The reduction of emissions in urban areas becomes increasingly important in the combat against global warming (CO2) on the one hand and for the health of citizens (reduction of local air pollutants) on the other hand. A shift from conventional vehicles to electric vehicles is one option to reduce at least local emissions, i.e. tailpipe emissions. However, concerns about driving range, payload, lack of charging infrastructure or high purchase costs can hamper the introduction of electric commercial vehicles. The following sections exhibit some successful use cases with electric vehicles in urban commercial transport based on scientific studies and the experiences of the users.
Multiple co-funded projects by the European Union have been conducted since 2000, with the objective to identify potential early adopters of e-vehicles in commercial transport. A comprehensive overview on these projects and their results is given by Ehrler, Lobig and Rischke (2019). In the following, the most important ‘lessons learned’ from finalized European electric mobility projects in commercial applications are summarized.
One of the main questions that may arise is whether an electric vehicle is really suitable for the daily use in commercial transport or not. Various studies evaluated the tour patterns of companies by tracking single vehicles, conducting surveys among fleet managers and users or evaluating other available data sources. The results differ slightly between the investigated countries and the tour length depends strongly on the business sectors.
Klauenberg, Gruber, Frenzel, Zajicek & Kaplan (2014) give a general overview on different business sectors in Denmark and Austria: In Denmark 70% (in Austria 75%) of all surveyed tours have an average tour length up to 100 km. Similar results for Austria were obtained in a testing campaign with nine participating companies in Graz (Trummer & Hafner, 2016). An evaluation conducted in Lisbon showed that daily mileage did not change after the introduction of EVs. The average mileage per day is 60 km which is suitable for electric vehicles (Duarte, 2016). A very similar length for trips (57 km) was observed for over 900 trips in Bilbao, Spain and Lyon, France (Pluvinet, 2012).
However, these values are arithmetic averages, so it is possible that individual tours are longer than the range of electric vehicles. In this respect, the one-on-one exchange of conventional vehicles by electric vehicles is not accepted. A study in Graz, Austria (Trummer & Hafner, 2016) showed that 68 % of the tours could be carried out without problems. Only for 11 % of all tours the electric vehicles would not be suitable. Hence, a conventional vehicle or a hybrid vehicle must be kept available.
In summary, electric vehicles are already well suited for the use in urban commercial transport, since a daily mileage up to 120-150 km can be managed by the current battery capacity of electric vehicles.
In addition to the range, the concern about the charging time often plays an important role. But, real life tests proved that on average the driving range of the vehicle’s battery is sufficient for the daily tours in urban commercial transport.
E.g., a survey which interviewed 21 companies from various sectors in Graz, Austria (municipalities, gastronomy, trade of goods and crafts), shows that 75% of these companies had a rest period of six to 16 hours per day. During this period the vehicles are not used. Thus, the period is suitable to charge the EVs for about 5-10 hours per day, which is necessary to recharge electric vehicles up to 3.5 tons (Trummer & Hafner, 2016) according to the manufacturers’ specifications. This is also supported by the observations in Lisbon (Duarte, 2016), where an average charging duration of 6.2 hours and overnight charging was observed. The investigations also show that only 62% of the vehicles’ battery capacities have been consumed on their daily tours. Frenzel (2016) analyzed the use of commercial electric vehicles in Germany: 77% of the users charge the electric vehicle during the day between 3pm and 10pm – mainly at their own premises.
The purchase cost of electric vehicles is still higher than those of conventional vehicles. Still, the number of electric vehicles in the European Union is rising. What are the reasons for early adopters to use electric vehicles?
The motivation for electric vehicle usage was surveyed in several studies (Barisa, 2016; Klauenberg, Gruber, Frenzel, Zajicek & Kaplan, 2014; Ehrler, Lobig & Rischke, 2019; Rolim, 2014). The two main reasons for the use of EVs which are stated by the users are that these cars are environmental friendly and have a “green” reputation which is good for the image of the company. Another strong argument in these surveys is driving comfort as an advantage of electric vehicles.
