A new look at commercial vehicles

Efficiency, emission reduction and electromobility in the spotlight

Electromobility is ready to roll; even so, diesel-powered vehicles will remain indispensable for years to come: This is the situation shaping the market for heavy commercial vehicles. Rheinmetall Automotive is playing an active role in the trend toward e-mobility, while continuing to provide high-performance solutions for making internal combustion engines more efficient.

 The entire world of transportation is on the move: the worldwide flow of goods continues to grow due to ever advancing globalization. Forecasts predict that worldwide cargo volume will triple by 2050. On average, ships will account for about 85 % of this amount, with an additional 10 % carried by large trucks. Because the global market is already comparatively saturated, demand for trucks in the coming years will develop along stable lines.

Certain shifts are occurring because demand is falling in China and becoming stronger in eastern Europe and North America.The amount of traffic on German streets will also -continue to rise in the coming years. While 3.480 billion tons of goods were hauled in Germany in 2016, forecasts already predict as much as 3.706 billion tons will be on the roads in 2021. Yet even this moderate increase in the amount of traffic has strong repercussions, explains Heinrich Dismon, CTO of Rheinmetall Automotive AG: “The moderately increasing transportation volume will have to be hauled on roads already experiencing overcrowding today.”

Diesel will dominate for decades

Heavy-duty diesel engines will literally continue to bear the main load of cargo transportation on the road in years to come. “For the foreseeable future – I’m speaking in terms of about two decades – the diesel engine will remain the dominant drive of commercial vehicles and especially for long-haul trucks,” says Dismon. However, experts agree that further innovative technological solutions are necessary to make combustion engines cleaner and more efficient, given that stricter emissions rules are on the agenda worldwide

Threats of vehicle bans for conventional diesel engines loom in congested urban centers. For example, in -Greater London a low emission zone has been established in which only environmentally friendly heavy-duty diesel vehicles are allowed to drive. As of April 2019, the emissions rules for the then new ultra-low emission zone will be further tightened. Despite the regulatory dynamic, Dismon is convinced: “Forecasts that predict we will turn away from diesel engines for heavy-duty trucks and move toward gasoline engines by 2040 must currently be considered speculative. We will initially focus on further optimization of diesel engine drives for commercial vehicles.”

E-drives for special inner-city tasks

Given these regulatory omens, the development toward more comprehensive use of electric drives could be a solution; however, we are still in the early stages. And yet, the advantages of load-bearing e-mobiles are obvious: electric trucks emit no exhaust and are also suitable for indoor use – for example, in large warehouses or terminals. Furthermore, they can drive into low-emission zones without fear of vehicle bans. A further advantage is their low noise level. Delivery services and freight forwarding agents could also thereby send their trucks into downtown areas at night and thus avoid traffic jams during the day.

The keenly observed StreetScooter of DHL is one of the few examples that have advanced beyond the prototype stage. In April 2018, 5,500 postal StreetScooters were already driving around on the streets. Three models are meanwhile available – in addition to the basic model, the postal electric vehicle fleet also features the variants L and XL with greater load volumes, more powerful batteries and correspondingly greater ranges. Other vehicle manufacturers are almost ready to enter the market – or have already done so for special applications. For example, in early 2018, Volvo Trucks launched two fully electric truck models weighing a total of 16 and 27 tons and designed for deliveries, waste management and other heavy transport tasks in dense urban areas. Already since mid-2017, the Japanese Daimler subsidiary Fuso has been producing the electric truck eCanter in small-scale series with a range of 100 km.But electromobility is also taking aim at short-range public transport. For instance, the Dutch bus manufacturer VDL Bus & Coach is developing a fully electric minibus. The 8-meter-long minibus is designated for emission-free and quiet passenger transport in city centers, but also in sparsely populated areas. Its temperature control achieves energy savings through a thermo-module from Rheinmetall Automotive. 

Funding guidelines

Business with heavier electric trucks is still insignificant in Germany, but could obtain a certain further dynamic through a recently published funding guideline of the German Federal Ministry of Transport: this states that the federal government is contributing a EUR 40,000 subsidy toward the purchase of battery-operated series trucks weighing a total of 12 tons or more.

North America is on the move

The North American market has also undergone changes with electric drive commercial vehicles. As in Europe, the regulatory environment is altering toward reduced emissions. California is an especially strong proponent here. In this situation, Cummins – one of the largest truck engine developers worldwide and a veritable titan in heavy-duty diesel engines – introduced an electric truck prototype with a range of up to 100 miles in 2017. Other North American manufacturers are also testing electric drives.

Emissions, efficiency and electrification“

At Rheinmetall Automotive, we don’t resist the trend toward electrification, we fully address it. However, we won’t exceed the performance range of autos for some time to come – that is our target market with engine power ratings of 90 to 120 kW,” says Dismon. So far, widespread use of fully electric commercial vehicles outside of regulatively prescribed (so-called zero emission) zones, especially in terms of Total Cost of Ownership, is still a long way off.“Besides electrification, we consider emission reduction and efficiency the important trends in the commercial vehicle sector,” explains the Development Head. In the area of efficiency enhancement, a recently published EU white paper sets the agenda. This document states that the ever-tighter emission regulations will soon also expand to include rules for reducing fuel consumption. The paper stipulates a fuel consumption reduction by 15 % from 2018 to 2025. In absolute figures, this is a reduction from the current average 32.6 L to about 28 L of diesel per 100 km. “Saving these 4.5 L is quite a technological challenge,” says Dismon.

Focus on the engine

Although the stipulated reduction standards of course involve the entire vehicle, comprehensive engine optimization remains very highly relevant. The target engine efficiency of 46 % mentioned in the white paper presents a demanding task, but Rheinmetall Automotive is highly competent at providing solutions in multiple areas. In addition to known technologies in tribology, we could also achieve enhancements in the charge cycle: “Besides optimizing performance and operating behavior, our FlexValve fully variable valve control is also suitable for noticeably reducing fuel consumption. Until now, no one had yet considered such measures due to the cost-benefit relationship, but this could change in light of the planned regulations.”

In view of the new challenges, the future will be about bringing available technologies in even better-adapted, more sophisticated designs to the market, especially since transportation mobility represents a huge market. And the internal combustion engine is far from dead. On the contrary, the coming efficiency requirements will initially drive its improvement. Here, too, Rheinmetall Automotive has all the right solutions.  

Higher efficiency pays off


The illustration shows estimated fuel consumption reductions and the associated amortization periods of evaluated technology packages in 2030. With ever more advanced technologies, efficiency improves and fuel consumption falls. The 15 % reduction target of the EU white paper today corresponds to fuel savings averaging 4 L per 100 km. a considerable share of this reduction can be achieved through internal engine improvements with comparatively little cost. The amortization periods for the moderate technology packages with a reduction in fuel consumption by up to 27 % normally lie at one year or less. By contrast, the more advanced technology packages are most often associated with large expenditures for relatively less benefit. Based on average economic assumptions, the amortization periods lie between 1.4 and 1.9 years.