Good from experience
The history of electric vehicles stretches back more than 150 years. As early as 1839, the first electric vehicle was constructed by Robert Anderson in Aberdeen. The first German electric car was built by Coburg-based machine works A. Flocken in 1888. What many people do not know is that even Ferdinand Porsche’s first car was operated by electricity, while German Emperor Wilhelm II’s fleet of 15 cars included three electric cars. Especially at the turn of the century, electric cars had an extremely large presence on the roads. Their decline began from the decade of 1910. This was mainly due to the invention of the starter for petrol-fuelled engines, which made driving much more comfortable. Moreover, oil was very cheap in those days.
Rising petrol prices and the impact on the environment and climate pose the question of an alternative to the combustion engine – especially in the transport industry. According to the German Federal Statistical Office, approximately 30% of traffic-induced CO2 emissions are caused by lorries. So it is no wonder that CWS-boco, too, has thought about how to make driving more environmentally friendly. With its participation in the “ELMO – Elektromobile Urbane Wirtschaftsverkehre” (Electromobile Urban Commercial Traffic) research project, the company has taken on two electrically operated 7.5-tonners in its fleet. They were manufactured by the British company Smith Electric Vehicles. However, what are the exact differences from a traditional lorry?
In contrast to hybrid vehicles, Smith’s electric vehicles require no petrol at all. They are powered by a lithium-ion battery. The vehicles have up to three batteries: one to operate the engine, a starter battery and an extra battery for the electric tailgate. The capacity of the main battery is variable. The Newton model, which is being used by CWS-boco, drives with an 80 kilowatt battery. The battery is to last 10 years, in which time it can be charged up to 2,000 times. Every evening, the lorry must go to the socket, which was built in on the company site especially for this purpose. In six to eight hours, the vehicle is then ready for use again. And so that the CO2 balance can really be seen, CWS-boco has obtained electricity solely from renewable energies since the start of 2013.
The Newton’s small cab reminds one a little of an aeroplane. Searching for a gearstick here is in vain and even the handbrake is recognisable as such only at second glance. Instead there are joysticks in the centre console, red toggle switches and above the driver a monitor where the battery charge status is displayed. “The vehicle actually drives like an automatic vehicle,” driver Ingo Müller vom Berge tells me. “I have an accelerator pedal and a brake pedal and as soon as I release the brake, the lorry starts moving. Otherwise, the lorry is no different from others.”
According to the manufacturer, the lorry has a range of up to 120 kilometres. However, the performance is heavily dependent on external influences. Load weight, driving speed, uphill gradients on the route and ambient temperature impact on the range. “Now, in the winter, we stop after an average of 80 kilometres,” Ingo Müller vom Berge tells me from his daily experience. “I always make sure I drive energy-efficiently so that I can deliver to all customers on my round.” This means that Müller vom Berge rarely drives more than 35 km/h in urban areas, while even on motorways he reaches a maximum of 80 km/h. And not just that: similar to a hybrid car, the electric lorry also drives with braking-energy recuperation. This means that the battery charges up again a little bit more in each braking procedure. Up to 20 additional kilometres can be gained by driving in a corresponding manner. So, driving with an electric vehicle is something that has to be learned and requires the driver to think. Especially for this purpose, Smith offers its customers training that is designed to familiarise them with the peculiarities of an electric drive. Nevertheless, the vehicles are only suitable for users that always travel the same routes, since charging up in between is not possible.
The background noise
What probably differentiates an electrically-operated lorry most obviously from a traditional lorry is its noise volume. One notices this right from switching on the engine: a short “tick – tick – tick,” then a brief hum like when closing a metro door – that’s it. And in fact, not only in the passenger cell does one hear nothing, but also on the road the electric lorry is barely noticeable. “Because the vehicles are so extremely quiet, care must be taken in pedestrian zones in particular,” believes Ingo Müller vom Berge. “Artificial sounds really ought to be incorporated.” Especially at low speeds is the lorry barely audible, since then not even the sound of the wheels rolling can be heard.