Behind the scenes

How the Grossglockner Challenge was born

It all started – like every good story – with a bet.

July 2022. An electric truck had just crossed the Grossglockner High Alpine Road for the first time and passed the challenging performance test “with flying colors”, as the operators proudly announced. Utz-Jens Beister, responsible for commercial vehicles at technical developer IAV, congratulates via the Linkedin platform.

“So, challenge accepted for the Elcty?” a colleague – the author of these lines – asks him in a comment. Utz accepts: The bet is on.

The “Elcty” is a development by IAV: a set of parts for converting diesel buses to electric drive, tested in a MAN double-decker from the 1990s, which is often used today for sightseeing tours.

A traditional bus like this rarely makes it into the mountains. Ours is mainly used in Berlin. This makes it all the more appealing to test the technology in unfamiliar terrain. The GroƟglockner is an “endurance test”, says Utz. Let’s go then.

The opportunity presents itself at the International Motor Show IAA Mobility in Munich in September 2023. The Elcty will be used there as a shuttle between the trade fair and the city, as a convertible in the most beautiful sunshine, nicknamed the “Barbie bus” by passengers because of its bright pink color.

It is just over 200 kilometers from Munich to the Grossglockner. So no more excuses.

The team behind the celebrity

In Zell am See, just around the corner from Austria’s highest mountain, a diverse group gathers. Besides Utz, they include:

  • Reiner Zern, technician in IAV’s materials laboratory and bus enthusiast, who steers the double-decker with ease
  • Oliver Kreye, electric drive expert for commercial vehicles at IAV and experienced car tester, whose anecdotes after dinner often begin with something like “1996 in South Africa…” and talk about how he had to get himself with 2.10 meters in height into one of the test cars.
  • He brought along his working student Cornelius Dietrich.
  • Giorgi Kobaidze, a working student in IAV’s communications team and trained filmmaker, who is accompanying the Elcty’s journey with his camera and has brought along a jam-packed bag of technical aids.
  • And finally, the author of these lines, responsible for external communications at IAV and otherwise an enthusiastic cyclist, who takes the opportunity to explore the route up the Grossglockner on his racing bike the day before the bus challenge.

Track check by racing bike

We set off at sunrise to avoid sharing the road with too many cars and motorcycles. The plan paid off, the sun was shining and the magnificent panorama looked stunning. There is plenty of time to enjoy the view on the challenging ascent.

Utz stops by in his own car (electric, of course), fills up the water bottle and offers words of encouragement.

A few hours and a good 1,800 vertical meters later, the fantastic view from the Edelweissspitze rewards all the effort. And in my head, I’ve already written a little script for the movie.

In the afternoon, we drive the route again, this time in the rented convertible from which Giorgi will be filming. We check out the points where we can set up our camera for the next day to document the bus’s ascent.

We attach another camera to the rear spoiler of the rental car (which later causes us quite a headache because the adhesive won’t come off for a while and we consider various options: hand over the car with the camera mount – “someone must have stuck it on” -, remove the spoiler – “there was something else on it?” – and a few more; in the end, Giorgi finds the solution online and removes the part professionally and without damage).

Unimpressed by all the excitement, the bus sets off calmly on its challenge the next morning. Reiner, who initially has “doubts” about “how it’s going to get up the mountain”, is amazed at the effortless power with which our massive double-decker overcomes the steep sections. And the e-bikers he overtakes are amazed that this really is an electric vehicle.

The Elcty drives according to script over the demanding route and has exceeded all expectations at the top. Even the battery still has plenty of power. And the high alpine road even offers a short refueling stop in a picturesque setting.

During the lunch break – with Kaiserschmarrn, of course – Olli checks the technical system and is very satisfied. Utz as project manager is too: “Mission accomplished!”

All that remains is for us to take a team photo on the mountain to commemorate the successfully completed challenge – on behalf of the many colleagues at IAV who worked on the Elcty development.

As always, there is a team behind every star and their success. And this time, part of the team even stood in front of it for the photo.

From left to right: Cornelius Dietrich, Oliver Kreye, Giorgi Kobaidze, Utz-Jens Beister, Reiner Zern, Ivo Banek

How does the Elcty work?

Everything you need to know: Technology, installation, funding.

E-drive conversion kit
Elcty Grossglockner


And the winner is… The Elcty receives a sustainability award.

Sustainability Award in Automotive

Mobility of the future

From electric drives to hydrogen, from test benches to go to digital twins: IAV’s magazine “forward”.

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