All the OEMs are working to develop pure electric trucks, but some are evidently at a more advanced stage than others. That is certainly the case of MAN, which on Friday, December 14 handed over a battery-operated TGM 4×2 tractor unit to Porsche.

Plated at 32 tonnes gross, the electric TGM will haul a tri-axle trailer containing parts for the forthcoming all-electric Porsche Taycan model from Porsche’s central warehousing site at Freiberg am Neckar to the factory at Stuttgart Zuffenhausen.

For MAN, supplying the very first operating electric HGV in Europe’s most important market is already a coup, and the association with a high-profile brand like Porsche is a very adroit move in terms of product placement.

Porsche is of course equally pleased to add to the green fanfare surrounding its first battery sports car by pointing out deliveries to its production line are by battery-powered truck.

Real-world application

The MAN, classed as an eTGM 18.360, is a low-fifth-wheel 4×2. With a 265 kW motor, the unit has a range of 130 km, and on the 20 km route to Freiberg is able to cover three return journeys from warehouse to factory on one charge.

Largely on dual carriageways, this route involves distinctly ‘real world’ conditions with several long grades and often dense or stop-start traffic.

A 45-minute charge replenishes the battery to 80 per cent and adds a further 100 km, and MAN is keen to point out this can be accomplished during the driver’s statutory break. Two-shift working is entirely practical, says MAN, and three shifts are feasible with some planning.

Driver training on the route started in late November. Reaction was very positive – and if, as anticipated, the drivers were initially rather too eager with the accelerator, invoking the torque limiter, they were quick to adjust their driving style.

The drivers all commented on the quietness of the cab environment and soon learned to use the substantial engine braking effect to their advantage. Indeed, MAN confidently predicts far lower brake wear than with diesel traction.

Cutting the (power) cord

MAN leases the truck to Porsche’s freight partner LGI logistics. The company says it is essential a third party takes full responsibility for operating the e-truck: it believes acceptance of e-trucks and their progress in the marketplace will be quicker if they are seen to be free of manufacturers’ apron strings.

An intensive data monitoring system was instigated with LGI from the outset and it is hoped that by Q2 2019, enough data will have been logged for LGI to justify the introduction of further electric vehicles in its fleet.

The site at Freiberg has chargers, and any maintenance will be carried out by MAN’s local dealer.

As the e-truck builds up miles, MAN will be keen to prove its running costs are significantly lower.
Besides reduced particulate pollution from brake materials and absence of diesel smoke, it claims the e-truck will save 30 tonnes of CO2 per annum.

Senior MAN engineer Felix Kybart says this is only a start. Even with its full complement of batteries the e-4×2 weighs only 8.5 tonnes, much the same as its diesel TGM sisters. “And that is with the standard differential,” he points out. “This is simply a production-line TGM reconfigured with a battery motor. So the cab, the chassis and basically the rest of the vehicle are standard – in other words, built for diesel operation.

“In the long term, once electric traction is established, we can redraw the truck around the battery which will produce a lighter, far more efficient design, and by then batteries are likely to be more effective.”

Kybart also throws out a challenge to the tyre manufacturers: “We are building a more efficient, almost silent truck where most of the noise generated now comes from the tyres. When are the tyre makers going to follow us?”

Ongoing trials

MAN’s Porsche initiative is obviously the development which has attracted the most attention, but in fact nine pure electric TGMs have been running in customer operation in Austria since September 2018.

This development, says Kybart, was almost accidental: MAN was approached at the Hannover IAA Show by a consortium of Austrian retailers interested in pioneering electric traction, among them such familiar names as Metro and Aldi.

The upshot was nine separate operators each took on an MAN e-truck. One of these was the 4×2 design used by LGI, and the others were all 26-tonne GVW 6x2s, though with three different body configurations: a regular box, a swap body and a refrigerated body.

Unlike the tractor, the rigids have a 1.2-tonne weight penalty over their diesel TGM equivalent, largely because of the fact they are carrying more batteries.

The trucks are working in three different cities, so all slightly different urban environments. One of the users is Magna, which builds the Jaguar e-Pace at Steyr and runs a parts delivery operation similar to that at Porsche.

A three-monthly review of progress of all nine vehicles scheduled for December 2018 was postponed because, says Kybart, “not enough had happened to have a meeting about!”

MAN Truck & Bus is hopeful of getting 50 more e-trucks into the market during the first half of 2019, and before then plans to have a full set of data on all aspects of day-to-day use and running costs.

It says it has pre-orders for over 300 e-trucks, with series production scheduled in 2020.