Old giants – quiet and emission-free

The demand for decarbonization doesn’t stop, not even on freight traffic. While there is already an extensive offering in pure battery-electric new vehicles for private cars, the situation for commercial vehicles is different at present: Many vans, trucks and buses are still running on diesel. More recently, however, some companies have specialized in retrofitting diesel vehicles of practically all sizes to turn them into clean e-vehicles – using specially-developed electrification kits. That protects the environment and saves on costs.

Whether construction site vehicles, transporters for tradespeople, HGV tractor-trailer units, rear-loading waste disposal trucks, or buses for local passenger transport or sightseeing – one thing goes for all of them: They can all be converted into vehicles that are on the move sustainably. Engine, conventional gears, tanks, aspiration system, exhaust system, and adblue tanks – all of this is removed from the vehicle. In their place come electric drives, battery and battery management systems, including cooling/heating equipment and new controllers.

Formerly diesel, now electric: this is what the interior of converted trucks looks like Graphic: Quantron

The new actors for decarbonizing freight transport are committed to giving a second life to robust vehicles already in fleets, maintaining similar working loads and familiar conveniences, or converting them to a practically factory-new truck chassis. They are highly specialized companies using specially-developed construction kits to convert conventional commercial vehicles in all weight classes for practically all areas of use into zero-emission vehicles.

Retrofitted diesel trucks are on a par with new vehicles

German companies in particular, such as Orten, Quantron, BPW, Paul Nutzfahrzeuge or Pepper Motion, offer retrofitting – regardless of whether it is for a Crafter, Sprinter, a 7.5-tonner like the TGL from MAN or a 15-tonner like the Atego from Mercedes-Benz. The providers’ promise is to ensure, through the use of high-quality and robust drive and battery technology, that the electrified vehicles can smoothly pass the test of daily practical use – regardless of whether the vehicle combination has a total train weight of 3.49 tons or 44 tons, or whether it is a transporter with a 3-5-ton or a truck with an 18-ton maximum authorized mass (MAM). The battery capacity of the electric drive system is scalable: Depending on the usage scenario and customer requirements, it can range from 80 kWh to 720 kWh.

The fact that retrofitting as a battery-powered commercial vehicle has developed into a profitable business model is due to the fact that climate protection programs Europe-wide are imposing new requirements on heavy goods road freight. In Germany, by 2030 one-third of all distance traveled in this segment is to be covered using electricity-based fuels or electric vehicles.

Diesel to Electric Bus Retrofitting

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In order to achieve this target, efforts by fleet operators and manufacturers to send vehicles out onto the road in a way that protects the environment are not just called for, but also actively subsidized: In August 2021, the Federal government put diesel trucks retrofitted with a battery or fuel cell drive on an equal footing with new vehicles – and granted a subsidy for retrofitting of up to 80 percent of the additional investment cost.


Retrofitting to short time-frames

Retrofitting is a worthwhile move in particular for city logistics and suburban transport – for vehicles up to 26 tons MAM that need to cover a range of up to 250 kilometers on a single battery charge. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) in Karlsruhe on the use of battery trucks in delivery operations found that, on regional tours with routes of around 500 kilometers, 43 percent of trucks can usefully be electrified.

Whenever companies decide to retrofit their existing vehicles, they will not have to do without them for long: The retrofit takes between four and eight weeks, depending on the vehicle and the provider. Some of the companies will not only electrify the customer’s own vehicles, but also offer fully-retrofitted vehicles for leasing or sell electrification kits directly to OEMs for new commercial vehicles.


This truck now drives electrically - and sustainably. Photo: Quantron

The winners from a retrofit are not just the companies opting for retrofitting rather than the new purchase of an e-vehicle (because, for the same budget, they can electrify around twice the number of vehicles, as Robert Orten from Orten Electric-Trucks calculated in an interview mit We are all winners, because goods transport becomes both lower in emissions and quieter. Above all, however, the environment wins – and not only here in Germany, as Robert Orten confirms. That’s because every used commercial vehicle converted from a diesel drive to electric will “no longer resurface in Eastern Europe or Africa as a high-emission vehicle”.