In a constantly changing transportation landscape, fleet managers in the logistics sector are faced with the challenge of finding innovative solutions to make their operations more efficient and environmentally friendly. One significant development currently affecting the industry is the planned expansion of the truck toll in Germany. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at this and examine the impact of this measure on the transition to electromobility in the logistics industry. We will look at both the opportunities and challenges that accompany this change.
The planned toll expansion
On October 20, 2023, the German Bundestag decided to extend the truck toll for the use of federal trunk roads. This step is to come into force from December 1, 2023, and includes a CO₂ component aimed at promoting the use of trucks with alternative drive systems. From July 1, 2024, the toll will also be extended to trucks weighing more than 3.5 to 7.5 tons. Tradespeople and trades-like professions with vehicles under 7.5 tons are exempt from this toll obligation.
Until December 31, 2025, environmentally friendly vehicles such as electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles and vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells are exempt from the toll. From January 1, 2026, they will have to pay 25 percent of the toll rate for infrastructure costs plus the rates for noise and air pollution.
The planned toll increase is being criticized. Dirk Engelhardt, Spokesman of Bundesverband Güterkraftverkehr Logistik und Entsorgung (BGL), for example, points out that only 0.03 percent of trucks on German roads are currently electric as far as the federal government's hoped-for steering effect on battery-powered trucks is concerned. It will be several years before all 800,000 trucks have been replaced. Electric trucks are also currently up to 3.5 times more expensive than diesel trucks. In addition, there is currently not a single mega charging station where a truck can be sufficiently charged during its driving time to reach its next loading or unloading point.
As far as the availability of e-trucks is concerned, Kim Kohlmeyer, Manager E-Mobility at the organization Transport & Environment Germany, takes a different view to the association representatives from the freight forwarding and logistics industry. European truck manufacturers, including Daimler, MAN, Scania and Volvo, are concentrating on bringing electric trucks to the mass market for all vehicle segments and, from 2024, for long-distance transport in particular. Around 30 zero-emission truck models have already been announced and are set to go into mass production for the European market by 2025.
The three biggest challenges for fleet managers
Expansion of the charging network
Fleet managers in the logistics sector face a number of challenges when it comes to electrifying their fleets. One of the biggest challenges is considered to be the lack of a consistent and efficient charging infrastructure. Public charging stations and a reliable infrastructure are crucial for the complete electrification of the fleet.
A lot still needs to happen when it comes to expanding the charging network. A battery-electric truck could already cover 55 percent of its energy requirements in the depot before setting off, but the rest has to be charged on the road. According to the Öko-Institut, night charging systems (NCS) and megawatt charging systems (MCS) are particularly important: "We need a network of around 2,000 MCS charging points and around 40,000 NCS charging points along the federal highway network," says Katharina Göckeler, Senior Researcher for Resources and Mobility at the Öko-Institut. "As MCS charging points in particular have a high power output and require a connection to the high-voltage grid, planning for their installation must start now".
If a comprehensive and efficient charging network is available by 2035, new registrations of battery-electric trucks could rise to 100 percent, according to the results of the Öko-Institut's current research project "StratES - Szenarien für die Elektrifizierung des Straßengüterverkehrs".
Another challenge in the electrification of heavy goods transport is the battery power of an electric truck. Diesel trucks still dominate German roads. In 2022, only 18,300 of the approximately 254,000 newly registered trucks in Germany were purely electric. In the long term, however, battery-powered trucks will replace diesel vehicles. All well-known truck manufacturers are planning or already offering an electric alternative - these also promise a greater range.
The new MAN eTruck has an output of between 200 and 350 kW, i.e., 272 and 476 hp. Battery sizes between 300 and 500 kWh should be sufficient for simple ranges of up to 500 kilometers. With the use of break times for intermediate charging, daily ranges of between 600 and 800 kilometers should be possible. The first 200 units are to be delivered to the first customers at the beginning of 2024. Production will start in larger quantities from 2025.
With a battery capacity of 600 kWh, the eActros 600 from Mercedes-Benz makes it possible to cover 500 kilometers without intermediate charging. This makes it possible to drive for 4.5 hours and then recharge the e-truck to 80 percent during a 45-minute break. The eActros is scheduled to go into series production in 2024.
The Dutch commercial vehicle manufacturer DAF also offers electric trucks. The maximum configuration of the electric motor and battery packs allow ranges of over 500 kilometers. The battery can be recharged to 80 percent within 45 minutes, theoretically enabling a range of 1,000 kilometers per day.
High acquisition costs
Trucks with alternative drive systems are currently still significantly more expensive than their combustion version. Roughly speaking, electric trucks are around three times more expensive to purchase than diesel trucks. A study shows that electric trucks can definitely be competitive and that a switch to this technology could be advantageous for transport companies. "Diesel trucks would only be cheaper in the worst-case scenario: if fast charging is expensive and the haulage company transports very heavy goods."
If the cost of charging at public fast-charging stations increases, it could be more economical for logistics companies to invest in more powerful batteries for their trucks. Although this investment reduces the payload due to the weight of the batteries, it reduces the need to stop at public charging stations. The profitability of electric trucks depends heavily on the goods being transported. For light but bulky goods such as parcels, vegetables or flowers, the additional battery weight is hardly relevant as the trucks often do not reach their maximum load capacity. Electric trucks therefore make economic sense for such transport operations and types of goods, even with higher fast-charging costs.
The initially high acquisition costs should pay for themselves over the course of a few years. The price of electricity and the toll system are decisive for profitability compared to diesel trucks. In large transit countries such as France and Germany, for example, a low electricity price and the planned CO₂-based truck toll have a positive impact on the operating costs of battery-electric trucks, reports Mercedes. After around five years or around 600,000 kilometers of use, the electric truck could therefore be more profitable than the diesel truck. Government funding for electric trucks and the development of the charging infrastructure play a decisive role in supporting the market launch phase. The third call for the funding program for climate-friendly commercial vehicles and infrastructure (KsNI) is planned for the fourth quarter of 2024.
Effects of electrification on truck operation
The importance of the right charging and deployment strategy
Choosing the optimal charging and deployment strategy is crucial when it comes to successfully making the transition to electric mobility in logistics. A key factor is to consider whether the battery charge of an electric truck is sufficient for an entire working day, or whether intermediate charges are necessary during the working day.
Especially in sectors such as construction or distribution transport, charging at the company's own depot can be a preferred option. This offers the advantage that charging can be carried out at lower power levels, which is gentler on the battery and also more cost-efficient. Charging at home in the depot is not only cheaper, but also helps to extend the service life of the batteries.
Intelligent charging solutions for electric trucks
Another important aspect is intelligent charging. When the electric trucks return to the depot in the late afternoon, charging must be controlled in such a way that it does not lead to an increased peak load on the power grid during the evening hours. This requires advanced charging management systems and strategies to schedule charging in a way that does not overload the grid infrastructure while meeting the needs of the fleet.
The planned expansion of the truck toll in Germany brings both challenges and opportunities for the transition to electromobility in the logistics industry. While the introduction of a CO₂ component and the exemption of environmentally friendly vehicles create incentives for the use of electric trucks, fleet managers face some key challenges. Expanding the charging infrastructure, coping with limited ranges and intelligent charging management systems are key issues. Despite initial costs, electric trucks are proving to be a competitive option that promises a more sustainable future for the logistics industry. The right charging and deployment strategy is crucial to successfully implementing electromobility and exploiting the potential of this change.