Why are LHVs still a niche product?

Reading time: approx. 3 minutes
Text: Juliane Gringer
Photos: Kühne + Nagel

Kühne + Nagel in Hamburg used one of the first LHVs in Germany. Ten years later and the conclusion is: the concept saves costs, supports climate protection and even with driver shortfalls. However, the expansion of the Positivnetz (permitted route network) is slow.

It is already a full decade since Holger von der Heide, Manager for Quality, Safety, Health and Environment (QHSE) and Truck and Fleet Manager at Kühne + Nagel in Hamburg, stood in front of an LHV for the first time. “It was in 2012 at the IAA in Hannover that my branch manager at the time and I saw the first LHV – a cooperative effort between MAN and Krone. We ordered the first vehicle immediately,” he remembers: “Out of curiosity, a love for innovation and because it promised economical and ecological advantages.” The trucks, which can reach up to 25.25 meters in length, were still running as under a field test initiated by the German Federal Transport Ministry in 2011 at that time. The LHVs were approved for road traffic in Germany from 1st January 2017, however, only on certain roads, so-called Positivnetz (permitted route network).

Holger von der Heide immediately clarifies a preconception: “Many people think that an LHV carries more load and is therefore heavier – resulting in damage to the infrastructure. However, even in these road trains, you are not allowed to exceed 40 tons.” It was scientifically proven in a project with the University of Dresden, in which Kühne + Nagel participated, that LHVs do not cause increased damage to the roads. “We kept axle load records and made the data available to the researchers. The assessment showed that the infrastructure is not subjected to greater stress by LHVs.” In its report on the field test, the German Federal Office for Road Traffic not only established that two LHV journeys replace three journeys with standard trucks and that efficiency gains and fuel savings of between 15 and 25 per cent can be achieved – it also contested that LHVs led to increased maintenance effort for the infrastructure and also did not result in displacement effects from the tracks on the road. Nonetheless, this vehicle concept has still not achieved comprehensive coverage in Germany. Why?

»Many people think that LHVs are heavier and therefore damage the infrastructure. But you are not allowed to exceed 40 tons with these road trains either.«

Holger von der Heide, Manager for Quality, Safety, Health and Environment (QSHE) at Kühne + Nagel

What this transport needs is customers with the appropriate goods: lots of volume and low weight, ideally pallet goods. Kühne + Nagel quickly found an appropriate company: a retailer which wanted to transport non-food items such as towels, toasters and sporting goods from a warehouse in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to Bremen and load returns on the journey back. “It was a win-win situation: the costs were reduced, it was favourable to the environment – and more goods could be transported more quickly,” says Denis Fähnders, responsible for purchasing trucks, trailers and forklifts at Kühne + Nagel. The only problem: the most direct route for this transport was through five federal states, of which several did not permit transportation with LHVs. “In the initial phase, we had to uncouple the road train just before the state border to Bremen and drive them one behind the other to the central freight terminal in Bremen,” remembers Holger von der Heide. It was only after holding discussions with the Senator for Transport that a special approval was issued.
The team at Kühne + Nagel also discovered that LHVs can also combat driver shortfalls. Not only because they each only need one driver for two vehicle loads. The person behind the wheel is also less stressed. “We could happily use the older employees, who cannot physically make 20 stops a day any more,” says von der Heide. The fact that the vehicle itself is unusual also contributed to its success: “This extra long truck in our company colours is also a prestigious object which the staff are proud of. It’s motivational and it makes work fun. Plus, it also increases the opportunity to gain new employees.”

»This extra long truck in our company colours is also a prestigious object which the staff are proud of.«

Holger von der Heide, Manager for Quality, Safety, Health and Environment (QSHE) at Kühne + Nagel

As the customer with the route between Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Bremen has now closed its warehouse, only one of the three trucks Kühne + Nagel acquired is still operational. It collects animal supplies from the Danish border. “However, the vehicles are very flexible: we use the semi-trailers individually, as well as the swap trailers,” says Denis Fähnders. “Yet another argument in favour of the LHV.” The Kühne + Nagel LHVs are equipped with Trailer running gear from BPW. “As even more axles are drawn in total on an LHV, it is all the more important that they are robust and durable. That is why we decided on BPW: we value the superb quality of the products and have maintained a long and excellent partnership wit the company.” For Fähnders, a purchase also requires the proper service: “We have had excellent experiences with BPW in this area as well.”

»The vehicles are very flexible: we use the semi-trailers individually, as well as the swap trailers. Yet another argument in favour of the LHV.«

Denis Fähnders, responsible for the purchase of trucks, trailers and forklifts at Kühne + Nagel

The team at Kühne + Nagel would desperately like to see LHVs being used more in practice. One of the issues is that LHVs may not be used to move hazardous goods. “But that comes up again and again in general cargo,” explains Holger von der Heide. The biggest challenge, however, remains extending the permitted routes: “We are not allowed to drive in some new commercial areas, because they are not yet approved.” The process for adopting the new roads in the Positivnetz is protracted. “Often, we just can’t make those final meters: we can see the customer from the motorway, but we can’t drive up to them. It’s a stumbling block for us, which prevents this vehicle concept with its many advantages from making the breakthrough.”
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