Tuesday 16 July 2019

Electric trucks catch the eye at IAA exhibition

Electric-powered vehicles were prominently on display at last month’s IAA Commercial Vehicles in Hannover – including an all-electric concept delivery truck at the centrepiece of MAN’s stand.

Developed by the German truck-making subsidiary of the recently-launched Traton (formerly Volkswagen Truck & Bus) concern in just 18 months, the CitE demonstrates how truck manufacturers are contemplating a future where general-purpose vehicles of all sizes are replaced by rapidly-completed specialised designs built to fulfil specific briefs under increasing legislative and societal constraints.

At 15 tonnes, the GVW of the CitE is out-of-the-ordinary – but then so is the rest of the truck, even for a low-entry vehicle. Easy entry and egress is provided on either side of the cab: the driver can swing into the driver’s seat as one would in a Transit-size van, and the passenger seat folds to allow an unimpeded cross-cab exit onto the pavement if required.

Inside the bus-like plug door, the instrument displays are fully digitalised, with specific space for a smartphone or tablet in the driver’s sightline, and plenty of storage space.

Providing air-con and heating in the cab of a multi-drop vehicle where doors are opened frequently is problematic, so MAN’s solution is to heat the driver’s seat and steering wheel, and cool the seat in summer.

Besides the low seating position and large glass area, the driver also gets a camera-generated all-round ‘birds-eye’ view shown on the vehicle’s central display screen, in place of conventional mirrors.

Power is all-electric, the absence of a diesel engine allowing MAN to provide the low-floor cab with a 350 mm entry step. Instead, a centrally-mounted electric motor and Li-ion batteries are mounted inside the chassis frame, providing a 100 km range. The chassis is all-enclosed to protect vulnerable road users.

Despite its unconventional design, the CitE’s chassis can accommodate standard truck bodies: MAN said it expected most trucks of its type to be dedicated to the delivery of dry freight to small urban businesses.

Meanwhile, DAF used technology from three different suppliers in a trio of alternative-drive trucks displayed which are all due to start operational trials this year or next.

The LF Electric 19-tonne rigid urban delivery truck has an electric drive system supplied by Cummins featuring a 195 kW electric motor and 222 kW/h battery power, to give a fully-laden range of up to 220 km. A modular battery pack means range can be traded for payload.

Moving up to artics, the CF Electric tractor can handle single or dual-axle urban semi-trailers at weights of up to 37-tonnes GCW. It uses a proven E-Power Technology electric driveline from Dutch bus manufacturer VDL with a 210 kW electric motor and 170 kW/h li-ion battery pack.

At 100 km, the CF Electric’s range is relatively short, but quick-charging the batteries takes just 30 minutes, with a full charge being possible in 90 minutes.

Longer range is provided by the CF Hybrid tractor, which is capable of zero-emissions driving in urban areas, thanks to the fitment of the electric drive module to ZF’s TraXon gearbox.

While a conventional 450 hp MX-11 engine powers the truck in normal use, the 75 kW electric motor takes over when zero emissions are required. An 85 kw/h battery pack gives a 30 – 50 km range, and recharging can be done on the move under diesel power, or in 30 minutes using a plug-in DC charger.

Iveco went a step further, with a diesel-free stand – which must be a first for any heavy truck manufacturer. The CNH subsidiary is focussed on natural gas as a replacement for diesel, pointing out its potential as a stepping-stone to biogas and not just carbon-neutral but carbon-negative transportation.

It revealed how a partnership between growers, transporters and biodigester operators was producing and transporting food and removing CO2 from the atmosphere thanks to bio-gas burning Iveco trucks.

A CO2-free concrete mixer was on display, in the form of an 8×2 tridem Stralis Hi-Street with a Bio-CNG fuelled engine and electrically-powered mixer body.

Volvo Group was pursuing electrics too, with an added helping of LNG. Volvo Trucks premiered the FL Electric, the first two examples of which are about to go into service in the company’s home town of Gothenburg. On show was an FL LEC 6×2 fitted with a Faun Rotopress rotating garbage compaction body.

Expertise from Volvo Buses has been used to produce the 185 kW motor, which drives the rear axle via a two-speed transmission. Between two and six Li-ion batteries can be specified, giving capacity of 100 – 300 kW/h and a range of up to 300 km. With six batteries, empty-to-full charge can be achieved in a couple of hours on a dedicated DC charger. AC mains charging takes up to 10 hours.

Volvo Trucks is claiming comparable fuel consumption and performance to diesel from its LNG engines at 420 and 460 hp ratings. Unlike competitor offerings with spark ignition, Volvo uses a small amount of diesel injected ahead of the main gas injection event to trigger ignition, and therefore retains the high diesel compression ratio.

Group stablemate Renault Trucks also showcased electric power in the form of a Range D Wide 6×2 26-tonner and a 3.1-tonne Master van.

However, despite all the electric vehicle launches, the majority of trucks displayed at the IAA retained diesel power, including the new Mercedes-Benz Actros.

In addition to the much-heralded return of Ford to the European heavy-duty sector, showgoers also saw another revival of the BMC marque. Both trucks are Turkish-built.

Ford’s offering, dubbed the F-Max, is potentially a serious contender for western-European markets. It features the manufacturer’s own Ecotorq Euro 6 engine which features a variable geometry turbo, and multi-speed water pump and compressor.

Currently a ZF TraXon gearbox is used but Ford is developing its own, with the aid of Oerlikon Graziano, a Swedish-Italian company which is also a supplier to Scania.

In contrast, BMC is launching Tuğra as a range of heavy trucks with a variety of cabs, and engines from Iveco supplier FPT and Cummins.

Whether either manufacturer will be able to make sustained gains against Europe’s established makes in the EU remains to be seen, but many operators will no doubt welcome the idea that there might at least be an increased choice.

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