Freight transport by road has developed rapidly in recent years – driven both by efforts to protect the climate and the fact that fossil fuels are finite, the logistics industry is increasingly focusing on the topic of e-mobility. The Rhenus Group has been actively shaping this change for several years now. Not only does Rhenus have one of the largest fleets of e-trucks, the company also works closely with manufacturers on practical tests of alternatively powered vehicles.
Whether electric trucks, participation in test track projects for trolley trucks, vehicles with LNG or CNG drives: one person who knows all about this is Sascha Hähnke. In the podcast ‘Logistics People Talk’, he reports in detail on his experiences with various drives, their advantages and disadvantages for green logistics and the suitability of different drive types for different transport routes and types of transport.
Sascha Hähnke, Managing Director of Rhenus Transport, on the practical use of alternative drives – such as LNG, hydrogen and electric motors – and the necessary framework conditions for the further development of e-mobility in road transport.
Note: This podcast is currently only available in German.
In the second part of the interview, Sascha Hähnke talks about the necessary framework conditions for the future development of alternatively powered trucks. "When the transition from diesel engines to alternative drives comes, we as a logistics service provider must take on a pioneering role, because we are also testing and perfecting the use of the new technology for our logistics partners," says Hähnke. The future of road transport, he is certain, is electric - which may also permanently change driving behaviour on the motorways.
Sascha Hähnke, Managing Director of Rhenus Transport, gives his assessment of the further development of alternative drives in road transport and describes the road of the future as well as the accompanying sustainable change in driving behaviour.
Note: This podcast is currently only available in German.
Gwendolyn Dünner: Logistics People Talk – the official Rhenus podcast for all those who want the latest news from the world of logistics, presented by Andrea Goretzki and Gwen Dünner. Our guest today is Sascha Hähnke, the Managing Director of Rhenus Transport. Our topic is electro-mobility and alternative drive systems for road transport.
Andrea Goretzki: Hello and a warm welcome to Logistics People Talk, the Rhenus Group’s podcast. My name is Andrea Goretzki and my fantastic colleague, Gwendolyn Dünner, is sitting next to me at the microphone. We would like to give a special welcome to our studio guest today, Sascha Hähnke, the Managing Director of Rhenus Transport. Despite the complicated conditions caused by Covid-19, he has been able to join us today to give us a glimpse into the world of alternative drive systems and reveal to us the current status of developments and what Rhenus is already doing in this field as one of the leading logistics specialists. Hello, Mr Hähnke, a warm welcome to you and thank you very much for being with us today.
Sascha Hähnke: Hello and good morning! Thank you very much for inviting me – this is finally an appointment that I can attend in person, even if the conditions are complicated. We’re sitting far away from each other, but it’s good to be back in Holzwickede again; I haven’t spent much time here this year because of Covid-19.
Andrea Goretzki: We’re delighted to see you! Before we launch into our main topic, we’d like to get to know you a bit better and get you warmed you up for our conversation. We’d like to ask you some “either/or” questions that you can just spontaneously answer in line with your gut feeling. Are you ready to join in?
Sascha Hähnke: It would have been nice if I’d had them in advance, but I’ll have a go!
Andrea Goretzki: But then the answers wouldn’t have been spontaneous! OK, we’ll get started: pasta or pizza?
Sascha Hähnke: Pasta.
Andrea Goretzki: Mountains or the beach?
Sascha Hähnke: The beach.
Andrea Goretzki: Aston Martin or Porsche?
Sascha Hähnke: Porsche.
Gwendolyn Dünner: Of course!
Andreas Goretzki: Beer or wine?
Sascha Hähnke: Depends on the situation – but I prefer wine.
Andrea Goretzki: OK. Dog or cat?
Sascha Hähnke: Neither nor, we don’t have a pet, really, but if so, then a dog.
Andrea Goretzki: OK. Cruise or road trip?
Sascha Hähnke: Road trip.
Andrea Goretzki: Burger or sausage?
Sascha Hähnke: Sausage.
Andrea Goretzki: Jazz or rock?
Sascha Hähnke: Rock.
Andrea Goretzki: Sweet or savoury?
Sascha Hähnke: Savoury.
Andrea Goretzki: Letter or e-mail?
Sascha Hähnke: E-mail.
Andrea Goretzki: Great, thank you very much! I’m really happy that you just said road trip, because that makes it easier for me to make the transition.
Gwendolyn Dünner: As if it had all been planned.
Andrea Goretzki: As if it had all been planned, exactly. If you hadn’t responded like that, everything else would have surprised us too. Ultimately, your career focuses on ensuring that flows of goods are transported along our roads. Tell us some more You’ve held various positions at Rhenus since 2004. That means 16 years, which is quite a long time. Can you tell us a bit about how your career has developed and has connected you to Rhenus since that time?
Sascha Hähnke: Yes, I had a classic apprenticeship as a freight forwarding sales clerk and moved from a small family business to a large one. What really connects me with Rhenus is the family element, for example. That’s my spontaneous answer, anyway. Admittedly, this is becoming increasingly difficult because of the size that we now have, but I rather believe that it’s our task to pass it on to new colleagues or when we’re making acquisitions. I still like these short decision-making paths or, to put it another way, I can’t stand these large hierarchies and long decision-making procedures. I was forced to experience this back then at my apprenticeship company and it was then clear to me that I didn’t like that system. That’s why I joined Rhenus in 2004. I was initially able to take on responsibility at Rhenus Fehring, a waste wood logistics company, and then the oversight of the Road division was added to this a relatively short time later. What still connects me to it? Continuity is the word that occurs to me – I’ve been here 16 years – and you, Ms Goretzki, for 9 years.
