For some businesses, an electric truck’s current need to stop and charge is a challenge that could prevent them from embracing the new technology. However, several companies have already proven it can be possible to go electric just by making small adaptations.
For a trucking business to make the transition to electric, charging and the vehicle’s range limits need to be taken into account when planning routes and schedules. The challenge is to adapt them to minimise the time lost for charging.
Based in the small town of Tomelilla in southern Sweden, Erikssons Åkeri is one of the first companies to successfully integrate electric trucks into its fleet for regional distribution. Late 2021, the company got one of the first ever series-produced electric trucks from Volvo. Now it operates three trucks in regional distribution for around 12 hours per day.
“We want to be a leader in our industry and together with our customers, lead the transition to electromobility,” says Gunnar Eriksson, CEO at Erikssons Åkeri. “Since more and more of our customers have sustainability requirements, having these electric trucks in our fleet gives us a competitive advantage and makes us an early adopter in offering fossil fuel-free transport.”
For many companies looking to transition to electric, finding the right time and place for charging is often highlighted as a significant challenge. Erikssons Åkeri’s electric trucks are used for transporting goods from its distribution centre in Tomelilla to its customers in and around the city of Malmö – approximately 70 km away. On average, the trucks will operate for around 12 hours per day and cover up to 350 km. The key to making this work is to find the charging possibilities that have the least impact adapt on the truck’s route planning and daily schedule.
Having these electric trucks in our fleet gives us a competitive advantage and makes us an early adopter in offering fossil fuel-free transport.
“We have invested in our own charging station at our facility in Tomelilla, and we have some customers who have invested in their own charging infrastructure themselves, which we can use while unloading,” says Christian Pedersen, Key Account Manager at Erikssons Åkeri. “There are also public charging stations for heavy-duty vehicles in Malmö and Helsingborg. We typically charge there for 30-45 minutes during the driver’s lunch break, so we don’t lose any time.”
It takes the truck 2.5 hours to fully charge overnight at Erikssons Åkeri’s depot, and lunchtime charging at a public station will increase the range by up to 100km. To keep track of the battery’s status and charging times during a shift, the drivers can use different connected services.
“We try to plan the routes so that the battery level is always within the optimal 20-80% range,” adds Christian Pedersen. “With electric trucks, you cannot be as flexible yet so we have to plan together with our drivers. We’re still learning about their limitations and ranges, but on these routes, I think we’ve been quite successful in replacing the diesel trucks.”
The overall reaction has been positive, with customers attracted to the possibility of reducing CO2 emissions in their value chain, and drivers being highly appreciative of the quieter working environments and elimination of exhaust fumes. “For our younger drivers in particular, it has been exciting to be able to work with new technology and test drive the first serial-produced electric truck.”
Operating with a battery capacity between 20-80% is considered optimal as it allows a safe margin for any unforeseen events while also helping to preserve the battery lifetime. The battery should not be fully charged if standing still for long periods of time to avoid unnecessary wear, however it is recommended that they are fully charged before a transport assignment as this will have a neglectable impact.
Erikssons Åkeri is enthusiastic about continuing to invest and expand its electric fleet. Currently, it is participating in a pilot where electric trucks are being used on one of its regular routes from Tomelilla, Sweden into Denmark and back again – a total distance of over 320 km roundtrip. There are still some challenges that will need to be overcome before adopting electric trucks on longer routes and Erikssons Åkeri stresses that it will come down to a number of factors outside of its control.
“We have to follow demand from our customers, and a lot also depends on the level of support from society as a whole,” says Christian Pedersen. “Right now, the cost of an electric truck is too high. Some customers are willing to pay more for electric transport but more needs to be done to bring the price down if it is to be competitive. And the range also needs to be longer before it is a viable option for many of our other routes.”
The good news is that current trends suggest both the costs and range are expected to improve. “It’s important to understand that a transition like this needs to be introduced segment-by-segment, market-by-market,” says Henrik Engdahl, Business Development Director, Volvo Trucks. “What Erikssons Åkeri is doing now is pushing into the next frontier – regional transport – and if they’re successful, this will help us expand within this segment. As we do so, the volumes of electric trucks being produced will increase, which will improve the economies of scale and bring the cost down. With increased availability of public charging the versatility of the vehicles we produce today will also increase, thus enable them to operate in new segments.”
We’re still learning about their limitations and ranges, but on these routes, I think we’ve been quite successful in replacing the diesel trucks.
The charging infrastructure for heavy-duty electric trucks is forecasted to grow significantly over the next two years, with the market expected to double in Europe, and nearly triple in China. At the same time battery technology is continuously improving. “If we look at the progress we’ve made so far, in 2019 when we first launched an electric truck, it had a maximum of 200 kWh,” says Henrik. “The second generation had 264 kWh, and what we have today is now around 540 kWh. So essentially, we have doubled the vehicles’ range in just 3-4 years. Along with increased charging power, the limitations of electrical transport are being addressed.”
During the recent pilot programme to drive an electric truck from Sweden to Denmark and back, we followed one of Erikssons Åkeri’s drivers to find out: