The search for the successor of petrol and diesel engines is in full swing and vehicles powered by electric motors, hydrogen cells or natural gas are increasingly moving from prototype areas to everyday use. Meanwhile, we have them mostly linked to the passenger transport sector. Increasingly, however, they are also being applied in logistics.

Few areas of human activity are currently experiencing faster growth than the development of environmentally-friendly vehicles. Virtually everywhere in the world their sales are growing in double-digit numbers. In the EU, their sales have jumped by 39% compared with last year, in the USA by 31%, and the largest rise has been in China, where the government wants to ban the sale of cars with combustion engines by 2025. The rest of the world will follow the example. Ramez Naam, formerly Microsoft’s senior manager for predicting technological trends, estimates that in 2050, only 10% of cars will burn petrol or diesel.

Of all the alternative fuels currently used, electric cars are the most bet on. Hydrogen cell powered cars have so far been in the prototype area and are restricted to passenger transport. Although liquefied natural gas (LNG) is also suitable for the propulsion of trucks, in many countries there is insufficient infrastructure. Even though in the USA, China, Scandinavia, Spain, Britain, Benelux and other countries, there are already so-called blue corridors equipped with an LNG station network, in our country we are still waiting for the opening of the first one. On the other hand, electric cars are experiencing rocket growth and are increasingly beginning to appear in logistics and freight transport.

Cities will be first

Ecologically-friendly vehicles find most use in the area of supply and transportation of goods in cities. It is even likely that in the near future, transport and logistics companies will not be able to do without them. Especially in the case of deliveries in the centres of large cities, they will have to cope with the introduced traffic regulations and emission reduction requirements. It is to be expected that vehicles with combustion engines will be completely banished from cities in the foreseeable future. Many companies are therefore already now operating ecologically-friendly vehicles on a large scale and the demand for them often exceeds current availability.

A nice example is the new fleet of StreetScooter electric cars delivering the Deutsche Post DHL Group packages in Germany. The Volkswagen Group was supposed to be initially involved in the creation of the prototype of the small truck. Due to a lack of flexibility and the long development process, however, the forwarding giant decided to take advantage of a small company’s offer led by Professor Achim Kampker of the University of Aachen. This firm was able to put the StreetScooter prototype into production in just four years. Even though its range is only 85 km, the body is made of plastic and it does not have air conditioning, it is sufficient enough for local deliveries. At present, Deutsche Post uses around 7,000 of them and gradually wants to replace their entire fleet of a hundred thousand.

German postmen will not remain alone in Europe. The example of Deutsche Post has been followed by postal companies in Austria, France, the United Kingdom, Scandinavian countries, and even the Czech Post have put out to tender the supply of electric cars. It will not be the first. Already today, in Prague and Brno, the TNT company’s electric cars are making smaller deliveries.

Long distance routes will follow

Electric cars and alternative fuel vehicles will not operate only in cities. Electric vans with a range of more than 150 km have been developed by a number of established car makers, such as Peugeot, Renault and Nissan, which also compete with successful small start-ups. The ability to respond flexibly to demand, to quickly develop prototypes and to put them into operation has brought into play companies such as StreetScooter, the Danish CityEl electric car, the Indian Reva, and the Czech-Polish project of an electric truck on an Avia chassis with an electric power unit from the company H. Cegielski-Poznań.

But big players are far from being out of the game. The development of new technologies and infrastructure is so demanding that small developers will, in most cases, join together with some of the established car makers. For example, Israeli start-up StoreDot, which has developed a fast-charging truck battery, has teamed up with Daimler’s truck division and is jointly developing a 26-ton electric truck intended to supply chain stores. Their competitor is the MAN truck manufacturer from the Volkswagen group. Already at the end of 2017 it will start to test their concept of an electric truck in the real operation of companies associated in the Centre of Sustainable Logistics group, consisting of, for example, Gebrüder Weiss, Hofer, Magna Steyr, METRO, REWE and SPAR and Stiegl.

Nor should the Czech Republic lag behind. Due to the often discussed lithium reserves and the automotive industry experience, we are interesting for many manufacturers of both batteries and electric cars themselves. In addition, the Czech government plans to support projects aimed at the introduction and development of environmentally-friendly transport. This October, together with representatives of the automotive industry, it signed a Memorandum imposing on individual ministries the task of promoting new transport technologies in their ministries and facilitating the development and sales of environmentally-friendly cars on the Czech market.

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