Andrea Goretzki: Yes, that’s true. (laughs)
Sascha Hähnke: No, joking aside, we shouldn’t have to permanently get used to a new financial manager, for example. Christian Ruppert is a reliable, long-standing partner. I’ve had this continuity in my two management colleagues, Thomas Maassen and Dirk Gemmer, right from 2004 and we know how we function. We know exactly how the other one will react – we respond to each other respectfully and that’s also part of continuity that I have partners alongside me at management level who are totally reliable and great experts in their field. What else do we have? The third point, which impresses me again and again, is when we read something, perhaps in material that you send out, that we have a wide range of products. This product variety is amazing for me each time that I hear about it. We conduct management training sessions and I learn something new every time about the new services that Rhenus can actually provide in this or that country. As an outsider, you might think that they can’t do anything properly if they’re rushing around so much – then they’re not specialists or experts. We, and I mean my management team in the Road division, locked ourselves away over a weekend about two or three years ago in order to draw up our strategy and tried to formulate it. One colleague hit the nail on the head when he compared us to athletes performing in the decathlon and asked, “Are we actually a multi-discipline business?” I then said, “No, we’re not, because a decathlete cannot do anything really well, but can just do a lot fairly well.” “Are we ten individual fighters?” “We’re not that either, because we wouldn’t spend our time watching what’s going on our left and on our right.” We’ve now combined the shipping, rail and trucks operations under the management of the Transport company – of course, we’re keeping our eyes open and are not egoists. So we said that we’re ten specialists, who are performing the decathlon together and I believe that this is our recipe for success. This is the way to accommodate our variety of products. They’re the three things that spontaneously occur to me about Rhenus, if colleagues, friends, family or acquaintances ask me about the company.
Gwendolyn Dünner: And while we're just talking about continuity and the new topics: it’s not just about continuing to do things as we did in the past, but that we continue to develop and keep our eye on what is going on outside the company too. Goods traffic by road has undergone rapid developments during the last few years, naturally driven by the efforts to protect our climate and the fact that fossil fuels are finite. You’ve already spoken in the media in various interviews about the fact that the Rhenus Group is helping to shape this change and is testing various alternative drive systems for trucks. Can you give us a brief summary: what have we already managed to achieve at Rhenus?
Sascha Hähnke: We've actually been at it for quite a long time. When I joined the company 16 years ago, we were already using biodiesel for transport services and were tweaking this and that and testing the first vehicles too; it was a lot of fun. Our colleagues from Saria have their own biodiesel refineries, so we filled up the vehicles with our own fuel, so to speak. Without becoming too technical, there was a particular quality that you simply could no longer have in the pipes in winter because the fuel flocculates otherwise. What I’m telling you is no joke. The trucks had a so-called two-tank strategy: the driver set off using normal fuel. When the engine was warm and the pipes had been thoroughly rinsed, he switched the lever at some stage and carried on travelling on biodiesel – it’s known as fatty acid methyl ester and is made from waste food et cetera – but he had to stop using this again shortly before parking the vehicle and switch the lever on the tank back again so that the pipes would be flushed with normal diesel fuel once more. During the next stage of innovations, we had a button in the vehicle, so that the driver no longer needed to get out. We were already doing this at the beginning of 2000. Remondis, our affiliated company, used this on a large scale in its vehicles. Then there were tax issues related to biodiesel. All of a sudden it was viewed in exactly the same way as normal diesel. At some stage, that was no longer interesting and that’s the way things continued: we were operating our first hybrid Mercedes Artego truck in 2011. It was actually the first hybrid truck in the world. There were 50 of them and we had number 1 of 50 and then tested the first hybrid truck for three years. Rhenus Home Delivery then continued with the Fuso eCanter – they were small vehicles from a Mercedes subsidiary in Japan – and did so for several years too. Then the whole thing picked up speed. It's now become such an exciting time. I’ve just appointed a young assistant, who will start working for me on 1 April. I talked to him for a long time and said, “If you'd come to me six years ago, we’d have been talking about the switch from euro 5 to euro 6 diesels or other such boring topics. The manufacturers didn't need us in order to develop their technology. I don't need a freight forwarder to develop a diesel engine and I don't need to ask any customer. They simply got on with it and we bought it just as it was. You’re now arriving during a phase that’s simply really exciting.” So what's happening at the moment, we're talking about gas, about CNG and LNG vehicles and then the fossil component or even biofuel. Where are the raw materials for this and the resources? We’re now operating electric vehicles powered by batteries and another hybrid model: a vehicle operating from overhead cables. There are so many possibilities that we’re testing. We’re using HVO at a Dutch Rhenus company, that’s a different kind of biodiesel. So biodiesel hasn’t actually died out yet.
Gwendolyn Dünner: You’ve already mentioned the truck operating from overhead cables. Rhenus is already testing this kind of truck: i.e. a truck, which both has a diesel engine, but can also be operated electrically from a battery. The truck then connects with the overhead cables, which run above the roadway, just like a tram on particular test routes. We've already discovered from our research that these vehicles will no longer have a diesel drive system at a later stage, but operate on nothing but electricity. What happens then on routes that are not equipped with overhead cables from one end to the other? What still needs to be done so that this system can be established?
Sascha Hähnke: Well, first of all a great deal of money needs to be spent; that’s the basic prerequisite.
