“The first idea that comes to mind when they give you an electric truck is that you are going to get stuck in the middle of the road,” confesses Gonzalo Fernández, a 46-year-old professional driver, six of them as a truck driver. “But then you see that it is a joy, without noise or smoke”, he presumes. Electrification, which is advancing unstoppably in cars and vans, is still trickling into the largest vehicles, weighed down by a limited range (200 to 250 kilometers), which for now prevents them from competing on long routes with their diesel or gas counterparts. natural. According to the Directorate General of Traffic (DGT), in Spain there were only a hundred of them in 2021, although their number doubled in 2022 (236). Next Generation funds, which can finance up to a third of the price, anticipate exponential growth as manufacturers create new, more efficient models. We visited a supermarket in Asturias that has the largest private fleet in Spain.
Fernández’s day starts at six in the morning —other times he plays in the afternoon or at night— at the Alimerka logistics center in Lugo de Llanera. These Asturian supermarkets, which also extend their 170 stores to Galicia and Castilla y León, already have 21 zero-emission 26-ton trucks to deliver to stores located within a radius of no more than 80 kilometers —the furthest away in hybrid or LNG trucks. This commitment, which already reaches a quarter of their fleet, has earned them an award from the forum Sustainable Mobility Companies.
The trucker arrives at the office and asks for his route. “The normal thing is that on each trip we have to visit two stores,” he says. The first thing is to direct the truck to the loading dock and plug it in with an ultra-fast 150 kilowatt device (it takes about two hours). The time is used to carry out the rear loading of the box. Fernández goes to the huge warehouse, in the characteristic yellow color of the brand, and locates the row of pallets that he will have to put in the truck. One by one, he easily picks them up with an electric wheelbarrow and loads them into the box. “The normal thing in other logistics centers with many trucks is that it smells bad due to diesel, that there is smoke and stains on the floor. But it smells good here, ”he explains.
Then it’s time to get on the road. Climb into the cockpit and point to a small screen. “Here we look at the percentage of the recharge and when it is full we can leave.” Unplug the charging cable, climb back up, and put the key in the ignition. “Absolutely nothing is heard when you start, it seems that it is still stopped. But then you have enough reprise. The ride is smoother,” she points out. The truck, loaded with pallets of food, heads out of the warehouse. Take the first curve delicately, between the gray sky and the green mountains. First a highway, then another.
The screen shows that on the uphill the battery goes down a little faster. Instead, on the downhill the reload brake is used. “It is a lever that takes advantage of the truck’s inertia to recharge the battery,” he explains. “Electric trucks are still few, so they attract the attention of other truckers, they notice above all that they are very quiet”, he comments.
The numbers prove him right. According to the DGT, the fleet of trucks of more than 3.5 tons (below that figure are considered vans) in Spain as of January 1, 2023 is 2.45 million vehicles, of which around 95% are diesel, a highly polluting fossil fuel. The only 236 pure electric collected on the same date are still a drop in that ocean, but their growth will be exponential: according to data from the National Association of Vehicle Sellers (ganvam), in 2021 19 of these vehicles were registered, the following year there were 88, while in the first four months of 2023 there are already 62, with which the figures will be much higher.
“Electric vans of up to 3,500 kilos have been growing for last-mile delivery for a decade,” explains May López, spokesperson for Companies for Sustainable Mobility. “However, the market for pure electric trucks is very nascent. Now there is beginning to be more supply on the market, but it is still not as accessible as is required, neither economically nor in time, because there are vehicles that can take up to a year to deliver”, she continues. “It has other drawbacks, such as that they still do not have a wide autonomy, but many do not exceed 250 kilometers, and that its price is at least twice as expensive as a diesel. However, brands are investing heavily in innovation and we will certainly see more models in the coming years”, she adds.
RenaultFor example, it delivered its first 16-ton electric truck in 2020 and since then it has not stopped growing in Spain: 20 units of more than six tons registered in 2021 and 86 in 2022. “The decarbonization of transport is a revolution for our industry. Many companies have plans to transform their fleets and reduce their carbon footprint,” explains David López, from Renault Trucks Spain, by email. In his experience, these types of vehicles are purchased by “both large companies and municipalities committed to sustainability.”
Another of the big brands in the sector is Scania. “It is true that these trucks involve a higher initial investment, but then they allow very important long-term savings, because the operating costs are much lower compared to combustion vehicles,” says a spokeswoman. “They adapt very well to both urban distribution projects and municipal services, such as garbage collection.” In fact, Barcelona City Council received 17 electric trucks a few months ago to carry out urban cleaning tasks, which in the coming years will grow to 73. A path followed by other cities, as Valencia. Madrid still does not.
man, which has already delivered some of these vehicles in Spain, is testing an innovation that could change the market. “The Man eTruck will be available at the end of 2024 with a new charging standard that will allow it to offer a range of between 600 and 800 kilometers with just one intermediate charge, which will be suitable for long-distance heavy transport,” says a spokesperson. of the company.
While, Volta Trucks It proposes new models such as the Volta Zero, a fully electric 16-ton truck with a surprising design —with the cab at ground level and wide visibility to adapt to the urban environment—, for which they have already received 300 orders for this year. They also intend to offer these vehicles for rent for companies that want to decarbonize their fleet without having to make a large investment. The Spanish QEV Tech, for its part, has begun to design its first electric trucks in Barcelona —working with other companies to create models for waste collection, public lighting or food logistics— and has even signed the sale of a thousand units for the sector logistics in Mexico, while working on approvals in Europe.
All these —and other— options are beginning to arrive, little by little, to companies. “We have just incorporated 15 100% electric Volvo trucks that can carry up to 44 tons, with a range of up to 300 kilometers”, points out Adrián Valverde, spokesman for the Primafrío Group. “We are going to allocate them to the collection of fruit and vegetable products in the production areas of Murcia and then for last-mile distribution to logistics platforms and supermarkets in the area,” he continues. Valverde points out that all drivers have to take an efficient driving course before trying out the new vehicles.
But you have to speed up. the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) has published a report showing that the decarbonisation of freight transport in Europe it will only be achieved if the sale of new combustion trucks is prohibited in 2035. “An ambitious reform of the regulations in force is necessary, since continuing with the current one would lead to a situation in which polluting trucks will neutralize everything the savings in carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions achieved in the 2020s and half of the 2030s thanks to the electrification of cars and vans”, points out Carlos Bravo, from T&E.
One way to do this is aid from the European Next Generation fund, which the Ministry of Transport distributes to communities so that they reach companies. According to data from the ministry, companies and the self-employed -many drivers are- have requested more than 131 million euros in aid for the purchase of vehicles, of which around 50 million euros are for the purchase of trucks; Of these, 91 vehicles are of category N2 (from 3.5 to 12 tons) and 249 are N3 (more than 12 tons). The aid is not yet granted.
Back in the truck, Fernández arrives at the supermarket on the outskirts of Gijón. He gets out of the cab and goes to the rear platform. He opens the door of the box and climbs into it. He enters with his electric forklift and begins to lower a pallet, helped by the rear platform. With that wheelbarrow, he heads towards the supermarket warehouse. Would he go back to diesel? “I’ll have to drive what I get, but these trucks are much nicer and I love that they don’t make noise. If I can, I’ll keep driving them.”