Liquid hydrogen appears to be the more likely fuel of the future

Last year, Mercedes-Benz Trucks ČR sold 1,547 trucks in the Czech Republic, ie 20 percent less than in 2019. Are you satisfied with the number in a year affected by the coronavirus pandemic for 10 months?

Since the beginning of the pandemic in February 2020 and then throughout the year, the situation has changed from day to day and we have had to respond to many influences and changes. Of course, with the closure of production in a number of factories, especially in the automotive industry, the demand for transport services has declined, but fortunately for us, the movement of goods across Europe and all supply and waste collection and processing depend on trucks. Our primary task in the first wave of the pandemic was to ensure that service and spare parts supplies worked so that cars would not stop. After the end of the first wave of the pandemic, interest in buying vehicles rose rapidly, and our biggest concern was to get enough cars for our customers from a production plant that did not produce full production capacity due to the pandemic. So the fact that we finally sold so much in 2020 that it was ahead of us in the first position with a share of 21.1 percent in the Czech market in the sale of trucks, we can consider a small miracle. But it is above all the result of really hard and hard year-round work.

What helps the Mercedes-Benz brand to dominate the Czech truck market? The widest variety of types or something?

We have been number one on the Czech market for nineteen years without interruption. Our dominant position has always been and still is given by the three basic pillars on which we build. The first is the product portfolio, where thanks to the wide range and basic features of our vehicles – economy, reliability and safety – we are able to satisfy almost any meaningful customer requirements. The second pillar is a range of reliable and functional services, from service and supply of spare parts, through financing, rentals, telematics to the trade in used vehicles. The third pillar is a team of people and their rich knowledge and experience in all areas related to trucks.

Did the circumstances surrounding the pandemic bring any new trends?

Trucks operate mainly in the B2B segment, so the increase in requirements for small-scale distribution of goods from online stores had an impact on the van segment. In our industry, we were mainly forced to invent and implement the above-mentioned operation of the service network. We have introduced a consistent division of work teams into shifts, contactless takeover and handover of vehicles, disinfection and various other measures. Thanks to the fact that we implemented these measures really quickly, we managed to keep the service network running. And thanks to that, despite all the limitations, we recorded a record year in service turnover and spare parts. Another feature of 2020 was that due to the limitations of the production of new vehicles and partly the uncertain future, there was a significantly increased demand for used cars, where we also achieved record sales.

How flexible were you able to respond to changes in customer behavior? Were you able to pre-supply yourself in the segment that was most interested?

We do not create any large truck warehouses for our brand. Usually we have in stock or so-called pre-ordered a certain number of common road tractors and sometimes several dump trucks or other construction vehicles, but the vast majority of trucks are built to order according to customer requirements. The ability to react flexibly is thus given more by the fact that we can work well with the planning of orders to the production plant and schedule them appropriately so that we do not wait too long for any vehicle. This was sometimes quite a difficult task during a pandemic.

Is it possible to estimate what impact the pandemic will have on the truck market in the Czech Republic later this year?

We believe that interest in trucks will continue and we hope that increased demand could come to compensate for the fall of 2020.

Is the situation in the Czech Republic different from other European countries?

It doesn’t seem like much. Demand for trucks increased across Europe in the second half of last year.

Electromobility is becoming a big topic. However, in the truck segment, it encounters a fundamental problem, which is a small range of around 200 kilometers.

The truck needs a considerable amount of energy to move. Powering it from batteries is very demanding on the available capacity that the vehicle can carry with it. Batteries are very heavy and should not be too many, as they reduce the car’s own payload. Vehicles powered by batteries are therefore suitable for distribution over shorter distances, where a range of about 200 kilometers is not such a big problem. A far more important topic is the speed of battery charging. Ideally, they should be recharged fast enough to do so during loading, but this presupposes a sufficiently strong power supply. In the case of cordless electric vehicles, it is necessary to comprehensively address the method of their operation in combination with the available charging infrastructure. Therefore, their use is limited to cases where this can be solved.

So how will this be handled with tractors or long-distance vehicles?

In the field of vehicle batteries, a solution is being sought for higher capacity in relation to weight – not only due to the range, but also to reduce the vehicle’s own weight. Such projects exist, but so far the development is rather slow and gradual. Therefore, hydrogen is far more likely to be the fuel of the future. In particular, liquid hydrogen has the potential to approach the range of an electric truck with a normal total weight of 40 tonnes at least beyond 1000 kilometers per tank filling, which would already be feasible for long-distance travel. However, the assumption is that there will be a network of hydrogen filling stations. However, investments in the construction of such a network will be very high and its preparation will take some time.

Is Mercedes-Benz developing a device that will lead the way in the years to come?

Daimler Truck AG, a manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz trucks and other brands for other parts of the world, is developing a single platform for electrically powered trucks that should be usable on all continents. Both for battery and hydrogen electric trucks. At the end of the year, this comprehensive concept of the electric car series was awarded the prestigious Truck Innovation Award 2021, which is awarded by the Truck of the Year jury for significant technological contribution.

Can you guess when electric trucks could replace diesel ones?

Europe already has goals for that. The closest is to reduce CO2 emissions from trucks by 30 percent by 2030. It was therefore necessary to start preparing for the arrival of electric cars immediately, because this goal cannot be achieved by “simply” optimizing internal combustion engines. That is why all manufacturers are now working hard to get electric vehicles on the road. The goal of our parent company is that the production of classic vehicles with internal combustion engines should end by 2039. However, in parallel with the preparation of vehicles, the preparation of the infrastructure that will supply the vehicles with energy must take place. But the fundamental question arises, because a truck has to make a so-called profit. The car will be bought by the person who will have it. The truck must also be economical, otherwise the carrier will not want to buy it. Car manufacturers can only partially influence this. The production costs of an electric car will probably be higher in the mentioned year 2039 than the production costs of a classic car with an internal combustion engine. It is certain that without a suitable system of state support, the onset of electromobility in the freight transport sector will be significantly slower than in the passenger car sector.

Is Daimler Truck AG preparing another revolutionary innovation?

Development is in full swing. I can promise that the Mercedes-Benz brand will still be one of the leaders in technological progress and the news will not be long in coming.

Author: Michaela Szkanderová

Josef Marik (48 years)

CEO of Mercedes-Benz Truck Czech Republic. He has been working for the Mercedes-Benz brand in the Czech Republic for 25 years. He graduated from the Technical Faculty of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, where he obtained an engineering degree. He likes gardening, or skiing or cycling. He is married and has three children.

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