Gwendolyn Dünner: As is usually the case. (laughs)
Sascha Hähnke: No, we've not yet actually reached that stage. Several people have a critical view of this system. There are people who say, ‘We’ve already got something like this. It's called the railway and operates on rails.’ We're still a long way from saying that we want the complete German motorway network to be equipped with overhead cables – at least those of us at Rhenus. The first thing that we need to say is that these vehicles have a diesel engine at the moment and an electric motor. They have a tank for diesel fuel and a battery for the electricity. Yes, and we said, we'll get involved in this test. There are three test routes. We’re involved on the A5, near Darmstadt, Frankfurt. The second one is in Lübeck, somewhere up north on the A1, and there's one on a main road in Baden-Württemberg. We've said that we'll get involved because we simply want to see whether it's possible to charge this kind of vehicle in transit so that we can then use the battery for electrical operations in a city centre, i.e. on the outskirts of Frankfurt or the outskirts of Hamburg. These plans, which are also doing the rounds in the media and which the German government would like to adopt – and we’re in close contact with the Transport Ministry – actually go as far as wanting to expand the network of overhead cables and, secondly, to no longer allow vehicles to travel under them using their diesel engine, but really have battery-powered electric vehicles, which are then charged from the overhead cables.
Andrea Goretzki: Will they then only be charged using overhead cables or are there, for example, any other concepts to enable them to be charged when travelling downhill too? Is that possible?
Sascha Hähnke: Yes, there are various ways of charging an electric motor. I can simply plug it into a socket and then it charges overnight. However, that takes a fairly long time. There are faster ways of doing it. There is the system via the overhead cables. It’s also possible to use brakes, recuperating the energy. We actually have a colleague - I can name him – Hein Kerstgens, who recently took his hybrid BMW to a garage and they actually expressed doubts about the wear and tear on his brakes, because he no longer uses his brakes. He no longer slows down using the brake pedal and therefore hardly has any wear and tear on the brake pads, but he actually takes his foot off the accelerator and then recharges the battery through the resistance in the motor – without wanting to become too technical at this time. There are different always. The ideal solution is naturally to have various charging facilities in the car. You've just asked the question, “What happens actually when the driver is no longer moving under the overhead cables?” The battery packages need to be larger, but you’re absolutely right, it must be possible to charge the vehicle away from the motorway and away from the overhead cables, otherwise the whole thing doesn't make any sense. However, I want to repeat what I said, we first want to tweak things here and there and ask, “Is it possible during travel? And how do we get into a city with it? I can't see 8,000 kilometres of overhead cables yet and even, if there were, it needs to be tackled at a European level and at least involve all of Germany’s neighbouring countries; otherwise it makes no sense for the manufacturers or for users in Germany.
Andrea Goretzki: Let’s now move away from trucks with overhead cables to electric trucks and talk about them: the Rhenus Group has been operating Europe's largest electrically-powered 40-tonne truck fleet since last year. What kind of experience have you gained so far? How have the candidates performed so far in this practical test?
Sascha Hähnke: Yes, it's exciting and it sounds great, having Europe's largest fleet. We’re naturally accustomed to different numbers of vehicles when we use the term ‘fleet’. The exciting thing about this topic is that there are no major OEMs, no major, established European manufacturers, that are constructing these vehicles. So what have we done? We wanted to launch out, despite this. We found some companies – they’d perhaps be called start-ups in the IT scene – and they're actually doing nothing but buying a diesel truck, removing the diesel engine and the gearbox and electrifying them, i.e. inserting an electric motor and batteries. They are small companies that are building 30, 40 or 50 trucks a year. We’re even working with two Swiss manufacturers: one of them is taking apart a Volvo vehicle, the other one an Iveco. We have two vehicles from DAF VDL, which is a Dutch manufacturer that has very cleverly joined forces with a bus manufacturer in Holland. VDL has been manufacturing electric buses for 20, 30 years and then the truck manufacturer said, “Hey, let's do something together.” We’re also operating a Mercedes e-Actros vehicle. And if I'm going to compare all these vehicles, hybrid vehicles are electric trucks too – people need to realise that. We need to be a bit careful with the term electric vehicle: a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle and a vehicle powered by an electric battery is an electric vehicle. A hybrid vehicle is electric too. So who actually has the letter E at the end of his or her car registration? If we mention the letter E, everybody immediately thinks of a battery-powered electric car, but a hybrid vehicle is also an electric car. None of these cars has particularly stood out from the rest, neither positively nor negatively. They’re prototypes, even the Mercedes e-Actros. It's not a vehicle that I can buy. It's only made available by Mercedes for a test phase. These vehicles have days when they cannot be used, everybody needs to be aware of that, and sometimes they don't function for weeks; we've experienced that too. The communications between the charging point and the vehicle is another issue; if the vehicle was charged, it operated fantastically, but communications then broke down sometimes – that was a technical, electronic problem. You need to be aware of this whenever you conduct these kinds of tests or if you launch out along this pathway, as we’re doing. Despite this, we’re motivating all our colleagues and saying, “Don't be deterred, but carry on despite the problems. Get involved in these tests – we need to do this.” If the German or European OEMs, the manufacturers, cannot make available any series production vehicles - or don’t yet have them available - we believe that we cannot simply sit back and relax for three or four years and do nothing during this time.
It's really stupid doesn't it00:16:38
Andrea Goretzki: Where exactly are the vehicles being tested at the moment and how are they actually being used? They’re probably not suitable for each route, each setting or each load?
