Whether excavators, trucks or buses – the market for construction machinery and utility vehicles has been on the upswing for a while now. Where does this success come from and what role will electric drives play in the future? We will examine this by exploring the current situation.
Trade shows are typically a strong demonstration of the public’s opinion on the state of an industry. If the show exhibitors see an increase in visitor attendance that usually means the industry involved is doing well. Bauma, the world’s largest trade show for the construction and machinery industry has just announced that in 2019, their attendance numbers rose by about 40,000 to 620,000 total attendees – confirming the trend we’ve seen within the industry. With about 3,700 exhibitors from 63 countries, a new attendance record was also set for exhibitor participation. The exhibitors also reported full order books, at least according to the organizers. This trend upwards has also been confirmed by figures and forecasts from various associations. Last year, for example, the VDMA reported an 11 percent increase in turnover for the European construction machinery sector, with growth expected to continue. This success is being driven by a globally expanding construction and mining sector – a relatively new development. Let’s look at Europe for example. The economic crisis in 2008 hit the industry hard. Sales in the EU declined steadily until 2013, while production in some countries initially dropped by as much as two-figure percentages. Since then, things have been getting better, including slight fluctuations. Recently, the pace has noticeably increased. In its 2019 annual report, the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC) reported a total turnover of 1.4 billion euros in 2018. In the previous year, it was only 1.36 billion.
Utility Vehicles: Industry is Driving Electrification
The utility vehicle sector is also experiencing a remarkable upswing. Interesting current figures from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) from June 2019 are now available. Since the beginning of the year, 1.1 million utility vehicles have been sold worldwide. This represents growth of more than 6.5 percent compared to the previous year. The growth curve is particularly steep in Germany, where almost 40,000 vehicles were sold in May 2019 alone – in comparison to only about 31,700 vehicles in the same period a year earlier. Last year, the German utility vehicle market also broke records. Manufacturers sold a total of 386,282 units here, representing growth of 4.6 percent, according to the Association of International Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (VDIK) at the beginning of 2019. There was a particularly high demand for heavy utility vehicles.
The use of electric drives is interesting in the wide variety of “utility vehicles”. A factor for success is in their deployment scenarios: we know from the beginning where and how long these vehicles are in use every day, and we can design the drive accordingly. This has allowed for some astonishing developments, as can be seen in this example from Switzerland. Here, rocks are transported from a higher quarry to a lower processing plant by an eDumper. The trick is that, during the long descent, the vehicle gains (!) energy while braking and charges its huge battery. The system absorbs more energy than is required for the uphill drive. It therefore hardly needs to be recharged – and is a closed circuit.
Municipalities as Driving Forces
The municipalities are regarded as a decisive driving force for the success of e-utility vehicles and construction machinery. For example, there are already calls for tenders for major construction projects in cities that explicitly demand the lowest possible CO2 emissions. Electrically powered vehicles naturally have an advantage here. Additionally, many municipalities will be switching their public transport systems exclusively to electric drives in the next few years – This represents a gigantic market, as there are about 22,000 diesel buses on the road in Germany alone. If they all disappear in the future and are replaced by electric buses, the pollution levels in German cities will decrease considerably. Hamburg, for example, is planning the complete replacement by 2020.
Many experts also consider the use of hydrogen combustion engines to be promising in the construction and utility vehicle sector. Large OEMs and supplier groups have entered the market and are driving industrialization forward. However, whether this technology will prevail is dependent on the creation of a comprehensive tank infrastructure.