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    This is how the auto industry is making HGV traffic climate-neutral

    By Andreas Rade, VDA Managing Director Politics & Society

    By Andreas Rade, VDA Managing Director Politics & Society

    Published on May 15, 2024 by Tagesspiegel Background

    As for other sectors, a smooth cooperation of industry and politics is crucial for the success also when it comes to HGV traffic. While our companies are tackling their tasks resolutely, Berlin and Brussels are lagging behind when it comes to the framework conditions. Because politics hinders the implementation of clean mobility, it endangers the achievement of ambitious climate goals.

    Almost 30% of CO₂ emissions on Europe's roads are caused by HGV traffic. This number shows how important trucks and buses are when it comes to achieving climate protection goals in road transport. Climate-neutral mobility cannot succeed without the contribution of trucks and buses, and that's exactly what it's all about now! The formula for success is very simple: vehicles, infrastructure, total costs. Wherever it fits, it works. Where a component is missing, things stall.

    Suitable vehicles exist. From urban commercial transport to long-distance transport. From regular buses to coaches. The German automotive industry is continuing to push forward the development of alternatively powered trucks and buses with innovations and investments. It relies on competition between technologies - battery-electric drives and those using hydrogen will play a decisive role. In addition, there are renewable and CO₂-neutral fuels that can defossilize existing heavy commercial vehicles.

    The industry is making progress in all areas: Technically, all potential is being exploited, even beyond the drive. For example, in truck trailers, the CO₂ emissions of the entire vehicle set can be sustainably reduced through lightweight construction, lower rolling resistance and better aerodynamics. Another example is the use of long trucks: two long truck trips replace three trips with a conventional truck - the efficiency gains and fuel savings here are up to 25%.

    Infrastructure as a barrier

    There is no doubt that our companies are world leaders in all of these areas. They already offer trucks and buses that run on battery electric power or hydrogen for a wide range of applications - and with ranges of 600 to 800 kilometers. In addition, further models will be released to the market in the next few years that will further advance emission-free mobility on long distances. This means that climate-neutral commercial traffic on the road is no longer a mere fantasy and German providers are seen as world leaders.

    It all sounds promising - the success story may now begin. At least, it could! Because the achievements and innovations of our industry are just one of the building blocks mentioned for a climate-neutral future. The framework conditions for which Brussels and Berlin are responsible must also be suitable. We need to make it possible for our products to get on the road and for trucking companies to make the necessary investments without worrying about whether their new fleet will be able to move smoothly. However, a look at the current situation shows:

    There is currently no electric charging and hydrogen refueling infrastructure for heavy commercial vehicles - and unfortunately that applies to the whole of Europe. There is an urgent need to catch up if the ambitious CO₂ reduction targets for trucks and buses recently decided in the EU are to be achieved. The infrastructure for charging and refueling is completely inadequate, hindering the urgently needed market ramp-up of alternatively powered heavy commercial vehicles. It prevents customers from deciding on the new models - even if they would like to.

    You have to understand that trucks and buses are primarily a work tool for freight forwarders and operators. A means to an end. You have to make money with it, and in this highly competitive industry, every kilometer counts for every cent. Anyone who has long downtimes or has to take detours to charge their vehicle or fill up hydrogen cannot survive economically. As long as there is no comprehensive, high-performance electric charging and hydrogen refueling infrastructure for heavy commercial vehicles throughout Europe, CO₂-free heavy goods traffic will not be able to make it.

    It is now important for politicians to consistently push forward the expansion of a dense network of electric charging and hydrogen filling stations for heavy commercial vehicles throughout Europe. This is the only way to successfully ramp up the market for alternatively powered trucks and buses - and to leverage their great potential for climate protection. Berlin and Brussels must not waste time any more.

    This necessary determination is not yet apparent: we as the automotive industry would have liked more ambition with the EU AFIR regulation, which regulates the expansion of the charging network in the EU. It is now all the more important that the states do not fall short of the goals they have set. It is therefore necessary to regularly check where the individual states are in developing the infrastructure so that improvements can be made where necessary. The review planned by the EU for 2027 is therefore of great importance in order to precisely analyze the development of the charging infrastructure and make adjustments if necessary.

    Power grid plays a key role

    An e-charging park for trucks and buses often requires the power connection of a small town. Today's connection to a normal motorway rest area cannot achieve this. The power grids therefore urgently need to be expanded. In other words: CO₂-free HGV traffic stands or falls with an efficient power grid - and with it the climate goals.

    However, it is not just about setting up and expanding public networks. Rather, the mix of public and private-sector e-charging and hydrogen refueling options for heavy commercial vehicles will lead to success. Because electromobility becomes attractive for a freight forwarder when he can charge his electric truck in the shortest possible time, both at his depot, on the highway and at the destination logistics center.

    Of course, the same applies to charging in depots and logistics centers: the expansion of the power grid is essential. It cannot be the case that freight forwarders receive the message from their local electricity suppliers that a corresponding expansion of the electric truck fleet would take several years. This will be the the touchstone for how serious Berlin is about the "German pace."

    Overall, it is clear: the interaction between industry and politics determines the success of climate-friendly HGV traffic. While our companies have tackled their tasks resolutely and are constantly developing their solutions, Berlin and Brussels are lagging behind in the framework conditions and are increasingly endangering the achievement of the ambitious goals because implementation isn’t enabled.

    Comprehensive electric charging and hydrogen refueling infrastructure, efficient power grids and sufficient climate-neutral energy – all of these are no new demands and tasks. Much more determination is needed with regard to international partnerships to secure our energy and raw material supplies. In any case, Europe needs its own production capacity for batteries, which is currently being developed.

    CO2 reduction by means of digitalization

    The commercial vehicle industry has long recognized the potential of digitalization. Technologies such as automated driving make a significant contribution to more efficient and climate-friendly transport, as do digitally networked logistics concepts. Digitalized trucks and buses increase efficiency, reduce costs and at the same time make road transport more sustainable and safer.

    The prerequisite for this is a secure and reliable digital infrastructure. This starts with intelligent traffic lights and traffic control systems and is based above all on a comprehensive 5G network - without gaps. Politicians must act: outdated infrastructure must not become a brake on modern, sustainable mobility.

    It's time to get started now: the innovations from German manufacturers and suppliers are ready. And at the IAA Transportation in Hanover in September, the industry will show what climate-neutral transport can and will look like in the future. So that Germany and Europe can actually be global leaders in this area and our approach is seen as a blueprint worldwide, the following applies now: We must not gamble away our pole position.

    Verband der Automobilindustrie e.V. (VDA)

    Andreas Rade

    Geschäftsführer Politik & Gesellschaft

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