Sascha Hähnke: Precisely, the operating range is fairly small, depending on the size of the battery. There are always formulas to determine that, you know. We asked the first manufacturers, “How much does the thing weigh and what kind of an operating range does it have and how expensive is it?” They said, “That depends.”
Gwendolyn Dünner: Oh, great!
Sascha Hähnke: In fact, a large operating range means a large battery. The battery is very expensive and is extremely heavy. So you have to look to see where you can use the vehicle in the right way. We're doing that in conjunction with Contargo. Established European manufacturers told us two years ago, “There’s not a market for 40-tonne articulated lorries, because their operating range is much too low.” They’d not considered at all that we also have a great deal of container traffic heading for destinations further inland, not just at Contargo and at Rhenus, but from every terminal, so to speak. And these trucks travel short distances and a battery-powered truck is ideal for this, for example. The DAF has an operating range of just over 100 kilometres, while the Swiss vehicles can handle 200 and we just need to look to see what's the right way to use them. However, we actually cope with these short, relatively short operating ranges for these terminal services to destinations further inland.
Andrea Goretzki: Yes, but that also means that you must have the relevant infrastructure in place for deployment, that is to say, you have to basically plan your trips in such a way that you can keep to the relevant charging times in between and you must also have the opportunity of actually being able to charge them locally.
Sascha Hähnke: Yes, both of the questions that you ask are exciting; this is what you might call the next stage of development that we’re now undergoing. During the early phase, we charged the vehicles overnight and managed to cope with this daily operating range of 200 kilometres. The scheduling department at Contargo needs to make sure that the containers are light and don’t need to travel that far, but the vehicles themselves aren’t a disruption factor. What we're hearing from Contargo is that each of the drivers wants to be involved. That's exciting, the drivers want to drive them and the schedulers are enthusiastic too. They're not saying, “Oh no, not another electric truck, I must just make sure that I don't have to travel too far” or something like that; that is the first stage. The second one actually involves interim charging: we believe that we don’t need to fully charge each vehicle each time. I’d like to give you an example. I always like to illustrate this by using the example of Duisburg; this kind of vehicle has covered 60 or 100 kilometres and I know where the next trip is heading to and how far away it is – let’s say, from Duisburg to Oberhausen or something like that. I can charge the vehicle for 20 minutes while the driver goes into the office, picks up his papers, or perhaps has a drink. That's enough for this short distance, if the charging point knows where the trip is heading to. That is to say, we need an IT solution between the scheduling tool and the charging point. If the driver comes and connects things up with the plug, the charging point must say, “Hey, I know you want to go to Essen. I'll charge you for 27 minutes, actually just 20, and the seven are a reserve in case you get caught up in a traffic jam.” What I want to say by this is that I don't have to fully charge the vehicle or the battery every time with a huge amount of energy.
Andrea Goretzki: In the end, this means that this is a very practical solution that can be used for daily business operations and not just for test runs?
Sascha Hähnke: Indeed, we’d be delighted if there were affordable series production vehicles that were available. People sniggered at us at bit at the beginning, market rivals and major manufacturers too. I think one major manufacturer once said to me, “You’re working with bodgers. They only make 30 vehicles a year.” I then replied, “Yes, but that’s 30 more than you do!” It was obvious that some people would laugh at us. We received many questions, but the tables have turned very quickly. Colleagues have got in touch and said, “Hey, tell me something about these vehicles, about these manufacturers, how do you do it? Pass on some of your experience.” We've now moved a long way away from being ridiculed at the beginning. There is a certain justification for these vehicles – each alternative drive system has this, in my view, if it can be used in the right field. And fortunately we have this within the Rhenus Group. We can map everything, even local traffic with heavy commercial vehicles. This kind of vehicle is naturally not suitable for long distances involving 400, 500 or 600 kilometres. Hydrogen trucks will probably come at some stage. There are Hyundai vehicles operating in Switzerland. There are also companies that are simply doing it. But we believe that there is some justification for each alternative drive system.
Andrea Goretzki: If we’re talking about electric trucks, battery-powered electric trucks, it’s clear that they save CO2 in the long term. What we should perhaps also talk about is the fact that they’re environmentally-friendly because they save CO2 emissions, but they have batteries in them. This is definitely a topic that we need to talk about. When preparing for our discussions, I found a quotation from the President of the German Federal Environment Agency dating back to 1991, who said at that time, “We need to conduct an extensive environmental compatibility assessment from the cradle to the grave before any further introduction of battery-powered electric vehicles.” The batteries themselves create enormous challenges for companies, both in terms of their production but also later, when they’re no longer needed. Do we have a plan or an opinion on this?
Gwendolyn Dünner: Or a concept?
Andrea Goretzki: A concept? Exactly.
Sascha Hähnke: Yes, of course. Our affiliated company, Remondis, has a battery recycling centre at Lünen. So we have an idea – which perhaps separates us apart from our market rivals, admittedly through our affiliated company – about what happens to these batteries in their second life and how they can be recycled. If the batteries have some residual storage capacity, they still function to a certain degree. After being in service for eight years, they’re not simply completely dead. So what do you do with these batteries? We would use them as interim buffers, storage facilities, and once they’re completely finished, recycle them. Of course this is an issue. Making savings in terms of CO2 only stupidly occurs when the vehicle is on the move. The CO2 has been produced somewhere else, but we're still driving around the area with combustion engines. And to be honest, even the emissions classes for diesel need to be compared in exactly the same way. Whenever a euro 6 truck is travelling in a cleaner way on the road, there are fewer CO2 emissions. The vehicle has also been manufactured and the fuel is produced as a fossil element. But we actually have clear ideas of how we can handle batteries at a later stage through our affiliated company, Remondis.
