to be achieved? VW’s Scholz says gas has potential. “Gas power is an underappreciated alternative for reducing CO2. Natural gas is already available today and provides customers with high efficiency and unrestricted mobility. Natural gas vehicles are only a few hundred euros more expensive than diesel models. Natural gas as a fuel is currently around 20 percent cheaper than diesel,” he pointed out.
Volvo’s Nilsson believes that methane has considerable merit. “But, since a widespread availability of a new fuel is even more important in long-haul operation, the success of the methane diesel depends on the dedication of fuel producers and distributors. A wider use of liquefied natural gas will also help boost the demand for liquefied biogas produced from renewable sources. We are also exploring other solutions, such as electric hybrids and trucks powered by dimethyl ether (DME),” he revealed.
Nilsson said that the road to green was being stymied by lack of uniform legislations and standards. “The large-scale introduction of alternative fuels requires clear political directions,” he urged.
Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are also an option, but, as VW’s Scholz noted, they don’t come without their challenges. “There is one thing that electric light commercial vehicles are not: profitable. Plus there the high acquisition price, due to the high battery costs,” he pointed out.
Daimler’s Schick agreed that economical issues were key. “Alternative powertrains are not in demand in the market – simply because of the economic viability factor. However, I am absolutely certain that sooner or later this will change and, when the time comes, we will not come out with prototype solutions. We are working intensively on an economically justifiable, mature and highly modular concept. I am convinced that, in the long term, the future belongs to the fuel cell,” he pronounced.
Of course, while alternative powertrains are currently costly, they do have their advantages. “For BEVs the costs of maintenance, wear parts and consumables are relatively low or even non-existent. And the inexpensive price of electricity is persuasive in comparison to conventional internal combustion engines. However, savings on running costs do not currently compensate for the high purchase price,” Scholz noted.
As such, he believes that financial incentives for going electric must be introduced. “Switching over has to add up for the goods and services sector. The cost per kilometre driven may not be any higher than with conventional drive systems. Our customers have to earn money with their fleets!
“As soon as commercial vehicle customers see a business advantage in using alternative drive systems, or they are no longer allowed to drive in city centres using conventional engines, or are severely restricted in doing so, they will switch to alternative drive systems,” he noted.
That switch will only come well into the future and, according to the captains of industry, this is only one of many highlights to come.
MAN’s Nielsen predicted a shift in living patterns. “At present 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. In future, this will rise to 70 percent. All these people need goods. Obviously they can order these over the internet, but we cannot deliver over the internet. As such, we can expect massive increase in transport requirements,” he suggested.
Bernhard Mattes, chief executive officer of Ford-Werke, was similarly upbeat. “A forecast by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is predicting global transport volumes to triple between 2000 and 2050. The megatrend
of urbanisation will trigger massive changes.
“Another critical trend is the expanding e-business. This sector’s growth rates are gigantic. In 2016 the internet will contribute €3,2 trillion to the economy of the G20 countries. That is nearly twice the amount of 2010. The global e-commerce market in the B2C segment alone has now reached a volume of around €900 billion and in most countries still sustains a double-digit growth!” he noted.
Also on the subject of growth, Daimler’s Schick predicted an increase in bus and coach transportation – especially in Germany. “Buses are the most inexpensive mode of transport in German long-distance transport. According to the Federal Ministry of Transport, the number of permits for long-distance bus lines in Germany nearly tripled between 2012 and 2013. The bus will increasingly be the preferred choice of transport mode in the future,” he said.
Scania’s Lundstedt said we could expect autonomous trucks in the not-too-distant future. “The technology is already in place to produce autonomous trucks. It’s not a no-brainer and it could make sense to think about this in a couple of years. The question is which applications? Underground mining could be ideal,” he pondered.
Volvo’s Nilsson agreed. “Platooning (creating a road train by connecting a number of vehicles electronically) has a future. Volvo Trucks has been part of successful field tests of platooning, for instance within the Sartre project. While the technology development is continuing, a new legislative framework is needed to enable an introduction of autonomous vehicles in a larger scale,” he explained.
Daimler’s Bernhard pointed to even safer trucks. “We have already made great achievements since 2000. Transport capacity has improved by 15 percent, while accidents have been reduced by 60 percent. Our vision is accident-free driving, because a truck in an accident has very severe consequences. The best time for the truck world is yet to come!” he noted.
The message is clear: there certainly are challenges on the commercial vehicle horizon – but the future looks good!