Executive’s Insights into Don Trucking’s Electric Truck Test Week

September 28th, 2023

We’re returning to recap of our “DON Trucking’s EV Test Week” in collaboration with Designwerk. In the previous episode, we chatted with our driver Radek about his impressions from driving this heavy duty truck.

Today, we will be talking to Don de Jong, a Founder and Managing Director of DON Trucking Group, about the possibilities of implementing electric trucks into our company’s fleet.

Behind the Scenes: Exploring DON Trucking’s Opinion on EV

Mr. De Jong, could you please tell us where the idea to test electric trucks in the DON Trucking fleet originated from?

Don de Jong: The idea of testing electric trucks in the DON Trucking fleet originated from an initiative by Designwerk. We are well-known advocates of sustainable transport in Europe, and thanks to our connections, we were able to establish cooperation with this company and organize a “trial week.” At this point, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Designwerk Technologies AG for this opportunity. There is no better test than a real-world one, and Designwerk provided us with the best “material” for testing. The Designwerk High Cab 6×2 electric truck, with its powerful 900kWh battery capacity, is unmatched in the market. Therefore, we were able to test probably the best market solution at the moment. This is of tremendous value to our transport group.

How would you summarize these tests?

Before I summarize, I would like to share why we decided to conduct these tests and why we are considering electric trucks in our fleet. First and foremost, DON Trucking Group is a company that has “sustainable transport” not only in its slogan but as an integral part of our DNA. It is evident at every stage of our operations. We consistently implement the “Towards Carbon Neutral in 2025” plan, and naturally, any solution that helps us reduce CO2 emissions in our transport operations must be considered if not implemented.

Furthermore, we see that electric trucks are highly promoted by governments, major transport institutions, and the largest logistics companies. To some extent, this is a response to the demand from our partners who expect companies involved in sustainable road freight to offer such solutions.

Well, DON Trucking bases its strategy on bioLNG trucks. Can EVs be an alternative?

Certainly, we are not closed to any solutions. However, we need to consider this problem on at least three levels. Firstly, sustainable development, which is the ability to reduce CO2 emissions. Secondly, operational capability, which means the ability of a particular means of transport to be used on a larger scale without compromising operational excellence in our company. We prioritize the highest level of customer service, and we cannot afford disruptions in this regard. Finally, and most importantly, the economic equation must add up. We are a private company, not a government institution, and we cannot afford economically irrational decisions.

So, how do electric trucks compare in this context?

At this point, we can only talk about meeting the first requirement. Certainly not in terms of the ability to be introduced on a mass scale in our transport operations. It is even challenging to discuss the economics right now because the prices of electric trucks are so exorbitantly high that you can consider their acquisition practically only counting on subsidies from public institutions, which are increasingly discussed in the EU. However, this is not a cooperation model we would like to use in DON Trucking, as we do not prefer using public funds for development, as we do not consider state intervention to be profitable for the overall economy, and the good state of the EU economies is crucial for the transport industry and our operations in general.

So, let’s get back to operational capabilities. Why did you say that electric trucks are impossible to implement on a large scale?

Regardless of infrastructure issues, which I believe will improve in the near future and will not be as problematic as they are now, power consumption during our “test week” ranged from 80kW/100km to around 140kW/100km, and that’s without a load. A simple range calculation makes the situation clear. We know how many kilometers we can travel without refueling. It’s at maximum half of what our modern bioLNG trucks can cover. And I would like to remind you that we used an absolutely unique product on the market because the Designwerk High Cab 6×2 has a 900kWh battery.

So, range is an issue for DON Trucking, but our company specializes in international trucking. Do you not see a chance to implement this solution in other models?

No, I did not say that. I certainly see a chance. Companies specializing in daily transport services on fixed, unchanging routes, let’s say up to 100 or maybe 200 km, can consider using such a truck if there is good charging infrastructure nearby. Our company also provides such services, and that’s what we are talking about in terms of the possibility of introducing EVs into our fleet. However, range is just one problem. Let’s get back to economics. The weight of the tractor we tested is 14,200 kg, which is almost as much as our two bioLNG-powered Iveco tractors. The higher the weight of the tractor, the more we limit payload. This automatically increases the price per 1 kg of cargo. Will customers be willing to pay premium for carbon neutral transport? My anticipation is positive, yet we must wait and see.

And do the charging costs, which I assume are lower than traditional fuels, not compensate for this?

Charging costs are surprisingly high at the moment. During the “test week,” we used charging infrastructure offering charging at a rate of 0.69 EUR per 1 kWh plus, attention, 0.15 EUR per minute of occupying the charging space! In this way, electric truck fuel will not offset the “losses” resulting from the higher unit cost. A more significant issue, however, is the planning of the charging process. There are limited charging stations, and they vary in power. The energy capacity of the tractor we tested is 900 kW. Now, if the chargers have an average charging capacity of 200 kW per hour and the battery has 100 kW left, it will take about 4 hours to charge. There are, of course, chargers with a 375 kW capacity, so in this case, charging will take 2.5-3 hours. There are not many of them, but they are great. This is already a reasonable time, but in my opinion, it is still too long for a truck to operate a transportation business on a normal basis. It’s like with aircraft; those parked on the apron and not flying do not make money. We earn from movement. Moreover, sometimes you need to refuel the truck at a different time of day than the overnight stop. Not everything can be planned. Sometimes additional repositioning is needed to reduce the number of empty kilometers, and problems can arise then.

How would you summarize the testing period, and what are the chances of seeing electric trucks in the DON Trucking fleet soon?

As I mentioned, I am extremely grateful to Designwerk for their invaluable cooperation. This trial period is of tremendous value to our company. The conclusions from this week will be used in our strategy. However, this week will not shake our plans. We still maintain that bioLNG is the best sustainable solution at the moment. We do not change our minds, and it will be the basis of our fleet for the foreseeable future.

Currently, in multimodal transport, given the complex and variable nature of our tractor work, electric vehicles have no justification. At least not on a larger scale. This is a vehicle that can efficiently move along previously planned and not very long routes. The reason is charging time and the lack of suitable chargers. I think it will take many years for infrastructure and transport to be confidently electrified on a mass scale. But that does not mean that electric trucks will not appear in the DON Trucking fleet in the near future. 

We are looking for partners among the largest logistics companies interested in joint intermodal projects in which we can use electric trucks. I invite all interested parties to cooperate. We are already well on our way to signing agreements with the first partner, so electric truck enthusiasts should keep an eye on our company’s profile.

In our latest article, we pointed out that times are challenging for the transportation industry, but we are using period of economic uncertainty to transform and invest even more in the direction of sustainability through decarbonization and digitalization.

Currently, 2/3 of our vehicles are powered by low-emission bioLNG fuel, and in the coming months, we aim to increase this share further. The same applies to the continuous improvement of our OTMS and integration with as many partners as possible. All of this is to achieve our goal of being ‘Carbon Neutral by 2025.

For cooperation, please contact us directly at marketing@don-trucking.eu.