Top Story

Berlin as a testing ground: how DB Schenker and its partners are advancing e-mobility

Quiet and clean on Berlin’s streets – as part of the iHub project, the preconditions are now to be created to enable e-trucks to travel with maximum reliability and, therefore, economy

Video: DB Schenker

Summer has taken hold in Berlin, the thermometer reads 33 degrees Celsius. Tomasz Zimny drives his truck through the dense traffic in the German capital as a matter of routine. The loudest noise noticeable in the cab comes from the air conditioner. Other than that, there is just a low hum. He is driving an all-electric 12-ton truck through the everyday traffic in the metropolis. It is a part of iHub. The aim of the joint project, which involves a total of three e-trucks, including an 18-ton truck, is to develop an IT-based system for managing fleets made up of both diesel-powered and e-trucks – a mix that could become reality in many fleets in the medium term.


Until now, goods distribution transport has benefited only to a limited extent from electric mobility with its low exhaust and noise emissions. The limited range and the long time it takes to recharge batteries made deployment difficult. According to Martin Mittler, the starting points for iHub are: “Can we replace a conventional truck with this type of vehicle? How will it impact on our logistics and planning processes?” Mittler works as Global Innovation Manager for DB Schenker, the company heading the consortium in charge of the project, which also involves Framo, the company which developed the e-truck on the basis of a vehicle made by MAN. (See box below for information on the other partners)

“With regard to our neighborhood we are particularly mindful of noise emissions. This is where a quiet vehicle such as an e-truck makes a real difference”

Wolfgang Bastian, Supply Chain Manager, Salzenbrodt GmbH 

Electric or diesel? iHub’s goal is to enable the forwarding agent to make this decision based on the prevailing circumstances, with the help of an IT platform. E-trucks are to be integrated intelligently and dynamically into a route planning system that takes the breaks necessary for recharging batteries into account. An e-vehicle will only be assigned a transport order if it can handle it just as reliably as a diesel truck. Whether this is the case is calculated on the basis of data recorded by the vehicle systems, including battery status, recharging schedule and distance. The IT platform is intended to serve as a prototype for large fleets, where it will help to ensure that more e-trucks get on the road in conurbations in particular, and that the flow of goods becomes significantly cleaner and quieter.


The importance of avoiding noise becomes clear during a call at one customer’s premises on Tomasz Zimny’s route today: the company Salzenbrodt GmbH. They produce shoe care products under the brand name Collonil. Directly adjacent are a kindergarten, public parks and residential buildings. This is why Wolfgang Bastian, a member of the management team at Salzenbrodt, responded enthusiastically when he heard about the e-truck. “With regard to our neighborhood we are particularly mindful of noise emissions, and this is where a quiet vehicle such as an e-truck makes a real difference.” As a manufacturer involved in the processing of chemical components, the company is subject to strict conditions, and it engages in constant dialogue with its neighbors and is always open to innovative ideas.

Driver Tomasz Zimny enjoys his work, having learnt to appreciate “his” e-truck within the shortest possible time

– not least for its impressive torque delivered from the start

Photos: Kristian Barthen


Salzenbrodt is currently in the process of expanding its online distribution. “This has led to a significant increase in the volume of cargo, and with it the number of trucks that come to pick up goods from us every day,” said Wolfgang Bastian. The company generates around 70 percent of its 30 million euros in turnover at this location through exports to around 90 countries. DB Schenker is one of the contractors handling the distribution – Salzenbrodt has been a customer for about 25 years.


Feedback from customers as well as from dispatchers and drivers like Tomasz Zimny is collected by Carsten Rutkowski, who is head of land-based transport at the Berlin office of DB Schenker. He passes on that information to the iHub partners during their regular conferences. Martin Mittler confirms: “We gain new insights on an almost daily basis, information that we can implement immediately and learn from.” The exchange of information and experiences is an important component of the project, which runs until 2019. “I’ve been taking care of innovation projects at Schenker AG for years now, and in terms of complexity, this one is certainly charged with excitement.”

I’ve been taking care of innovation projects for
years now, and in terms of complexity, this one
is certainly charged with excitement

Martin Mittler, Global Innovation Manager, DB Schenker 

Speaking of charging: the e-truck draws fresh energy overnight at the Berlin premises via a 22-kW wallbox charging station. This is also where Tomasz Zimny ends his workday. He fetches the charging cable from the driver’s cab and connects the truck to the mains power grid. “When I was asked if I would be available as a test driver, I said yes, of course. Whenever something new comes along, I want to be part of it right away,” said the 30-year-old. It took him a while before he was confident with regard to the truck’s range. Even though, at around 140 kilometers, it is ideal for trips within the Berlin metro area.


Now, some 2,800 kilometers later, he is enthusiastic about the truck’s power plant and its range: at the end of a day’s tour, the remaining capacity is usually between 40 and 50 percent. And what about the response from customers? “The vehicle is very well received by them. Wherever I go, people always want to know more,” said Zimny. “Including whether it’s fun to drive the truck, of course.” And it certainly is! The full power output of the 12-ton truck from a standing start is impressive. The electric motor delivers up to 250 kW to the rear axle via the drive shaft, without Zimny having to change gears. “It’s like driving a suburban train.”

A welcome “guest”: Customers like Salzenbrodt find the electric 12-tonner appealing in every respect. Branch Office Manager Carsten Rutkowski – seen here wearing a shirt in a light hue – provides all project participants on a regular basis with the experience gained with the vehicle in an everyday work situation

Photos: Kristian Barthen

iHub in a nutshell

The iHub project has been under way since 2016, and the electric 12-ton truck has been in operation at DB Schenker in Berlin since February 2018. Four other partners are involved: the Institute for Post-Fossil Logistics at Bochum University of Applied Sciences is preparing an economic efficiency analysis and acts as project manager. The Karlsruhe-based PTV Group develops models for dynamic route planning, including their integration into the IT infrastructure. The Fraunhofer Institute for Transport and Infrastructure Systems in Dresden is responsible for the platform’s architecture and database-supported battery management. The test vehicle was built by Framo, based in Langenbernsdorf. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy sponsors the project.


Beyond the development of this particular IT system, gaining practical experience with electric trucks is a high priority to all the parties involved. The experts anticipate that the extensive data collected during everyday use will provide information about the service life and reliability of the individual vehicle components. Because even with e-trucks, what matters in the end is reliability in making deliveries to customers.