Gwendolyn Dünner: The combustion engine is naturally still an alternative, as you’ve already said. And as a car driver, you know that a combustion engine is always powered by petrol or diesel or some other kind of fossil fuel. However, there’s also this new development that is being praised, promoted and announced in all the newspapers: the hydrogen combustion engine or hydrogen as an alternative drive system. There are also various methods for this. We've already done our homework on green hydrogen, grey hydrogen, all these kinds of things. In comparison to a diesel engine, an electric motor is naturally a very good drive system. But there’s this alternative with hydrogen. What are the advantages and disadvantages in comparison with diesel trucks? Are there any prospects for this? What’s already happening in this field?
Sascha Hähnke: Well, the advantage is clearly the greater operating range in comparison with battery-powered electric trucks. Remondis has some of these vehicles and our affiliated company, Transdev, too. We’re sharing a lot of ideas within the Group. I believe Transdev now has five or six buses in Holland and in France, which are powered by fuel cell hydrogen, for hydrogen is a hotly disputed and complex topic at this time. Then there are electric buses. Our colleagues at Remondis Holland are operating the first rubbish collection vehicle with a fuel cell hydrogen drive system. Our colleagues at Remondis Frankfurt are in the process of ordering these vehicles. So, we’re dividing things up a bit within the Group as to which company should be mainly examining and testing a particular drive system. The advantage, as I've said, is the operating range. Secondly, there is a disadvantage. An electric motor does not bother about where the electricity comes from – whether it comes from a fuel cell, from a battery, from a plug or from an overhead cable: it simply does its job. However, the topic of hydrogen is being assigned to different pigeon-holes. First of all, synthetic fuels are generally a topic for combustion engines, with gaseous or liquid hydrogen. This is an endless discussion and if we carry on like this, we’ll never get these vehicles on to the roads. I’m really impressed by the Swiss model – what one manufacturer has managed to set up with freight forwarders, customers and filling station operators – and they’re not even in the EU and are doing this on their own initiative in very different economic conditions. The plan is to get Hyundai 1,100, 1,200 trucks on to the roads. The first ones have already arrived and they simply say, “We’re now going to do it like this – with a fuel cell and here’s the filling station.” If we carry on discussing synthetic fuels or hydrogen as we've been doing, we’ll end up at some stage with the same problem as with mobile phone plugs – you always have the wrong charging device with you. What I want to say is that we don’t have one hen and one egg, we have several hens and several eggs. We’d then need three types of fuel station infrastructure – and right across Europe too. So we need to quickly agree on the use of hydrogen. Another disadvantage is that this will only work if we produce the hydrogen with green electricity using electrolysis. I have major doubts about where all the renewable energy is going to come from so that we have enough electricity available, because the industrial use of hydrogen is becoming an increasingly important topic too. The steel industry would like to produce steel with hydrogen in the very near future etc. There’ll therefore be a scramble for green hydrogen. And whenever there’s a scramble, the product is usually expensive. Hydrogen is already expensive. So they are the disadvantages.
Andrea Goretzki: And what is the current situation? Do we actually already have some concepts for manufacturing hydrogen or making available space for this within our Group?
Sascha Hähnke: There are a few exciting projects, but we’re still involved in the preparations for the project phase in the north on the coast with our colleagues at Rhenus Ports at seaport sites. We’re just in the process of analysing locations for a model region, which we’re looking for together with our affiliated companies within the Rethmann Group, where we can A) use the hydrogen for consumption purposes and B) manufacture it. There are various projects where we’re already heavily involved. We’re doing this for the second element, for example, as I’ve just explained: the model region is envisaged for mobility purposes. The projects on the coast are for industrial applications. We’re already experiencing this scramble or skirmish, which I mentioned earlier, this rivalry about who needs the hydrogen first and who can afford it first.
Gwendolyn Dünner: Did I hear you correctly when you say that a decision needs to be made for this one drive system or this one method, which can then be developed across the board – and that is what you want? Is that what you are demanding from the Transport Ministry, the decision-makers, that they start backing one drive system?
Sascha Hähnke: Absolutely. Perhaps we can briefly talk about gas, because it’s a good example from the last few years: we have it in gaseous and liquid form: LNG and CNG. Both were purely fossil fuels. There was no filling station infrastructure. We tested the first LNG truck in Duisburg and then I said to the manufacturer, “Where am I supposed to fill up? There’s no filling station here.” He replied, “In Venlo.” Then I said, “I’m definitely not doing a long empty run to obtain an alternative fuel.” Then he said, “Then, from a colleague.” It was a freight forwarder and we can name it – Havilog, refrigerated logistics, which does a lot of business for McDonald’s and we work closely with it too. It had a works filling station and allowed us to fill up there. So we had to ask a colleague whether we could fill up at its facility. That’s how it all started. We then had 20 filling stations in Germany and they all said that was far too few. Ten more LNG truck filling stations needed to be built. And I’m rather afraid that when it comes to the issue of hydrogen and if we get ourselves in a muddle and have two or three solutions, which means having two or three different types of filling station infrastructure, the whole thing will be a total flop again. Then we’ll just have small numbers again. So if we seriously want to roll out fleets on a large scale, we need to reach agreement on one or two drive systems for local traffic, for medium-distance traffic and for real long-distance traffic across Europe – otherwise nothing will happen. We now have the opportunity to fill up with bio-CNG in Cologne with our colleagues from Remondis and I mean physically – not via some kind of quota that I can buy from Denmark for straw or something. We can actually get it into the vehicles in physical form and then the issue of fossil fuel has been resolved. As far as LNG, i.e. liquid gas, is concerned, our LNG colleagues tell us that the next step also involves considering bio-LNG. Things are moving in the direction of getting away from fossil fuels in the field of gas too. But if we have two sorts of gas, which both switch to bio-fuels, CNG and LNG, we need to do the same with hydrogen and electric drive systems, but then leave it at that.
