The road to CO₂-neutral transport

By Martin Daum, Chairman of the Board of Management Daimler Truck AG & Member of the Board of Management Daimler AG.

Transport and logistics keep the world moving. They have made the prosperity of billions of people around the world possible. Transport volumes in the OECD countries, China and India already reach around 15 trillion ton-kilometers per year and will continue to rise. In other words, our industry is incredibly successful -- and it’s precisely this success that’s our key challenge.

Because on this scale transport cannot function sustainably over the long term with previous drive technologies. So, for me there’s no question: We have to decarbonize transport - and we need to understand decarbonization as the “moon mission” of our industry. The goal that John F. Kennedy set for the Apollo mission was also extremely ambitious. Nevertheless, the seemingly impossible became possible because the Apollo team consistently worked toward this goal and brought together everything necessary to achieve it. This is exactly the mindset we need to decarbonize transport.

Three facts will be decisive for a successful mission:

First is building attractive CO₂-neutral trucks - and we as manufacturers are challenged to deliver just such trucks in the coming years. Europe aims to be CO₂ neutral by 2050 and therefore it must also be the ambition of our industry to make transport CO₂ neutral by 2050. And as it takes about ten years to completely renew truck fleets, this means that from 2039/2040 on only CO₂-neutral new vehicles will be allowed in the market.

There are effectively several alternatives to diesel: battery, fuel cell and natural gas. However, natural gas drives also emit CO₂ and would only be an expensive transition technology on the road to CO₂-neutral transport. Therefore it’s not worth pursuing natural gas further. Truly CO₂-neutral transport only works on the basis of CO₂-neutral drives and here I’m convinced batteries and fuel cells will complement each other very well.

Our industry will invest significantly in both types of drives in the coming years. Battery-electric series-production vehicles will already be established in the market in the first half of the 2020s. The same will happen with hydrogen-based fuel cells in the second half of the 2020s.

The second key fact on the road to sustainable transport is this:

In 2040 the purchase and total operating costs of CO₂-neutral trucks will likely be even higher than for diesel trucks. However, they will only prevail in the market if our customers can work with them economically without any disadvantages.

The third crucial point concerning CO₂-neutral transport is therefore the following:

In order to make CO₂-neutral trucks economically competitive we need government intervention. The objective must be this: CO₂-neutral transport – as measured in cents per kilometre - should not cost more than diesel-based transport.

The cost disadvantages must be compensated for and I urge governments to bring about this compensation through suitable initiatives. In Europe, for example, there would be an urgent need to price tolls for locally emission-free trucks significantly better than for conventional trucks. However, this incentive should not apply to natural gas-powered trucks as they are not CO₂-neutral while driving.

Another regulatory task is to build the necessary infrastructure: This is primarily about a nationwide charging infrastructure with sufficient capacity, for which government will have to provide start-up assistance - conceptually and financially.

It’s important that we design the infrastructure for heavy commercial vehicles, for example, not only for gaseous but also for liquid hydrogen. And it’s also important that we do not narrow the term infrastructure, as issues such as uniform permitting regulations are also necessary.

These three key facts on the road to CO₂-neutral transportation are undoubtedly a challenge - and that’s why we have to tackle them all the more decisively, here and now. It’s clear that all of this will lead to rising prices. The switch to CO₂-neutral drives will make transportation and logistics more expensive, and with it all kinds of goods. We all have to adjust to this - as an industry, but also as a society. That’s the price for a good future and whoever says it will available for free is only leading us astray.

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