8:30 in the morning – an early start in one of the offices in the Berlin government district. A meeting of two experts from industry and academia: Dr. Atif Askar, TRATON Head of Business Development, Strategy and M&A, and mobility researcher Dr. Weert Canzler. They talk about the transportation and logistics of the future, with a focus on alternative drives, automation, and digitalization. These issues will change and shape the transportation and logistics of the future for the long haul, therefore determining a company’s future success. Read on to find out more.
Prologue – the starting point
We’ve traveled in time – the year is 2030 and, once again, it’s 8:30 in the morning. We are, however, no longer in Berlin. Instead, we find ourselves 300 kilometers further west in the Port of Hamburg. A number of containers have just arrived in a shipment and are being unloaded. The retailer, Leopold A., is already waiting for these goods in the south of Germany – in the center of Munich, to be precise. Leopold also owns several warehouses in various locations in the surrounding area of Munich, all of which are also meant to have their stock delivered. The means of transportation? A truck. It now has to drive the 800 kilometers to Munich with a maximum of twelve hours to spare. Leopold A. will basically get live updates on the status of his shipment.
Part 1: Sustainability – how will the truck drive and what will it be powered by?
Atif Askar: If you look at this scenario, you can see the three main questions with regard to future transportation by road: firstly, how will the vehicle drive and what will it be powered by? Secondly, is the long-haul truck highly or fully automated? Or maybe even autonomous? Thirdly, how is the truck networked?
Weert Canzler: Going back to the first question: electrification is something that has to happen – to decarbonize the industry and therefore protect the climate. In other words, it’s very likely that we will see trucks powered by alternative drives on our highways as soon as in 2030. Political factors within the industry also come into play here.
Atif Askar: Good point. The European Union agreed on a CO2 regulation for trucks weighing over 16 tons at the start of 2019, laying down the guidelines. The switch to alternative drives also depends on other factors, such as the availability of refueling and charging infrastructure.
Weert Canzler: As we know, the Volkswagen Group is committed to systematic electrification. In my opinion, this is something that has to be even more protected, politically speaking. If companies know what the infrastructure will look like in 2030, they have more certainty when planning their research and development projects. What we need are clear instructions – while still leaving a bit of room to be open to technology.
Atif Askar: What do you mean by “open to technology”?
Weert Canzler: When I talk about being open to technology, I’m talking about electrification and being open to both battery electric vehicles (abbreviated to BEVs) and trucks powered by fuel cells based on hydrogen technology.
Atif Askar: There’s currently a lot of public debate around which of these two technologies is the right solution. Do you consider e-fuels (or synthetic fuels) to be another feasible alternative?
Weert Canzler: E-fuels are not likely to play a major part in long-haul transportation by road. Instead, these are needed to decarbonize the aviation industry. With this in mind, the main question is what will come out on top: BEVs or vehicles powered by fuel cells?
Atif Askar: And out of these two concepts – what would you lean toward? Will the truck speeding down the highway in our scenario in 2030 be powered by battery electric drives or fuel cells?
Weert Canzler: My guess is that the fuel cell will come out on top. Even though refueling the vehicle is a challenge, hydrogen is considerably higher in energy than any type of battery technology.
Atif Askar: That’s true. But there are also solid arguments in favor of BEVs: battery costs have become increasingly lower over the last few years, with battery electric vehicles also having a better energy footprint. This is where fuel cells are at a significant disadvantage: for every kilowatt-hour you need to charge them, you get 0.2 kilowatt-hours in return. That number is 0.8 in case of batteries.
Weert Canzler: Having said that, we would basically have energy plants at our front door in the Port of Hamburg. This would mean that the hydrogen electrolysis could be performed fairly easily using surplus wind energy – making the energy footprint argument redundant.
Atif Askar: That would be the sort of situation where energy is basically free. But what do you do later, when you’re driving back from Munich, where there isn’t as much surplus energy from wind power? Or why can’t you take the available energy and feed it into the grid for charging a battery electric truck?
Weert Canzler: That would also be conceivable in our thought experiment. As soon as there is enough surplus energy or if hydrogen is already available, fuel cells have a fighting chance.
Atif Askar: That’s how I see it as well. Hydrogen will come into its own in the case of trucks transporting heavy freight on long routes and, if possible, driving autonomously. This shows that, as is often the case in our industry, there is not just ONE answer. The best answer varies depending on the area of application – and is contingent upon infrastructure and aspects like markets, product innovation, and customer needs.
Weert Canzler: What influences a customer’s decision to make a purchase?
Atif Askar: In this scenario, our customer is the shipping company that owns the truck, not Leopold A. The truth of the matter is that the shipping company expects to make a profit. No one drives an electric truck just because it looks good. A decision to purchase a vehicle comes down to numbers. Government incentives are also needed in this respect.
Weert Canzler: ... as well as products that are efficient and zero-emission at the same time. Never before in the history of technology has such a key part in product development been played by decarbonization – with the latter having a direct impact on the company’s success. It’s also fairly clear that in order for electrification to succeed, we need a change in the mindset of all players in the transportation and logistics sector.
“As mobility researchers, we operate closer to the ground than, say, future researchers – in other words, we pay more attention to the technical details,” explains Dr. Weert Canzler (59). Canzler, who has a PhD in social sciences, is a mobility researcher at the WZB Berlin Social Services Center. He is the author of numerous scientific publications.
“As an industrial player, our aim must be to use innovation to improve sustainability – both sustainability in the environmental sense of the word and the sustainability of our customers’ business with the help of efficient transportation solutions,” says Atif Askar (42). Askar has a PhD in economics and has been with the TRATON GROUP since 2014, responsible for the Business Development, Strategy and M&A functions.
Part II about the future of automated driving will be released on October 16.