Gwendolyn Dünner: You’ve been listening to Logistics People Talk, the podcast from the Rhenus Group. We’ve been discussing the topics of electro-mobility in road transport and alternative drive systems for trucks during part one of the interview with Sascha Hähnke, the Managing Director of Rhenus Transport. We’ll discuss the issues in greater depth in the second part of our interview. You can look forward to more and please tune in again. Follow Rhenus Logistics on Facebook and LinkedIn. Thank you very much. Join us again soon and look after yourself. Best wishes from Andrea Goretzki and Gwen Dünner.
Gwen Dünner: Logistics People Talk – the official Rhenus podcast for everybody who wants to keep up-to-date in logistics matters, presented by Andrea Goretzki and Gwen Dünner. This is part two of our interview with Sascha Hähnke, the Managing Director of Rhenus Transport. The topic today is electric mobility and alternative drive systems for road transport. We talked about various types of drive systems and their advantages and disadvantages during the first part of the interview. At the end, Sascha Hähnke expressed his opinion about the general conditions that are needed to develop alternative drive systems. We want to now tackle the issue of how logistics specialists can use the different drive systems most efficiently in line with their specific properties in their everyday business.
Andrea Goretzki: If we can once again return to the subject of electric trucks, one question that emerges in this context is the matter of noise emissions. These trucks are much quieter than a normal, traditional 40-tonne diesel truck. When the driver starts up a diesel truck, everybody in the vicinity knows all about it! Things are very different with an electric truck. However, that means that misunderstandings and problems may arise in road traffic because people don’t hear them coming. What’s the situation here?
Sascha Hähnke: That’s also a topic that’s the subject of intense discussions. We’re not in favour of always having a negative view of things. We need to find solutions as we move forward and low noise levels provide enormous advantages. That’s my view. We need to see that we could continue deliveries at night in areas where large numbers of people live, for example, because they can’t hear these vehicles. We can resolve the problem associated with the risks in road traffic by using safety systems. Another very important point, which we still don’t understand to this day, is why brake assistant systems, particularly the turn assist system, have not been installed in vehicles as standard features for quite some time. It should be as normal as the anti-lock brakes or airbags in a car. We made it very clear to one manufacturer last year that it’s not the right approach to find the safety systems on the last page of its quotation and located between a particular spoiler and a special kind of seat and some type of air-conditioning unit. The law does not force manufacturers to do this. But it will come at some stage. There are interim solutions and the brake assistant will come at some time. However, we believe this is all taking place far too slowly. It should have happened a long time ago. If the law does not prescribe it, then it should be on page one of the quotation and the person ordering the truck then needs to be able to live with their conscience if they remove it from the list again, just to save EUR 200,000. But don’t list it on the last page at the bottom among the additional equipment. It must be part of each quotation and each person needs to have a clear conscience and say, “We’re having that. We’ve always equipped all the vehicles for long-distance operations with all the systems that are available.” Then it’s possible to solve the topic of noise anywhere using safety technology, for example.
Andrea Goretzki: Thank you very much. We’ve now talked about very different types of drive systems, most of which are actually being used by firms within the Rhenus Group or our affiliated companies. Perhaps you can tell us a bit more about this. Why is Rhenus actually doing this? What’s the ulterior motive or the aim of keeping so many options on the table instead of opting for one from the outset?
Sascha Hähnke: Because we‘re not yet certain which drive system will become the norm. We believe that there’ll be a colourful mixture of alternative drive systems. There’ll be some interim technologies. They’ll have disappeared in seven or eight years from now, but we need them at the present time. Gas is one example of this, particularly if it’s bio-gas. When gas disappears, hydrogen with a fuel cell will probably take over from it. We wanted to be involved in all these innovations from the beginning. We don’t think that we’ll experience a boom through Covid-19 after the EU’s Green Deal. The deadlines have been set and the goals are fairly clear. However, I always have a problem with any deal, because a deal really means an agreement with everybody. Ursula von der Leyen did not phone us at Rhenus or other freight forwarding colleagues either. But we have to back this deal. We’re not opposed to goals, even very ambitious ones. But it’s necessary to establish the right general conditions in terms of the fuelling infrastructure, for example, or reach agreement on which alternative drive system is envisaged for which types of assignments. As all of this is still unclear and we‘re also largely working with subcontractors – although I hate this term – they’re transport partners for us. They’re part of our logistics chain, which we either handle with our own vehicles or with partner firms. They’re normally fairly small companies, much smaller than we are. We can’t just simply transfer this risk to our transport partners. And if nobody knows where all this is leading…? There’s a whole host of complicated subsidy pots – and it’s almost impossible to find your way through the maze. Each ministry is paying out something, but there doesn’t seem to be any kind of coordination – and I’m not joking either. We’ve already discovered this a few times. And you can’t leave our partners to handle this risk. We need to adopt the role of a pioneer, when the time comes and then we gradually start to move away from the diesel engine. I recently said that it’s becoming obsolescent and I firmly believe this. No major manufacturer will now spend a huge amount of money on developing a Euro-7 standard. It’s a bit better than Euro-6 when it comes to emissions, but that won’t be enough to reach the climate goals. That’s why we need to be involved in all the projects so that we can offer the solution to our customers, which face the same tasks – whether we’re talking about industrial applications or making savings in CO2 in production – regardless of the route or the assignment or the drive system that we use. And that isn’t just a topic for trucks. We’re working on the shipping sector at the moment too. We’re considering a fuel cell for our inland waterway shipping operations. Or rather, we’re doing a bit more than just considering it. We actually have a project study. We want to make use of alternative drive systems in inland waterway shipping too. The topic is also relevant there, so the same applies. The subcontractors are called owner-operators and they have one or two vessels. But we can’t leave it to them either. We need to simply do something and tell them, “Listen, you can construct that type of vessel like this” or “You can obtain some subsidies for a truck” and we’ve gained some experience on the route and the assignment in question. That’s actually our intention. Admittedly, we naturally want to be one step ahead of the competition in terms of time. We want to be in a position where we’ve already made our mistakes. We already know what doesn’t work. We need to have no fear about tackling things critically. Then when things really get going, we’ll definitely know what we’re doing – and won’t be reading about it in some vehicle magazine or relying on what some salesperson from a manufacturer tells us.
