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Clean and silent transport of goods to the city.

  • 14. July 2016
  • E-Mobility
  • Photos: Benjamin Tafel
  • Text: Walther Wuttke

A fleet trial in Stuttgart shows: electrically powered light-duty commercial vehicles reduce not only the air pollution, but also the noise in cities.

It’s half past eight in the morning, and the Hermes distribution centre in Weil im Schönbuch just outside Stuttgart is a hive of activity. Contained in pallet cages, the consignments for the waiting trucks are heaved onto the loading platforms, unloaded, electronically recorded, stacked and secured, after which the trucks set off on their daily round. There’s no time to lose as the team go about their well-practised work routines. The rattle of the diesel engines is unmistakable. – There’s only one of the vans that moves off with just a faintly discernible whirr. The electrically powered Fuso Canter E-Cell six-tonner points the direction in which commercial vehicles might develop in the future.

Future electric mobility will not be confined to cars, but will play a key role especially in the transport industry. After all, the trend towards urbanisation is continuing unabated, with most people already living in cities – and needing to be supplied with goods and services, without being disturbed by the negative consequences of conventional mobility: noise and exhaust. To address this need, it is necessary to develop intelligent logistics systems, especially as the demand for transport services is set to rise continuously, if for no other reason than the constant growth of internet commerce.

Fleet trial in Stuttgart

One possible solution to future transport needs, therefore, is electrically powered light-duty commercial vehicles for the inner-city distribution of goods. For this reason, Daimler Trucks has now started Germany’s first fleet trial with locally emission-free battery-electric trucks in Stuttgart. The Municipality of Stuttgart is using four Fuso Canter E-Cell six-tonners in everyday service settings. The Hermes logistics company is trialling a Fuso Canter E-Cell on a regular parcel delivery round.

A long-standing cooperation partner of Daimler, Hermes already has experience with electric vans. For instance, the company has converted its entire London fleet to e-mobiles. “The trial in Stuttgart,” explains Dirk Rahn, Managing Director Operations at Hermes, “is part of our long-term climate protection programme, with which we aim to halve the CO2 emissions of our fleet by 2020.”

The future of logistics in urban areas will be based on a division of labour: between big long-distance trucks and smaller vans to take care of the “fine work” of short-radius distribution. “Modern internal-combustion engines are highly efficient, environmentally friendly and, above all, clean and they will long continue to be unrivalled as a means of long-distance transport,” says Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Daimler Trucks & Buses, as he hands over the vehicles for the trial. However: “When it comes to short-radius distribution, it will be technically and economically possible in a few years’ time to make the switch to e-trucks. In this way, we are making an important contribution to urban mobility in Stuttgart.” It’s a fact that the battery technology for long-distance trucks is not yet available. To achieve a range of 1000 kilometres, it would be necessary for a 40-tonne truck to carry 17 tonnes of batteries on board.

' In the trial in Portugal, the electric Canter achieved savings of around 1000 euros over 10,000 kilometres in comparison with a diesel-engined truck. '

Marc Llistosella, CEO of Daimler Trucks Asia

Power for two tonnes of cargo

On the Friday in question, the Canter E-Cell has a tricky delivery round ahead of it. The contents of twelve pallet cages, 50 bicycles from internet commerce – all of them returned goods – need taking to Esslingen. The topography is challenging, with climbs alternating with descents, and with part of the route taking in the motorway, where the drivetrain of the six-tonner will really be put to the test. In the midst of the 40-tonners, the E-Canter is almost dainty in appearance. Despite the batteries weighing 600 kilograms, the van has a payload of around two tonnes. “That’s absolutely sufficient for short-radius distribution,” explains a Hermes freight expert.

For driver Andy Kirschner, the electric Canter is a pleasant experience. From his driver’s seat, he has a view of a familiar array of instruments, the only difference from the standard-production model being the indicators that show the state of the electric drive. The first thing that happens after the vehicle is started is – nothing. As with an electric car, the drive remains silent until the first press on the accelerator tells it to produce its full torque, a plentiful 650 Newton-metres. The vehicle is similarly quiet when stopped at traffic lights. Mounted behind the cab, the permanent-magnet motor (110 kW/ 150 hp) delivers its power to the rear axle via a single-speed transmission. “It’s really impressive how quickly the vehicle delivers its full power. And the absence of noise in the cab also makes driving a considerably more pleasant experience while also reducing the stress,” says Kirschner, giving his initial verdict on the e-van, the top speed of which is limited to an adequate 90 km/h. Once moving, the Canter surprises with its low level of wind noise. The aerodynamics experts, too, have done an excellent job.

' When it comes to short-radius distribution, it will be technically and economically possible in a few years' time to make the switch to e-trucks. '

Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and Head of Daimler Trucks & Buses

Reaching its destination with a gentle whirr

The only time the electric Canter gets “loud” in city traffic is if the driver turns on the VSP warning system. The “Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians” makes the van whirr with a louder sound to alert pedestrians. The electric van thus reduces not only the air pollution, but also the noise in cities, which means that it can also be used at night or in the early morning in noise abatement zones.

For the driver, the change from diesel to electric drive also includes the regenerative braking function. When the driver comes off the accelerator, the electric motor switches to generator mode, feeding the energy from braking back into the lithium-ion batteries, which are mounted inside the frame, and thereby optimising their performance. Given an anticipatory driving style with regular phases of regenerative braking, the result is a realistic total range of around 100 kilometres.

Financial savings

Although it will be a year before the partners deliver their verdicts, a previous fleet trial in Portugal has already demonstrated that the use of electrically powered vans makes itself felt also on the financial front. “In the trial in Portugal, the electric Canter achieved savings of around 1000 euros over 10,000 kilometres in comparison with a diesel-engined truck,” says Marc Llistosella, CEO of Daimler Trucks Asia.

The next generation is already in the pipeline

While driver Andy Kirschner goes about his electric delivery round in the hilly terrain around Stuttgart, Fuso is already working on the next generation of the Canter E-Cell, which will be even more economically efficient. The company embarked on the development of diesel hybrid drives for trucks 20 years ago and has advanced in the past decades to become the leading manufacturer of partially electrified light-duty trucks. There are currently 3000 Fuso Canter Eco Hybrids on the road around the world.

Low on noise and good for the environment

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