When strategizing new initiatives and solutions to decarbonise transportation, brands need to analyse their logistics effort and identify spots in their journeys where it’s possible to optimise.

Today, fuelled by the push of customers’ conscious buying, carefully choosing which brands they are willing to give their money and fidelity to, this process is vital for businesses to stay afloat and flourish. One of the ways for companies to move their products while emitting less greenhouse gases has been decarbonising transportation via Electric Vehicles (EVs). With this in mind, in terms of transportation by truck, how can brands change their ways of doing business and achieve their decarbonisation targets? How mature is electrification when it comes to trucking transportation? Where is a good starting point?

The status of EVs and EV trucks

Businesses across the world wish to ship their products at reduced emissions through renewable energy. Among the choices, is the use of EVs using renewable electricity to ensure minimal carbon footprint on a Well-to-Wheel (WTW) basis. According to the 2023 Global EV Outlook by the International Energy Agency (IEA), “projected demand for electric cars in major car markets will have profound implications on energy markets and climate goals in the current policy environment”. Over the past decade, there has been an exponential increase in the global market share of electric vehicles, and this trend is expected to continue. Global EV sales continued as expected at the beginning of 2023 with EV Volumes reporting that EV shares “continued to increase in most markets”, and with the US EV market still going strong in 2024. Moreover, given the latest investments the automotive industry has witnessed by governments and investors alike, “EV sales growth can also be attributed to stimulus measures introduced by many European governments, various tax benefits and subsidies put in place in major markets” says Virta, a global pioneer in developing smart electric vehicle charging services, in their 2024 Global Electric Vehicle Market Overview.

Decarbonising trucking transportation

The above-mentioned developments with EV cars are indirectly influencing similar trends for heavy and medium-duty trucking transportation. According to McKinsey, “road freight now accounts for 53 percent of CO2 emissions within global trade-related transport, and this share is expected to rise to 56 percent by 2050 if current trends continue”. For the portion of the supply chain done via road transports, brands are now looking into the opportunity of decarbonising using electric trucking. “The commercial vehicle stock is also seeing increasing electrification” said the IEA in their 2023 outlook summary, adding that “in 2022, nearly 66000 electric buses and 60000 medium- and heavy-duty trucks were sold worldwide, representing about 4.5% of all bus sales and 1.2% of truck sales”. Companies wish to have clarity and visibility on what their logistic providers are doing in this area, what long-term initiatives are planned, and if they are backed with the use of trustworthy certifications.

To support the reach of environmental targets and decarbonisation strategy, today electric transportation can be achieved for heavy-duty trucking near the ports. Just a few years ago, this option wasn’t even available but now, thanks to the momentum that electric transport is having, the market is starting to fill with competition and growth. A great example can be found with Mercedes-Benz Trucks announcing the launch of their new generation all-electric long-haul truck in 2023, the eActros 600, that “can cover a range of 500 km without recharging” and “with its megawatt charging system, can charge from 20% to 80% in around 30 minutes”. Today, buying an electrical car (from a total cost of ownership perspective) is a better business decision than buying a diesel or petrol car. The expectation is to see this happening for trucks as well. “This revolution is close. It’s brewing” says Kenny Kristensen, Global Head of Energy Transition and Execution for Landside Transportation at Maersk, adding “for that to happen there needs to be more innovation and competition in the market. The questions are no longer “can it be done?” “Is it possible?” but rather “How fast can it be expanded? When is the full market tipping point, the scale of infrastructure and the investments?”.

The challenges of decarbonising electric trucks transportation

The conversation around decarbonising trucking transportation is a practical one. It is very important to acknowledge its current limitations on technology and range. Due to the lack of infrastructure, decarbonised inland transportation might still be a challenge operationally. Currently, one of the biggest barriers to its enablement is the lack of charging infrastructure. Scalability in the transformation of energy and recharging is a big challenge, so there needs to be an operational match, supported by a certainty of infrastructure, and that means establishing a new network almost completely.

Practically, there are many considerations that need to be made when assessing the average distance of transportation. Every business will have to think of possible challenges such as if a truck would get stuck in traffic, or if range would get affected by a particular heavy load, and how in turn this would change the distances from recharging stations. For companies and logistics providers, how can it be possible to find the balance point where the driver’s natural breaks coincide with a potential need to charge so that all operations fit together in a flow? For governments and institutions, how is it possible to support connectivity to the grid, seeing re-active investments in grid upgrades to support the electrification of road freight in time with the Paris Agreement’s goal? These are issues that need commitment and collaboration to be solved.

trucking transportation

Future ambitions and solutions for decarbonising trucking transportation

Once the technology is established, and policymakers follow along with end-to-end fossil legislation and facilitation, logistics providers can enable decarbonised trucking transportation, based on the needs of the companies they serve. One of the things that can help that operational match is rail. Logistics providers can support decarbonising transportation with a combined rail and trucking approach. Working with inland depots to see if there is a way for charging locally, allowing to go further by combining electrical trucking capabilities with rail. Moreover, better-charging infrastructure will increase range. In this way, for example, cargo could flow from Spain to Denmark - charging every 4.5 hours along the road – making selected areas real treasure troves of opportunity.

The time is now

Large companies, retailers for instance, have their own fleet of electric trucks that bring cargo from distribution centres to their stores, or from their stores to their end customers. What logistics providers can help with is first mile, from a port to a warehouse/collection hub. With more trucking companies starting to play, the game will get faster and more successful. The idea is that soon enough, all Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) will join in decarbonising transportation, bringing healthy competition which in turn will drive down costs and raise scale. “The effort in decarbonising inland transportation needs to grow. This is a change that needs to happen on a larger scale, and that can be achieved only through strong partnerships between providers and businesses” says Gabriela Romero Padron, Product Owner - ECO Delivery Inland at Maersk. Even if the time to get a fully functioning fleet is long, contracts are already starting to be established with a multi-year commitment and guaranteed volumes, creating confidence across the ecosystem to make such a shift.

The time is now. This needs to be an industry movement, so it is very important for brands to have discussions with their suppliers about decarbonising transportation. “Logistics providers should have very practical conversations with their customers on how to collaborate on charging infrastructure and collaborate to find innovative solutions to new problems in this space” says Anders Woggsborg, Senior Customer Sustainability Partner at Maersk. In conclusion, brands need to start having conversations with their logistics partners and be ready as potential requesters to their suppliers to make their needs known so that the ball starts rolling, and change can take over.

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