Andrea Goretzki: You’ve already mentioned it a bit when you say, “We already know what doesn’t work.” Given all the different drive systems that we’ve now discussed together, what’s the drive system idea with the greatest potential for trucks in future, in your personal view?
Sascha Hähnke: Well, I actually believe in hydrogen and fuel cells and electric trucks beyond that. However – and I think I’ve already said it in a different context – we need to make sure that we’re using green hydrogen to produce it and we’ll simply need renewable energy sources for this. It then needs to be affordable. It’s a huge topic. It’s not just the cars that are much too expensive at this time. The electric trucks that we have are horrendously expensive. It’ll be just the same with the first hydrogen trucks, because the situation is similar. They’ll still have a battery, but only as a buffer, as a small storage unit. But the fuel cell also costs a horrendous amount of money. These cars will be expensive. Hydrogen at the moment is terribly pricey. It costs EUR 9.50 per kilo at this time. We’ll need to get used to this. I’ve driven a hydrogen truck and I’ve filled it up too, because I wanted to have the experience of doing so. By the way, it was also a Hyundai – not a European manufacturer. There are only two companies making these vehicles – Hyundai and Toyota, at least as normal production models. I’ve driven the vehicle, filled it up and you put in three kilos. It’s very strange. But if we come back to trucks again, there are no 40-tonne hydrogen trucks available at this time – not yet. The Swiss vehicles, the trucks made by Hyundai, are fairly heavy goods vehicles, but they’re not 40 tonners. They’ll probably need ten kilos for 100 kilometres. The initial figures suggest this. That is to say, fuel costs of EUR 95 per 100 kilometres. A diesel truck, depending on its assignment and weight etc., incurs costs of EUR 30 per 100 kilometres in contrast to EUR 95. So the fuel is too expensive, there are no filling stations, the price of the vehicles is too high and none of them exist yet. Despite all this, we’re optimistic and say that they’ll catch on somehow.
Gwen Dünner: Let’s stay positive!
Sascha Hähnke: Exactly! People laughed at us with our battery-electric trucks and they’ll probably do the same with the first hydrogen vehicles too. But we want to be one of the pioneers there too. I believe in it. Really – for long-distance motorway traffic. We can cope very well with the battery electric vehicles for short distances from the container terminals, as we’re doing at the moment.
Andrea Goretzki: Yes. However, we’ve still got a lot to do and quite a bit still needs to happen. Despite this, if we now come to your personal vision: what do you think? What will our roads look like in ten years from now?
Sascha Hähnke: Definitely not the same as they are today. We have cars and trucks on the roads. They’ve always been conflicting topics. Cars are emotional. But we said that a truck doesn’t need to look good. It has to be functional and have plenty of excellent technology. But emotions themselves don’t play such a great role, even for truck drivers, compared to car drivers. There are hardly any real, serious electric cars at this time. If you look at electric vehicles nowadays, they look like diesel cars. There’s a 5-series BMW or a Smart. It’s been electrified, but the car just doesn’t have an engine in it and batteries are located in the boot. We need to just consider this for a moment. The only company that’s making real electric cars is Tesla. The Chancellor said a few years ago that she hoped that we’d have one million electric cars on the road by 2020. We’ve now reached a figure of 250,000. That is to say, we’ve not yet fully reached our goal. Of course, you can compare that again in terms of a glass that is half-full or half-empty. Why are there only 250,000 and not one million? And why have we at least managed to have 250,000? It’s because the topic as far as cars are concerned is really emotional – we’ll come to trucks in a minute. Tesla doesn’t have any customers, it has fans. It has fans on a large scale. That’s the reality. A Tesla costs EUR 60,000. The lights are crooked, there are spots of paint on the paintwork and the gaps on the engine bonnet are not straight. A vehicle like that wouldn’t even make it to a sales garage because of the quality control procedures at VW. And even if it was positioned there with a bunch of flowers, no German customers would buy it. Tesla people can live with that and say, “I‘ll get it resprayed” or “That’s not such a disaster and the lamp at the rear – we’ll get it fitted so that it’s straight.” What I want to say is that it’s a fan club and it’s unfortunately limited in size. That’s why we only have 250,000 cars. But who really buys a car like this for EUR 60,000? As far as the drive system is concerned, Tesla is a few years ahead of other manufacturers. They’re doing a great job. But they’re constructing a really bad car. And it’s unbelievably expensive, on top of that. What I want to say is that those who drive a car like this are almost environmental activists. The Renault Twizy is a vehicle that was only made for this purpose. It doesn’t have any heating, not even any side windows. You can buy click-in screens from some equipment supplier. It’s a real electric car. The other vehicles, which we all can see, are absolutely normal cars, just as we know them. If there wasn’t an “E” at the end of the number plate, we wouldn’t even know what they were. The picture will change. I’ve seen a few study vehicles. These cars will look completely different. They’ll be real electric cars, which will have a completely different shape too. We can’t afford the topic of fan clubs for trucks. Truck drivers don’t want a