Heavy commercial vehicles are responsible for 25% of CO2 emissions in Europe and 5% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Though e-models are eco-friendlier and more efficient, the industry must address challenges before commercial vehicles are electrified across the board.
Rigorous local laws and standards have increased the demand for environmentally friendly electric commercial vehicles. The commercial electric vehicles market is growing at a CAGR of 29.3% from 2020 to 2026, from USD 52.99 Bn to USD 252.97 Bn in 2026.
Why We Need Electric Commercial Vehicles
The UN estimates that the world’s population will grow to 9.3 billion by 2050, and the environmental situation will be critical down the road. We will need more nutritious food, housing, commercial buildings, and goods supply.
There will be more commercial vehicles which will cause more exhaust gases and noise. However, with cities growing, they will restrict the use of combustion engines to protect the environment and their citizen’s health.
E-vehicles may be more compact due to their less complicated architecture and make negligible noise. An electric drive has fewer moving components than a mechanical drive, lowering costs.
In traditional commercial vehicles, the motor, auxiliary components such as saws, hydraulic pumps, spinning brushes, balers, mowing machines, and air-conditioning compressors are driven by the combustion engine. An electric drive can improve the efficiency of auxiliary units as they can be operated separately and with more power.
An Overview of the Electric Commercial Vehicle Market
Werner von Siemens pioneered electromobility in 1967. In 1882, he created Electromote, the world’s first electric commercial vehicle, which was a forerunner for the trolleybus. A Berlin suburb took power from an overhead line on a 540-meter trial track as part of the Paris public transport service 18 years later. Later, Berlin and Vienna introduced battery-driven buses. However, technical difficulties put them out of action.
Some German cities had electric fire engines and garbage trucks in the 1920s, and then various hybrid models emerged. However, cheap fossil fuels and powerful conventional drivetrains started to power today’s combustion vehicles. Until the 1960s, the USPS used short-range (30 KM) electric vans.
Pioneering the Electric Commercial Vehicle Industry
Commercial buses have undergone a renaissance in the 21st century. Many emerging nations are creating smart cities and converting rural regions to semi-urban areas by implementing sustainable solutions such as clean energy, smart buildings, smart cars, and other technologies.
The market is growing due to the increasing adoption of electrification by logistics and supply chain departments companies employing electric vehicles for commercial and transportation purposes. Consumer desire is also fueling the expansion of the electric commercial vehicle industry.
The Netherlands is leading in Europe. Amsterdam will increase the number of buses by 20%. Switzerland’s Zermatt has been a car-free town and running e-buses since 1988. Genoa and Turin have e-buses since 2002, London since 2013, Germany’s Braunschweig since 2014, and Münster and Berlin since 2015.
Germany plans to increase e-buses to 3,100 from 676 in 2021, and London plans to electrify its entire fleet by 2037. Asia will be the forerunner in using electric commercial vehicles, with India conducting feasibility studies to find routes to run these buses. China is helming the revolution. Out of all the e-buses worldwide, 99% of them are in China.
Current Challenges with Electric Commercial Vehicles
The industry is disrupted by the rapid increase in battery production costs, restricting the growth of electric commercial vehicles. E-trucks are used for last-mile delivery, in supplying to supermarkets or are used in courier services due to low range.
Electric wheel loaders and self-propelled feed mixers are used in agriculture and construction, but their batteries need perpetual charging. There is a shortage of charging stations, a major hindrance to expanding the electric commercial vehicle market.
Low-range batteries – They must be huge for long-haul trucks to crack the 300 KM milestone usually set by electric vehicles, or they can power the trucks with overhead lines that drive and recharge the vehicles simultaneously.
A blanket overhead network may not be feasible. It can be made available on individual sections like Sweden’s network and its pantograph-equipped trucks introduced in 2016. In late 2019, Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein opened their line with their Scania trucks, followed by Frankfurt and Darmstadt.
Using fuel cells is another solution, and several manufacturers fit hydrogen tanks in the underbody. Their weight would be less than that of batteries driving the same range. Like electric, they have a few service stations. There is parallel research into platooning of long-haul trucks.
Platooning involves automated and connected trucks driving behind each other in convoy. It ensures batter traffic flow, saves fuel, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. The North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) calculated that platooning reduces fuel consumption by 10% per vehicle.
High price – The price of battery-operated buses is still high, and they cannot travel as far as conventional vehicles on a single charge. They need larger batteries to deliver a higher range and find suitable charging stations. So, municipalities can retrofit existing commercial vehicles with electric drivetrains and standardize battery size to save costs.
Durability and efficiency – Electric commercial vehicles need large and more powerful batteries. E-vehicles for construction and agriculture must be more resilient to withstand vibrations. E-buses cover at least 100 kilometers over ten hours. The lifecycle of commercial vehicles is around 60,000 hours, compared to the 8,000 hours for parts in passenger cars.
The electronic parts must be durable if e-buses must service a million kilometers in their lifetime compared to 200,000 for cars. Besides, comfort like air conditioning or heating needs larger and more powerful batteries, or there must be innovative solutions to regulate temperature.
Charging infrastructure – Electric commercial vehicles cannot be driven and withdrawn from service for hours while refueling. Buses with large batteries can journey long but reduce capacity like the number of seats, which means greater weight. Yet the heavier the vehicle, the more energy it requires.
Electric commercial vehicles can take energy from the electrical grid. The DC-to-AC converter transforms direct current from the battery into alternating current to power the vehicle. Additionally, manufacturers and suppliers are making batteries more efficient that supply hundreds of kilowatts of energy in a short time.
There are various approaches with advantages and disadvantages. The e-vehicles can
– use a single charge at a bus depot, or
– charge briefly at every stop, or
Note – It strains the battery when a lot of electricity is fed in a short time.
– use charging stations along the line with an opportunity for drivers to rest.
There is still no global standard for the systems used to charge electric commercial vehicles. Europe, the Americas, Asia, or Africa may use different systems. It is still not certain which one could be standardized with testing and ongoing discussions. It must be noted that the railway systems are different from each other.
New materials – The battery is a space occupier and a cost driver. Hence, there is a need for its capacity and service life to increase. Highly efficient power electronics are required to make use of the available capacity. Silicon carbide (SiC) will increase the range of electric commercial vehicles.
Along with SiC, gallium nitride (GaN) allows the production of smaller and more efficient components than their predecessors. Higher charging performance than the current 350 KW leads to long charging times will be history. For this to happen, the battery has to match the charging infrastructure. There will be a demand for power semiconductors.
The above table shows the opportunities service providers have in various segments to make global electric commercial vehicles a reality.
Draup conducted a study of the electric commercial vehicle market. The report explains the market, the current landscape, and key application areas. It provides insights into key players, a regional analysis, and a market overview of light-duty vehicles, medium/heavy vehicles, and buses.
Draup’s sales intelligence platform provides actionable insights into commercial vehicle players. The Signals Cast app provides insights into trending use cases that service providers can use to create proposals to help prospective players fulfill their intentions and win deals.