“Only Greater Efficiency Can Resolve the Trade-Off”

Growth drivers and challenges in the commercial vehicle sector

The automation of vehicles, the electrification of their drive systems and digital connectivity of the logistics chain will radically change the market for commercial vehicles. The overriding objective is to improve efficiency so as to ensure that goods can flow reliably in the future too. The transport volume continues to grow but even today, many traffic routes are overloaded and the shortage of truck drivers is coming to a head. automotion discussed what this means for the commercial vehicle industry with Matthias Kratzsch, Chief Technology Officer at IAV, and Jörn Seebode, who is responsible for commercial vehicle powertrains at IAV.

The market for commercial vehicles has seen strong growth in recent years. How do you see further development?

Jörn Seebode: We are assuming that the market will continue to grow. On the one hand, this has to do with a general increase in the volume of shipping. On the other, the demands on transport will become more fragmented, also on account of the growing online commerce sector and the individualization of business-to-customer trading. To meet them, the commercial vehicle sector must offer flexible and cost-efficient solutions. One thing is already clear: depending on application, there will be a greater diversification of drive concepts. For example, we are expecting to a see a growing share of electric vehicles in urban delivery traffic, in other words over the last mile – in the way Deutsche Post, the German postal service, has started to do with the StreetScooter. On long-haul routes, an ever higher level of automation will increase efficiency for transport companies. Assist systems will help to make transport safer and relieve some of the burden on the truck driver.

Matthias Kratzsch: I think it is very important to upgrade the truck driver’s occupation with technical means because the shortage of drivers is escalating and becoming a critical issue for the transport sector. Germany alone needs several tens of thousands of drivers. Approaches, such as higher transport capacities from long trucks or platoons, i. e. convoys of trucks traveling closely together one behind the other on highways, will not be enough. It is also about making the truck driver’s workplace more attractive. This can be done with assist systems and a higher level of automation. We can make living and life in the truck more attractive so that drivers like being there during the breaks because, for example, the driver’s cab is tailored even more closely to their needs.

Seebode: The driver shortage illustrates a trade-off the truck sector is headed toward. The volume of shipping is growing faster than capacities and infrastructure. This can be seen alone by rest areas bursting at their seams with trucks. Only more efficiency can resolve this trade-off.

Where are the world’s growth drivers, and which challenges do they come with?

Kratzsch: Globally speaking, we are expecting particularly high growth rates for China and Eastern Europe, but also for South America. Equally as important as the actual figures, however, is the realization that, seen globally, the goals in the commercial vehicle market are far more heterogeneous than they are in the automobile sector. There are markets which are governed almost exclusively by total costs of ownership, and markets where emission laws play a major part. The technical challenges lie in developing the right solutions for the world’s widely varying boundary conditions.Tomeet emission targets frequently related to the EURO-6 standard, consideration must also be given to locally available fuel quality or to the prevailing climatic conditions – from temperatures and humidity levels to dust pollution.

What are the strategic goals derived from this?

Seebode: On the one hand, we want to integrate our immense technological expertise into the development of commercial vehicles – where it makes sense, also the know-how we have built up in the automobile sector over the last 35 years. This is why we pursue a central and overarching approach in development projects. On the other hand, the widely varying regional demands on commercial vehicles that Matthias Kratzsch has just described show it is also important for us to have decentralized development capacities. We make our expertise available to our customers where it is needed – this will doubtlessly become even more important in the next few years.

Kratzsch: The commercial vehicle market is far smaller than the passenger car market. In times of electrification, automation and digitization, it will not be able to afford many innovations on its own. But there are many overlaps between both markets, such as in the powertrain or in electronics and software development. We can transfer this domain expertise. We are not only witnessing a diversification in drive concepts but also in the vehicles themselves. Apart from commercial vehicles, this is why mobile work machines are also a key focus at IAV.

Does this knowledge transfer only go in one direction, from passenger car to commercial vehicle?

Seebode: No, it doesn’t. Know-how transfer is not a one-way street. One good example is the emergency braking assistant which was initially introduced in commercial vehicles and only then applied to the car. Predictive maintenance is also an aspect that is being driven forward by the commercial vehicle sector. This type of maintenance is made possible by intelligently analyzing and processing operating data. A simple example of its use is the greater and flexible integration of servicing into freight planning at exactly the right time. This can avoid downtimes and save costs, and is far more important for commercial vehicles than it is for cars because an immobilized truck instantly costs its operator big money.

The legislator has already had its sights set on CO2 emissions from passenger cars for a long time. For the first time, the EU Commission has proposed carbon emissions limits for commercial vehicles. Which technical answers do you have to this?

Seebode: Today’s drive systems are already very efficient because transport companies have always kept a watchful eye on their operating costs, in other words also on fuel costs. For further consumption savings, it is necessary to include the entire vehicle. We need to pull out all the stops to achieve the 15percent CO2 reduction planned by 2025 and a further 15 percent by 2030. But we can draw on our very deep knowledge of the various systems. One good example is waste heat recovery, an area in which we have built up a very broad range of practical expertise in commercial vehicle applications over many years. Besides understanding the system, it will, of course, become increasingly important to optimize the overall system while at the same time taking into account all interactions. Here too, we have been in excellent shape for many years.
Kratzsch: A further technological approach to reducing CO2 emissions lies in using LNG for fueling commercial vehicles. Given the better carbon footprint, we are reducing CO2 emissions by a further 10 percent or so compared with diesel, while at the same time achieving greater traveling ranges than by using CNG.

Will synthetic fuels or the fuel-cell-based hydrogen drive system be able to make goods transport climate-friendly one day?

Kratzsch: Generally speaking, synthetic fuel – particularly if it is produced using renewable energies – harbors huge potential for reducing CO2 emissions. It can be blended with conventional diesel or gasoline. The infrastructure for it is available. However, a lot more effort is required to build the production plants required. The fuel cell drive is an alternative on long-haul trips. The hydrogen needed can be produced using renewable energy. Unlike batteries, the energy density is high enough to reach the traveling ranges necessary for commercial vehicles. But even though the network of hydrogen filling stations is undergoing rapid expansion in Germany, it is still too underdeveloped across Europe.

Gentlemen, thank you for talking to us.