bad vehicle so that they have to say, “But it’s an electric one.” They aren’t environmental activists. They’re excited by alternative drive systems, but the vehicle needs to be a high-quality product and be safe. It has to be a great vehicle. That’s why our drivers are currently very happy with the trucks that we have, because they’re diesel trucks. Just as I said about cars. They’re diesel vehicles from various manufacturers, such as Volvo or Iveco, which have been electrified. That is to say, the workmanship is excellent. We just need to wait and see when the first manufacturers find acceptance with their vehicles. Nikola in America could become the Tesla of the truck world. I attended a presentation in Turin before Covid-19 and was able to look at the vehicle. It’s not a Tesla, but an Iveco. What they’re doing is pretty clever – it’s a cooperation arrangement. That is to say, they have a great European vehicle and will install a hydrogen fuel cell. It looks spacy: with its blue lights and spoilers at the front. It’s designed to stand out from the crowd. We’ll have to get used to these kinds of vehicles and their design will be completely different. And that will change the picture completely. We’ll have a different attitude. Cars against trucks again. We’ll use every opportunity to charge electric vehicles. That is to say, if you go shopping, you’ll plug the charger in somewhere for a short time. I’m sure that will happen in ten years’ time. And we’ll have to use the discharging and charging times for trucks. Even if we know that we only have 20 minutes at a customer’s premises, the infrastructure will be available so that we can connect and plug in somewhere. We’ll still have to obtain hydrogen from a filling station for an electric truck. So, the picture on the roads will change. I know that will mean electric charging. I’m still saying fuelling. Obtaining electricity, obtaining hydrogen. Not only will the visual picture change, but driving behaviour too. Perhaps we won’t need any speed limits any more, because everybody will want to save capacity in electric cars. I’ve not yet seen a Tesla travelling at 180 km/h on the left-hand lane of a motorway. They all travel at 130 km/h and the air conditioning is off and the mirrors are retracted so that they consume as little electricity as possible. But seriously, perhaps this will mean that our driving behaviour will be different in ten years from now, because everybody will have to look carefully because the operating range is very limited. However, we also need to understand what’s going on in urban areas too. If I actually only drive in a town and drive on holiday twice a year and have a Tesla, I don’t have an eco-friendly car. That’s rubbish. If I drive 30 kilometres every day, I don’t need a vehicle that carries around 800 kilos of batteries and has a range of 400 or 500 kilometres. That’s complete nonsense. Perhaps the whole concept of mobility will change. Maybe not in ten years from now, but we’ll need to look for precisely the appropriate application, just as we’re doing for trucks. I’ll need to ask myself how much I actually drive. If I drive on holiday twice a year, but perhaps only to the airport and not even as far as the North Sea? That raises the question of what kind of battery packages I actually need. Will they be available as modules? Can I drive a Golf – if it’s still called a Golf then? A small battery package or a large one? That’s what I believe will happen.
Andrea Goretzki: Will you let me ask one heretical question at the end?
Sascha Hähnke: Of course.
Andrea Goretzki: If there’s a real electric car alternative in ten years from now, Mr Hähnke, will you switch from your Porsche to an electric vehicle?
Sascha Hähnke: I repeatedly hear that when talking to friends. “You’re doing so much with alternative drive systems at the company – and in your private life?” Well, it’s a vintage car. I need to say that very clearly. It’s a very old vehicle and it has an H number plate in Germany and there’s definitely a clash here. But I believe the vintage car scene is small. People will put up with us and we won’t disturb things too much. The rainforest won’t die out because of a few classic vehicles. But it’s true, I do have an inner conflict here. That’s a fact.
Gwen Dünner: Mr Hähnke, thank you very much for your opinion. We’re really excited to see how things develop in this field. But I promise you, if I’m driving on a motorway ten years from now, I’ll definitely think back to our discussion today and I’m already wondering what kind of car I’ll be driving by then. So, thank you very much for being our guest today.
Sascha Hähnke: I’d like to thank you. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been the first candidate, as I’ve discovered. I can now call colleagues, who will be interviewed in the near future, and say, “They treat you fairly.” I had two questions that created a conflict for me. One was, “How does my vintage car fit in with alternative drive systems?” The second one was, “Beer or wine?” I had to think for a moment and you pushed me into a corner. No, joking aside, I wish you a great deal of success with this podcast that we’ve put together. I’m looking forward to hearing other colleagues and exciting stories. You’ve got some great subjects ahead of you in what you might call this general store with so many types of goods, as you might describe the Rhenus world. And thank you very much! I wish you every success!
Gwen Dünner: Thank you very much for listening and stay tuned. Take a look at our social media channels. That’s where we‘ll let you know when the next podcast goes live. Thank you very much. See you soon. Take good care of yourself. Best wishes from Gwen Dünner and Andrea Goretzki.
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