Q&A with… Robert Ziegler, GM EMEA, Einride
If recent problems with supply lines have taught us anything, it is that the freight industry continues to play a central role in the operation of the global economy. Disruption, such as Brexit or the invasion of Ukraine, can slow or even stop haulage – and this can quickly spiral into an economic crisis.
At the same time, haulage is facing similar challenges to many other sectors, including increased demand, geopolitics, and, of course, climate change. As an industry that by its very nature involves large vehicles that have traditionally been heavy polluters, pressure is growing on freight companies to go green.
Autonomous, electric freight company Einride is on a global expansion drive, and recently announced a new partnership in Norway, with the region’s leading postal service, PostNord, at a time when Norway is implementing even stricter sustainability targets than those laid out by the European Union.
In April, the firm also announced a logistics partnership with Leicester-based snacks manufacturer Walkers – its first commercial partnership following its expansion into Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway.
At the recent London Tech Week, Einride GM of EMEA Robert Ziegler spoke on a panel ClimateTech: Sustainable Transport – Harnessing Technology and Innovation panel. After, he sat down with TechInformed to discuss the company’s plans, as well as the wider trends within the haulage sector.
Why are you here at London Tech Week?
As a brand building an ecosystem, understanding the technology in the market is very important to us. On top of that, the UK is one of our major markets that we’re expanding into. We launched a couple months back in London, we have offices here and we’re going operational at the beginning of July, with PepsiCo in the Midlands where the Walkers brand will be operating some of our electric transports from their Leicester factory.
What are the trends you have picked up on this week?
There’s not a lot of controversy around the idea that technology is important to support sustainable outcomes in the world. As we learnt on the panel I was speaking on, whether it’s around biodiversity, CO2 reductions, or noise reduction, technology is going to play a huge role.
How are you applying these trends?
A fleet of lorries is not something that you can manage with pen and paper, fax machine, or telephone like a lot of the freight industry is operating today, it needs to be approached from a tech point of view.
It all starts with our digital platform, Saga, which integrates the telematics systems of our vehicles with the battery management system, charging infrastructure, the driver, and the operational centre of the shipper. It basically makes sure that the goods get from A to B on time while taking into account external influences like the weather and temperature, the weight of the freight, the effects of going uphill or downhill, to make sure the vehicle always has a charge, and the battery has a maximum lifetime.
What we’re basically doing is replacing the cabin where the driver was sitting with an electric cabinet that is running software operating the vehicle. That then integrates with different sources of sensors, measures their information, and from that information, is able to discern its environment and operate through the environment in a safe way.
What sorts of challenges is Einride facing?
Without being cynical, I think it’s one thing to convince the C-suite to put out targets to be carbon neutral, but the number one question we ask is how many of them are going to follow through? Many companies are very serious about reducing their carbon emissions, but they still have a huge organisation that is naturally resistant to change, and they need to find a way to drive that transformation.
They need to either find a way of incentivising this transformation, and even with an incentive, an operations manager for example would look at it and say, ‘the most important thing for me is that the product is on the shelf’ because if there’s nothing on the shelf, the customer has got nothing to buy, and that revenue is gone forever. In that case, sustainability takes a backseat, that person will never get fired for missing sustainability targets, but he will get fired for not having products on the shelf.
How have you overcome these challenges?
We need to be super reliable and cost efficient. At the end of the day, prices cannot increase just because a company wants to be more sustainable, the consumer is not going to accept it, especially if there is competition between different brands. Therefore we have to find ways of breaking through that efficiency barrier.
If you look at how much a diesel truck costs, and how much an electric car truck costs nowadays, you will look at that at face value and see the electric truck is more expensive. But if you look at it, from a total cost of ownership over five years, with a good utilisation, and the very low electricity price that we have in a lot of regions in Europe and in the US, all of a sudden investing in an electric fleet makes sense.
Have you noticed a change in mindset from the haulage industry?
The closer an industry is to the end consumer, the more important the topic of sustainability is. For grocery, retail, consumer goods companies, it has become extremely important because in a competitive market consumers can choose to buy certain brands depending on these secondary factors, outside of quality and price, so all of a sudden sustainability becomes a competitive issue.
Therefore the early adopters are retail, grocery, retail distribution systems, fast moving consumer goods, and then it’s becoming more important as we move back the value chain into the supplier of these industries. As a result, the shippers have been first to pressure us.
I spent many years with DHL, so for the last 20 years I’ve been under pressure from Electrolux and IKEA to become more sustainable. At DHL, all I could do was say ‘if you buy the latest truck you can save 3% on diesel, if I put some spoilers on the trailer, I can save another 2%, if I put some green tires on I get another 1% which wasn’t enough.
Now, even with the built in emissions of electric trucks, we’re able to reduce emissions by 95%. That is the point where all of a sudden electric vehicles become interesting.
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