24th November 2018

Evaluating the multipronged approach to cleaning up and modernising commercial vehicles

Performance targets are ubiquitous in every corner of today’s world, from school children right through to entire governments and indeed unions like the EU – and few targets achieve such prolific coverage as those pertaining to emissions and air pollution. With all manner of localities, products and organisations under the microscope, a key area of interest for Trak Global Group is the commercial vehicle sector, in which it’s clear a multipronged approach is being taken.

Electric power to revolutionise large trucks

With Mr Hammond having recently announced the exclusion of most plug-in hybrids from the PiCG, which should perhaps resultantly be renamed the electric car grant or ECG, the drive for electric vehicle adoption is undisputedly afoot, so it’s unsurprising that the race towards ever-improved batteries, pulling power and mileage ranges is also having a big impact on the heavy commercial vehicle sector.

Tesla1, perceived global leader in truly pioneering electric cars, is expected to deliver its first fully-electric ‘Semi’ big-rig LGV in 2020, its anticipated price-tag north of $180,000 availing sizeable enough players to trial zero-emissions trucking with a range of 300-to-500 miles, energy consumption of just 2kWh/mile and potential fuel savings of over $200,000, plus reportedly tipped to incorporate an automatic tyre inflation system2.

Major brand names and fleet operators over in the U.S. including Anheuser Busch Inbev, Deutsche Post DHL, UPS and Walmart have placed Tesla Semi orders but only to the cautious tune of 125 units at the most, analysts describing it as a chicken and egg dilemma2b with both fleets and electric charging station operators hesitant to make the first move.

Daimler, parent of Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz Trucks, is confident that their electric trucking efforts will overshadow Tesla’s, despite them not pouring all their experience into a full-capacity ‘class 8’ rig like Elon Musk’s Semi. Daimler’s new E-Mobility Group2c recently unveiled the eCascadia, which certainly looks the part, and perhaps it’s true that its hopeful zero-emissions range of 250 miles is more realistic than the Tesla Semi’s 500-mile claim, which some commentators say is overinflated2d.

Even if electric tractor cabs like the Tesla Semi are indeed confined to modest routes in the short term, it’s still a greatly exciting and positive step forwards nevertheless.

Vans are switching on too

At the smaller end of the commercial EV scale, household courier DPD3 has opened a parcel depot in Westminster dedicated to all-electric vehicles that will serve both inward and outward deliveries, impressively with no major infrastructure upgrade involved and a 45-tonne annual CO2 reduction in sight from the modest initial fleet alone. With only a small number of conventionally-sized, fully-electric vans on the market it’s no surprise that DPD has turned to the proven Nissan eNV200, while ‘Paxster’ micro-vehicles from Norway will look after local depot activity, leaving heavier 7.5t duties to a brace of all-electric Mitsubishi Fuso eCanter trucks.

Sticking with everyday electric vans, the government’s inaugural Green GB Week held last month saw LDV’s EV80 panel van cover 600 zero-emissions miles on electricity, the firm’s general manager Mark Barrett extolling to Commercial Fleet4: “Switching to an electric vehicle is one of the most significant steps a business can take not only in relation to tackling climate change, but for future proofing the business.”

Also in this space, global Car-as-a-Service pioneer, LeasePlan, has partnered with SAIC Mobility Europe to offer businesses a large all-electric van in the form of the Maxus EV80, which can be delivered in large numbers, backed by a promised total cost of ownership similar to diesel vans5.

Meanwhile, electric versions of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Vito plus the Peugeot Partner, Citroen Berlingo and Volkswagen Crafter are either already here or their order books have opened, but scepticism still remains over their viability for businesses that cover wider areas as opposed to last-mile and other local journeys, while their reduced payload capabilities will still deter some potential converts. It won’t be long before battery sizes increase and charging points become even more widespread, though, appeasing concerns like these6.

Compressed natural gas (CNG)

Returning to the courier and delivery sector, which has mushroomed in recent years through the so-called gig economy, the focus isn’t all on electric power, though, which hints at a multi-pronged future when it comes to commercial vehicle fuels.

Just like John Lewis, Hermes7 has emerged as another household name willing to give renewable fuel a chance, in the form of biomethane compressed natural gas (CNG) to be specific. The hope is that Hermes’ fleet of thirty bio-CNG-fuelled Iveco HGV tractor units, provided by Cartwright Group, will bring about a 4,500-tonne CO2 reduction each year thanks to being 80% greener and less-emitting than diesel trucks. The fleet will be refuelled at Hermes’ CNG station in Rugby, Warwickshire, and we certainly hope that being the first to make the leap in the courier sector will prove successful.

Iveco has also just received delivery of the first Stralis7b NP 44-tonne 6×2 heavy trucks, which are fuelled by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and produce 460hp. Touted as the most sustainable truck in production of such a size, it has the UK market firmly in its sights, where 91% of heavy truck fleets run 44-tonne vehicles. A key benefit to fleet managers in addition to the cited 750km range that provides ‘same day and back’ capability is that the Stralis NP 6×2 runs on a single fuel, and Iveco will be delivering almost 200 to customers during the remainder of 2018.

Commercial fleets have traditionally been confused7c over the differences between CNG and LNG, the short answer being that gas is simply stored in different forms. CNG is generally less expensive and requires no special protection and training in regard to refuelling, but the two forms deliver largely the same fuel economy, which means slightly less than diesel but without the emissions. The most significant difference is that LNG systems weigh less and therefore deliver greater ranges, but are more expensive accordingly. Gas-fuelled trucks became very popular in the U.S from around 2011 because of escalating diesel prices but have since settled down again, demand for Volvo’s natural gas trucks remaining low7d in the States according to TruckingInfo, for example. As environmental limits around the world tighten, though, particularly in Europe, it will be unsurprising to see more fleets investing in such technology.

