The joint venture between commercial vehicle manufacturers Volvo Group, Daimler Truck and Traton Group was launched in July 2022 – initially as “Commercial Vehicle Charging Europe”, and since December 2022 under the brand name “Milence”. The young company has set itself the goal of establishing a pan-European network of charging stations for heavy-duty trucks.
For the current issue of eMove360° magazine in german language, Sabine Metzger spoke with Milence CFO Wolfgang Brand about the startup’s goals and challenges. Brand also reveals when the first Milence charging stations can be expected and why Milence has its sights set on improving the working conditions of truck drivers.
Mr. Brand, please explain briefly what is behind the Milence joint venture, which was established just under a year ago?
Wolfgang Brand: Milence is a joint project between the major commercial vehicle manufacturers Daimler Truck, Traton Group and Volvo Group, whose combined sales of commercial vehicles represent more than 70%, i.e. the lion’s share, of the European commercial vehicle market. Although they are direct competitors in a highly competitive market, the three heavyweights have joined forces to take a decisive step towards the electrification of heavy-duty transport in Europe, sending a clear signal. In a way, Milence solves the famous “chicken-or-egg” problem related to heavy haul electrification. The one-million-dollar question is: Which should happen first, selling the all-electric heavy-duty trucks or building the appropriate charging infrastructure? From our perspective, clearly the latter is the right approach. Milence will therefore promptly push ahead with the development of a pan-European network of charging stations for heavy-duty trucks.
A nationwide network of charging stations for cars is no longer an issue, but for trucks things look bleak. In fact, until the charging situation is secured, logistics companies will not invest in acquiring an e-fleet. This is where Milence comes in. What are your goals?
Brand: Milence stands for the development of a pan-European network of reliable and sustainable high-performance charging solutions for all heavy-duty electric trucks, regardless of their brand. Such a charging network – apart from smaller test operations here and there – does not exist as of today. Specifically, we want to establish at least 1,700 charging points within the next five years and thus ensure that buyers of all-electric heavy-duty trucks can also reliably charge and operate them. Initially, this will certainly be a certain basic network, but we will very quickly expand it to cover the whole country. In addition to the number of charging points, we will also focus on charging technology. Our objective is to ensure that the large trucks can be fully charged within the 45-minute mandatory break that a truck driver must take after four and a half hours of driving. The charging technology required for this is still in the prototype phase. Milence will make a decisive contribution to establishing this technology on the market as quickly as possible.
What does the business model look like?
Brand: With our charging stations, we provide the infrastructure for charging the heavy-duty trucks of truck operators – whether it’s a fleet of several hundred trucks or just a single truck. And that’s regardless of which manufacturer the truck comes from. In very simplified terms, we earn from the sale of electricity.
Which energy provider will Milence be working with?
Brand: Since we are working on a pan-European charging network, as I said, we will cooperate with numerous energy providers throughout Europe. One thing is particularly close to our hearts: we want to sell green energy. That’s why it’s important to us that our energy suppliers can supply electricity from renewable sources.
How do you guarantee that the electricity is generated from renewable sources?
Brand: When selecting our energy suppliers, we take great care to ensure that they can supply mainly – ideally even exclusively – green electricity. So basically, we always prefer a green option to an electricity mix.
What are the biggest challenges in implementation?
Brand: First of all, it is generally not easy to obtain sufficient and, above all, suitable areas for the construction of our charging stations. Depending on where we are, the grid connection is not always available or not available to the required extent. Last but not least – and this is probably the most obvious thing – it is of course a major challenge to sustainably finance the development of a Europe-wide charging infrastructure.
A truck driver has a 45-minute break. In other words, during this time he wants to eat something and, ideally, charge his truck. This is made realistic by the megawatt charging system presented by ChargIn in Oslo in June 2022. News has just reached us of a test run of MCS charging by Traton subsidiary Scania and ABB E-Mobility. What is Milence doing in this direction?
Brand: For us, so-called MCS charging is one of the central technology components for being able to charge battery-electric trucks quickly and reliably at our stations. Accordingly, we are of course actively involved in the development of this technology with our suppliers. Irrespective of this, we fundamentally welcome all initiatives that move in such a direction and work to make the MCS standard available to a broad market.
How will the Milence charging stations be equipped?
Brand: Our claim and, to a certain extent, our slogan is: “Recharge the truck and recharge the driver. Because our charging stations not only have the necessary charging infrastructure to charge fully electric trucks, but are also equipped in such a way that the drivers have as pleasant a stay as possible during the charging process and can recharge their batteries. This already starts with a clean toilet and the possibility to shower, i.e. the almost banal hygiene standards. In addition, if possible, there are green areas and relaxation zones for resting, as well as access to food and beverages, etc.
Of course, what is offered in detail always depends on the size and the existing alternatives on site, e.g. restaurants or rest stops, in the vicinity of the respective loading station.
Milence focuses on the truck driver. Key point: Recharge the driver. What do you want to offer the driver and why do you care about the working conditions of truck drivers?
Brand: To answer this question, you have to consider a very unpleasant fact: The working conditions of truck drivers in Europe are catastrophic. That’s why it’s important to us to help make the profession and the industry as a whole more attractive again. Accordingly, we are not only concerned with getting fully electric heavy-duty trucks on the roads, but also with the people who drive them. And we have to take care of them. After all, what good is an all-electric truck if no one drives it?
Are there plans to set up your own charging stations or cooperate with existing service stations?
Brand: As indicated above, we are planning both to build our own charging stations and to cooperate with existing providers of truck parking facilities, for example. Depending on the situation, individual Milence charging stations will be made available at existing rest areas and integrated into them, or complete, new Milence charging stations will be built.
How many charging stations are planned? By when would you like to have set up the pan-European charging network you are aiming for?
Brand: Our minimum goal is to install at least 1,700 charging points within the next five years.
When will the first Milence stations be ready to go live?
Brand: We aim to have our first charging stations up and running before the end of the year.
Where do you see Milence in ten years?
Brand: In ten years, I hope we will have made a substantial contribution to the development of a pan-European charging infrastructure and thus accelerated the decarbonization of heavy-duty transport in Europe. I would also like to see that during this time we have also established ourselves sustainably on the market as a brand with our values and goals: namely to be reliable, safe, clean, friendly and competent.
Thank you very much for the interview.