Defining transport‘s lunar mission

In Mercedes-Benz, Incoming Cargo, February 20206 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 10, 2020

Martin Daum, member of the board of management of Daimler AG responsible for Trucks and Buses, speaking about ‘the road to CO2-neutral transportation‘ at the International Supply Chain Conference in Berlin, likened this challenge to the Apollo lunar mission. “The Apollo mission was so ambitious that it seemed unreachable. How was the seemingly impossible made possible? One thing was decisive: the right mindset,” he said. Daum admitted that even changing the mindset within Daimler Trucks was a struggle – but it‘s been decided that by 2050 the European economy should be climate-neutral. “By 2050 we aim to – and must achieve – CO2-neutral transport.”

In reality, 2050 is just two model cycles away. As such, explained Daum, three considerations need to be addressed concurrently: an attractive range of CO2-neutral trucks, the cost of CO2-neutral trucks, and, finally, policy measures to make CO2-neutral trucks economical and competitive. Starting with vehicles, Daum said Daimler Trucks‘ ambition is to have all of its new vehicles in Europe ‘tank-to-wheel‘ CO2-neutral by 2039. Why 2039? “If all trucks on the road are to be CO2-neutral by 2050 – and we assume it will take a decade to completely renew the fleet – then new vehicles will have to be carbon-neutral by 2039,” he explained.

How will Daimler achieve this? Daum said natural gasses are nothing more than an expensive transition technology and will therefore not be pursued further by Daimler Trucks. “We are convinced that electric batteries and hydrogen technologies can coexist and complement each other very well. In the end, the total cost of ownership will determine which technology is better for which purpose. We will heavily invest in battery-electric and hydrogen-based drives and build a wide range of vehicles with them in the coming years,” he said. This will happen by as soon as 2022, when Daimler will offer series-production vehicles with battery drive in all its key regions. Regarding hydrogen, Daum projects a longer timeframe – to the late 2020s.

“In all market segments we will offer CO2-neutral trucks that will be attractive to our customers. Our next-generation production vehicles will have the longevity and range our customers can reasonably work with,” he promised. So will diesel completely disappear? “Apart from a few exotic applications – such as the Unimog for forest fire fighting or super-heavy load transport up to 250 tonnes – we‘re doing everything to no longer need diesel engines in Europe by 2039,” was the official answer. This moves the conversation to the second key consideration: cost. Carbon-neutral vehicles are expensive and, even by 2040, Daum warns that “the acquisition and cost of ownership of battery- or hydrogen-powered trucks is still likely to be even higher than that of diesel trucks”.

“Costs will be critical to how fast CO2-neutral vehicles gain ground in the marketplace. The fact is that CO2-neutral trucks are not yet and will not yet be competitive. Nevertheless, we‘re now investing substantial sums in these technologies.” Daum said that Daimler has bundled all its worldwide activities for eTrucks and eBuses into one organisation to achieve economies of scale. “CO2-neutral trucks will not be self-starters. This market has to be created. That brings me to the third point: in order to make CO2-neutral trucks truly competitive we need government incentives. “CO2-neutral transport – measured in cents per kilometre – must not cost more than diesel-based transport. That‘s the prerequisite for our customers even to be in a position to be able to buy next-generation sustainable vehicles in large numbers,” he said, urging politicians to enable this through suitable initiatives. Naturally, he called on governments to provide start-up assistance for the development of the required infrastructure.

“The math is simple,” said Daum, “we have 30 years to make transport carbon-neutral by 2050. We can only achieve CO2- neutral transport by working in broader cooperation.” He warned that the switch to CO2-neutral propulsion drives will make transport and logistics – and therefore goods – more expensive, which is something to which the industry and society will have to adjust. He also warned that the transformation would not be easy. “But that‘s no reason not to take it on. On the contrary, that‘s exactly why we have to tackle the decarbonisation of transport all the more decisively. We must understand it to be the moon mission of our industry, which is not only absolutely necessary, but also full of entrepreneurial opportunities, and in pursuing it we cannot lose any time.”