Hydrogen firmly in the picture

With mileage ranges and recharging times leaving electric vehicles lacking, hydrogen power seems in many ways to be an obvious alternative fuel to pursue, and it’s encouraging to see Hyundai and Toyota in particular still focussing attention on this clean-emitting fuel, with other manufacturers surely going to follow suit.

Hydrogen in the truck sector is actually proving extremely exciting, as Nikola Motor, Tesla’s main rival in the space, has already notched up over 11,000 deposits for its hydrogen-electric lorry, which is being targeted at Europe. Called the ‘Tre’, the truck will boast zero-emissions, a range of between 500 to 1,200km subject to specification, power output options spanning 500-to-1,000hp, and a raft of technology and equipment making it ready for level 5 autonomy, such as redundant braking, steering, batteries and a 120kW hydrogen fuel cell8. It sounds an amazing truck, but eager fleets will have to wait until 2022 onwards for deliveries to commence.

Nikola Motor Tre hydrogen fuel cell truck rig lorry

Van manufacturers are increasingly adding hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (FCV) technology to their repertoires, once again emphasising the commercial vehicle sector’s correctly multipronged approach to alternative fuels. Early hydrogen van efforts included ULEMCo’s conversion9 of a Ford Transit, perennially the UK’s most popular van, to run on hydrogen for up to 200 miles, at which point the diesel engine kicked in. Similarly, Symbio FCell took a Renault Kangoo Z.E fully-electric van and added a hydrogen fuel cell system to its powertrain, extending the 100-mile battery range by another 200 miles on hydrogen, which boasts water as the only emission.

This year has seen a flurry of hydrogen impetus injected into the light commercial vehicle industry, with Daimler/Mercedes10 showcasing the Sprinter F-Cell plug-in hybrid hydrogen van that can be equipped with a second fuel cell if desired, and Volkswagen revealing its Crafter HyMotion concept11 in September, promising an even larger and diesel-comparable payload capacity than the all-electric e-Crafter and, importantly, a much more useable hybrid range of around 300 miles. Away from the major OEMs, a Scottish entrepreneur12 called Emil Rangelov is developing pioneering hydrogen vans through his company, HVSystems. Debuting a lightweight carbon chassis that will also be recyclable, rugged, safe and sustainable, the H2Van is being designed with short, medium and long wheelbases, a futuristic, streamlined shape and side door access.

Volkswagen VW Crafter HyMotion van commercial vehicle

With manufacturers and entrepreneurs playing down any lingering concerns of the flammability of hydrogen vehicles, the key challenges remain the cost of the technology and the sparsity of refuelling stations13, with just one in Mr Rangelov’s Scotland and a modest number in the UK, now that the original sites in the Home Counties have been joined by Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Oxford and Swindon. Even though FCVs can be refuelled in mere minutes like internal combustion engines, the inability for many van and truck drivers to find a station on their doorstep will remain a limiting factor. By the close of 2019, Germany is set to have expanded its hydrogen refuelling network to around 150 sites, with Denmark, France and other countries to follow suit14.

Cleaning up the notoriously dirty commercial vehicle sector as expediently as possible is an absolute must, but with advantages and disadvantages to each alternative fuel type, a multipronged approach is fitting, providing fleet operators with increasing variety at this exciting time.


1. https://insideevs.com/tesla-semi-deliveries-2020/
2. https://electrek.co/2018/10/19/tesla-patents-automatic-tire-inflation-system-tesla-semi/
2b. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/22/truck-makers-rev-up-for-rollout-of-electric-big-rigs.html
2c. https://electrek.co/2018/06/07/daimler-electric-semi-truck-ecascadia-tesla-semi/
2d. https://electrek.co/2018/11/05/tesla-semi-daimler-ceo-electric-trucks/
3. http://www.greenfleet.net/news/17102018/dpd-opens-uks-first-electric-parcel-depot-central-london
4. https://www.commercialfleet.org/news/latest-news/2018/10/23/ldv-s-ev80-achieves-600-zero-emissions-miles-for-green-gb-week
5. https://www.leaseplan.com/corporate/news-and-media/newsroom/2018/saic-partnership
6. https://www.stuff.co.nz/motoring/106034398/are-electric-vans-a-viable-option-for-new-zealand
7. http://www.greenfleet.net/news/17102018/hermes-commits-cng-trucks-and-electric-delivery-vans
7b. http://www.greenfleet.net/news/01112018/iveco-target-uk-heavy-truck-fleets-new-gas-powered-44-tonner
7c. http://www.fuelspace.org/blog/2014/10/20/cng-vs-lng-for-heavy-duty-trucks
7d. https://www.truckinginfo.com/312520/natural-gas-is-still-the-king-of-alternative-fuels
8. https://www.teslarati.com/tesla-semi-rival-nikola-tre-release-11-billion-reservation-refunds/
9. https://www.lowcvp.org.uk/Hubs/lev/technologies-and-fuels/Hydrogen.htm
10. https://www.fleeteurope.com/en/technology-and-innovation/europe/features/mercedes-presents-hydrogen-fuel-cell-sprinter-concept
11. https://newatlas.com/volkswagen-crafter-hymotion-hydrogen/56417/
12. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-6214001/Hydrogen-powered-van-travel-500-miles-single-tank-fuel.html
13. https://www.zap-map.com/four-new-hydrogen-refuelling-stations-confirmed/
14. https://www.gasworld.com/hydrogen-mobility-moving-forward-in-europe/2015908.article