Innovation  |  Technology 

An alternative for the last mile

Automotive supplier Magna Steyr already manufactures passenger cars with hybrid and fully electric drives – and now, with a MAN TGM 18.360 E, it is also making inroads into electric mobility in its plant logistics.

The MAN TGM 18.360 E takes vehicle parts from a logistics centre to the Magna plant in Graz.
The MAN TGM 18.360 E takes vehicle parts from a logistics centre to the Magna plant in Graz.

Hundreds of trucks can be found every day on and around the factory premises of Magna Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik AG & Co. in the Austrian city of Graz. They provide a constant supply of materials to body shops, paint shops and assembly lines. Among them is a white MAN semi-trailer truck. At first glance, this truck doesn’t stand out from the steady flow of traffic coming in and out of the factory gates. But it is in fact special – it travels over the roads making barely a sound and bears the words ‘I AM AN E-TRUCK’ in prominent lettering on its sunblind and doors.

The TGM 18.360 E is one of the results of the MAN eTruck project with Austria’s council for sustainable logistics (CNL), and transports picked car parts ‘just in sequence’ from an external logistics centre directly to the correct production area. This involves travelling back and forth on the route between the plant and warehouse, which is just shy of two miles, every 1.5 hours or so – all while making barely a sound and generating no emissions.

Finding ways to use alternative drive technology is essential to the logistics of the future, believes Alfons Dachs-Wiesinger, Director Logistics Services at Magna Steyr.
Finding ways to use alternative drive technology is essential to the logistics of the future, believes Alfons Dachs-Wiesinger, Director Logistics Services at Magna Steyr.

Plant logistics makes the perfect stage

“A key focus for the CNL is the electrification of freight traffic. Sustainability and innovation have always been important to Magna, there was no question that we wanted to get involved with MAN’s field trial,” says Alfons Dachs-Wiesinger, Director of Logistics Services, of Magna’s commitment to the scheme. “We believe that the ‘last mile’ in urban areas is the perfect place for a fully electric truck.” Overlaps with the world of electromobility in the automotive sector can be found all over Graz, since the factory produces cars with hybrid and electric drives alongside those with conventional engines.

eTruck runs efficiently on short routes

The eTGM is in operation at Magna five days a week, usually in a two-shift pattern. This results in an average operating time however the actual driving time is very short due to the special nature of its task: loading and unloading multiple times. Since the start of its field trial last year, the eTruck has covered just over 6000 miles. This seems quite low and doesn’t sound like it would be profitable if you consider the higher procurement costs of an e-vehicle. However, it is precisely here that the advantages of the alternative drive system come into play. On extremely short routes at low speeds with lots of stopping and starting, conventional diesel trucks cannot be used as efficiently as their electric counterpart. “The feedback from the project team tells me that the consumption is around 1.5 kilowatt hours per kilometre on average,” explains Alfons Dachs-Wiesinger, “determining the point at which it starts to become profitable is simply a matter of maths.” On top of this, Magna does not have to worry about making heavy investments in charging infrastructure. The normal high-voltage current connections at the various gates in the factory and a mobile charging unit are all that is needed – high-power charging is not necessary.

While the semi-trailer truck is unloaded at the gate, the eTGM ‘refuels’ via the mobile charger at the high-voltage current outlet.
While the semi-trailer truck is unloaded at the gate, the eTGM ‘refuels’ via the mobile charger at the high-voltage current outlet.

Near-production maturity shows what is possible

An especially appealing aspect of the MAN field trial vehicle for Magna is that the truck is close to production maturity, meaning that it is a good indicator of what could be possible in series production. “This developmental leap is very important to us, because we can envisage a future for urban logistics where vehicles like this are widely available. Sooner or later, legislators will respond to this trend, ultimately resulting in restrictions on combustion engines,” suggests Alfons Dachs-Wiesinger. “The sooner we get on with implementing the new technology in our own processes, the better.”

This is a view shared by Matthias Pellischek, head of the Distribution and Logistics department at Gebrüder Weiss Transport and Logistics at the company’s site in Graz. His firm provides transport services to Magna and is using the eTruck in partnership with a sub-contractor. “This is a very interesting project for Gebrüder Weiss. Ultimately, opportunities to test out an eTruck are still rare. It’s one approach to moving transportation in a new direction – one which takes into account the need to do so from an environmental perspective. We can use the experiences that we gain here across all our group’s sites. We are heavily represented throughout Austria and all of Europe, which means that the prospects are broad.”

Matthias Pellischek, Head of Distribution and Logistics at Gebrüder Weiss Transport and Logistics Graz, has identified benefits in the field trial that can be applied to all of the group’s sites.
Matthias Pellischek, Head of Distribution and Logistics at Gebrüder Weiss Transport and Logistics Graz, has identified benefits in the field trial that can be applied to all of the group’s sites.

And these experiences have so far been highly positive: after just a brief acclimatisation period, the truck has been easy to use, reliable, and requires little training. “The eTruck is enjoyable to drive and has great acceleration – in fact, I like it better than diesel trucks. On top of that, it runs smoothly and it’s not difficult to connect it to the charger,” recounts driver Aleksander Kristof from TLC Temmel Logistik GmbH, who takes the early shift behind the wheel.

While Magna is also using other alternative drive technologies for medium-length transport routes, for instance at its new site in Hoče, Slovenia, some 45 miles south of Graz, one thing remains certain for Alfons Dachs-Wiesinger: “If, in the future, this can all be done in series production in an eco-friendly and economically feasible manner, and if it can be TCO-neutral in its implementation or even represent a financial advantage, then the electric truck will be the alternative for the last mile.”

Magna is using a fully electric TGM semi-trailer truck in the field trial instead of a chassis and body.

Magna is using a fully electric TGM semi-trailer truck in the field trial instead of a chassis and body.

At the external logistics centre, the eTruck drives onto the ramp just like normal...

At the external logistics centre, the eTruck drives onto the ramp just like normal...

...and driver Aleksander Kristof loads it up for the next trip.

...and driver Aleksander Kristof loads it up for the next trip.

It carries around six to eight tonnes of car parts per trip – the focus here is volume, not payload.

It carries around six to eight tonnes of car parts per trip – the focus here is volume, not payload.

At the factory, the parts are unloaded at the correct gate...

At the factory, the parts are unloaded at the correct gate...

...and with that, the truck is back on the road again – hardly making a sound and generating no emissions locally.

...and with that, the truck is back on the road again – hardly making a sound and generating no emissions locally.