The 2018 IAA trade fair for commercial vehicles in Hanover has just ended. A look at the press coverage reveals that electrification is now also in the focus for Commercial Vehicle applications. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Dr. Michael Harenbrock attended the event. As Principal Expert for Electric Mobility he identifies technological trends for MANN+HUMMEL, analyzes the market development and derives projects for new products for electric drives and fuel cell systems based on the findings. I talked to him about the impressions he gained at the trade fair on the subject of electric mobility and commercial vehicles.
Will trucks with electric drives soon be the only trucks on our roads?
Harenbrock: No, surely not. But there will be market segments in the coming years where alternative drives will increasingly find application. The StreetScooter manufactured by the German postal service (Deutsche Post) is already successfully produced in series. Electric vehicles or hybrid vehicles are already available for urban delivery traffic or craftsmen and the number of vehicle types grows day by day. In this respect, almost all of the manufacturers are active. The buses used in the public transport system are also of interest already today. In Europe there are a number of promising new approaches with the first pilot projects, whereas in China complete fleets of buses are already running with electric drives. But for the time being I see no fundamental change over to alternative drives in the area of heavy‑duty trucks and long-haul traffic.
Why is that the case?
Harenbrock: There are several reasons. Even if the required electrified vehicles were commercially available today, the charging infrastructure would probably not be sufficient to fulfill the demand. While craftsmen can charge their vans overnight and buses running to a schedule with fixed routes can be charged at the depot, this will not work for long-haul vehicles. Long-haul vehicles with electric drives would have to rely on a full-fledged public charging infrastructure which does not exist up to now. In addition, 40-ton trucks would have to carry an enormous battery capacity which could easily amount to a weight of several tons. There would then also be further questions about the range, practicability and costs. A truck driven by just an electric drive is not yet commercially viable. And viability is crucial for the commercial vehicle business.
Would fuel cell technology be an alternative?
Harenbrock: This technology faces similar problems. Although trucks with fuel cells would be able to carry sufficient hydrogen to drive for many kilometers, there remains the question of how to refill the tank. In this area, just as with electric vehicles, we will see the first applications where a nationwide infrastructure is not a requirement, e.g. where the tank can be refilled at a depot. A further point is that these vehicles will require special maintenance.
Does this mean the IAA trade fair for commercial vehicles was more or less a flop for you?
Harenbrock: Absolutely not. Electric mobility is on the rise and this also applies to the area of commercial vehicles. But we cannot expect the change to take place overnight. Instead there will be a gradual transition over to the new technology. In the Chinese city of Shenzhen, for example, 16,000 electric buses are already on the road. In America, Tesla and Nikola Motors have presented electric trucks with a battery or fuel cell which are set to be launched in the near future. At the IAA trade fair for commercial vehicles, VW, MAN, Daimler and many others also presented pre-series truck models in the 12 and 26-ton range, entering the market very soon. Suppliers were also very active and presented new products at the trade fair which are specially designed for the requirements of alternative drives in the commercial vehicle segment. Some of these were also new for us and interesting. The market is very dynamic, and nobody really knows where the journey will take us.
What does that mean for MANN+HUMMEL?
Harenbrock: We already offer numerous filtration solutions for alternative drives including electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles and hybrid solutions. These products were on display at the IAA trade fair for commercial vehicles of course. We are also constantly working on innovative, new products. Nobody really knows how electric drive technology will develop in the area of car manufacturing. Yet we still have to present new products in time for these new technologies. The sense to feel the need for change is not always easy in day-to-day work, and we have to leave our comfort zone to explore new challenges. This is because despite the overall fascination which drives myself and my colleagues, economic viability is of course essential for everything we do.
And how do you learn about what is coming or indeed not coming?
Harenbrock: We have to keep our eyes and ears open. The IAA trade fair for commercial vehicles does not merely consist of exhibitors and visitors. There are also many specialist presentations, guided tours for special areas and naturally also discussions with experts. Along with my colleagues I intensively use these facilities to get a clearer picture of which basic developments are promising. This flows back into our work to develop new products for a new era.
Many thanks for the interview, we shall observe how things progress with great interest.