As with any vehicle purchase and in particular for commercial applications, reliability is crucial. Several studies have shown that electric vehicles are already reliable in daily usage. A German study (Ehrler, Lobig & Rischke, 2019) exhibited that during the testing period there were hardly any vehicle failures. Additionally, the FREVUE project proved the reliability of electric vehicles since there was not a single technical failure during the testing period of about two years (Quak, 2016).
A quantitative survey in Germany with around 1,100 participants discovered that a large proportion of early adopters include electric vehicles in the existing vehicle fleet. 40% of the respondents stated that they exchanged a conventional vehicle for an electric vehicle one-on-one. A few respondents stated, that they have kept the conventional vehicle to have a backup in case the electric vehicles don’t suffice the transport tasks (Frenzel, 2016).
Ehrler, Lobig & Rischke (2019) conducted a survey asking early adopters about planning effort of tour planning integrating EVs into existing tours. The result shows that tour planning becomes more complex due to some driving range restrictions and the lack of charging infrastructure, which is currently not yet fully developed (Lobig & Ehrler, 2017).
Ahead of all Deutsche Post DHL introduces electric vans into their fleet of delivery vehicles. By acquiring StreetScooter in 2014 the company started producing its own vehicles. In February 2020 Deutsche Post DHL uses over 11,000 electric vans for last mile deliveries and over 12,000 e-bikes and e-trikes. Competitors like UPS, DPD, GLS and Hermes are also constantly implementing electric vans into their fleet.
Electric passenger cars are suitable for home care services, too. 90% of all nursing trips in Germany have an average tour length below 100 km (Klauenberg, Gruber, Frenzel, Zajicek, & Kaplan, 2014).
- the average daily length of tours do not exceed the range of current electric vehicles (around 150 km)
- tour duration enables charging times of several hours (preferred at evening or night time and at own premises)
- required payload meets payload of currently offered electric vehicles (3.5 tons to 12 tons maximum gross vehicle weight); Some European countries changed legislation, so electric vehicles can be operated up to 4.25 tons gross vehicle weight without a truck driver’s license
- trips can be mainly planned in advance and unexpected additional stops do not occur or are within the range of the e-vehicle
- Lobig, A., Ehrler, V.Ch. (2017) : E-Vehicles for urban logistics – Why is it not happening yet? Contribution to Interdisciplinary Conference on Production, Logistics and Traffic, Darmstadt
- Ehrler, V. Ch.; Lobig, A.; Rischke, D. (2019): E-Vehicles for urban logistics – Why is it not happening yet? – Requirements of an innovative and sustainable urban logistics concept. IN: Urban Freight Transport Systems. Elsevier 2019
- Frenzel (2016) The commercial early adopters of electric vehicles in Germany – a description of their trip patterns. In: Commercial Transport. Proceedings of the 2nd Interdisciplinary Conference on Production, Logistics and Traffic 2015, pages 115-128. Springer (2016)
- Klauenberg, J.; Gruber, J.; Frenzel, I.; Zajicek, J.; Kaplan, S. (2014): Needs, requirements and attidtudes of specific commercial sectors in Denmark, Austria and Germany with respect to the use of electric vehicles in commercial transport. European Electric Vehicle Congress. Brussels, Belguim, 3rd – 5th December 2014
- Trummer, W.; Hafner, N. (2016): Potentials of e-Mobility for Companies in Urban Areas. In: Commercial Transport. Proceedings of the 2nd Interdisciplinary Conference on Production, Logistics and Traffic 2015, pages 115-128. Springer (2016)
- Barisa, A. M. (2016). Introducing electric mobility in Latvian municipalities: results of a survey. Energy Procedia, 95.
- Duarte, G. C. (2016). How battery electric vehicles can contribute to sustainable urban logistics: A real-world application in Lisbon, Portugal. Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments 15, (S. 71-78).
- Pluvinet, P. J.-F. (2012). GPS data analysis for understanding urban goods movement. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences 39.
- Quak, H. N. (2016). Possibilities and barriers for using electric-powered vehicles in city logistics practice. Transportation Research Procedia 12, (S. 157-169).
- Rolim, C. C. (2014). Electric vehicle adopters in Lisbon: motivation, utilization patterns and environmental impacts. Lisboa: European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research, 14(3).