Andreas Renschler, CEO of Volkswagen Truck & Bus GmbH, and Sören Bartol, Deputy Chairman of the SPD parliamentary working group for transport, construction, digital infrastructure and the digital agenda, discussed transitions in transport and logistics.
The top manager used a simple comparison to illustrate the challenges facing his industry. “You have to have earned a lot of money to drive a Porsche,” said Andreas Renschler, a member of the Volkswagen AG Board of Directors; he is responsible for the commercial vehicle segment and is CEO of Volkswagen Truck & Bus GmbH. “A truck still has to earn the money after it is purchased.” Volkswagen Truck & Bus and its brands provide such hardware: commercial vehicles that need to be fuel-efficient and durable enough to keep freight forwarding companies competitive. The tasks Renschler and his customers face are constantly increasing in complexity. According to Renschler, the continued expansion of e-commerce is also pushing demand for vehicles up eight percent a year.
The person he was talking with in the dialog series of the “Mobility of Tomorrow” initiative, Sören Bartol, agreed that transport and logistics are of critical importance to Germany. The deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary working group for transport, construction, digital infrastructure and the digital agenda reminded everyone that “the time for observation and analysis is over”. Pressure on the German commercial vehicle industry to help reach climate goals is increasing, given that 95 percent of commercial vehicles are powered by diesel fuel. “If we don’t make decisions now, the economic damage will be substantial,” Bartol predicted. If, so foreign companies might provide mobility solutions in the future, which would cost jobs in Germany.
Renschler made it clear that the commercial vehicle industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation. The expected boom in freight transport will have to be mastered while at the same time complying with mandatory reductions in vehicle pollutant emissions. SPD deputy chairman Bartol understood Renschler’s desire for politicians to take a neutral stance regarding technology, but he also stressed that at some point they would have to see some results. “For example, if you have decided to go ahead and build overhead power lines for trucks, you cannot just backtrack on that.”
While Bartol called on the innovative capacity of German manufacturers, Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), confidently stated that the manufacturers would be able to handle this task. “We are trendsetters not only for passenger cars, but also in the commercial vehicle sector,” said Wissman at the start of the event.
For Bartol, there is no getting around the need for emission-free drives. “Diesel is a finite technology,” commercial-vehicle expert Renschler countered, stating that diesel would still be in use in certain industry sectors in 100 years and that the internal combustion engine is not “dirty” per se. But a city bus must be able to run for ten years and comply with government-mandated emissions levels for its entire service life. “Chemical plants behind the engine” are necessary for this; these “sometimes cost more than the engine itself.” According to Renschler, the Euro 6 diesel engines used in commercial vehicles today, with their particle filters and SCR technologies, are clean.
The VW manager reminded policymakers of their obligations, for example with regard to platooning, a technology in which several trucks drive in a tightly packed line linked by a kind of electronic tow bar, cutting fuel consumption by up to ten percent in the process. Renschler demanded legislation allowing for a reduction of the current minimum distance between two vehicles from 50 meters to 10.
Renschler also stated that the VW commercial-vehicle sector would manage to reduce CO2 without pressure from policymakers, the competition for customers being enough to bring this about. Renschler mentioned that fuel consumption comprises 40 to 50 percent of truck operating costs, while also claiming that freight forwarding companies run a profit margin of 0.2 and sometimes 0.8 percent. “If I cannot tell them that a yearly reduction in fuel consumption of one to two percent is possible, I’ll be out of business.” The VW manager also suggested alternative fuels, for example e-gas, as another way to reduce emissions in the commercial vehicle sector. This technology produces hydrogen through electrolysis powered by green electricity. The hydrogen is then used to create synthetic methane.
Despite the fact that there are different requirements for commercial vehicles and therefore different drive concepts, both Renschler and Bartol agreed that electric vehicles must be used in urban areas. “Electric delivery vans can carry out short-distance deliveries quite adequately,” Renschler said. “Electric garbage trucks are also feasible.” The problem lies in the regulatory framework. SPD politician Bartol is determined to create the necessary framework for megatrends such as electric mobility and networked mobility: “We need to build up the necessary infrastructure and do it very quickly.”
With the exception of Hamburg, there are still no German cities that have the capacity to simultaneously charge a large fleet of buses. “The cities need support and money,” said Renschler, but also added: “It cannot be our responsibility to build a power plant in Munich or Stuttgart.”