The German engineering giant Siemens is researching the idea of using overhead electricity lines to power truck traffic. But the state-supported project makes no sense. It would cost billions to implement — and only lead to higher fuel consumption and more pollution.
One of the most tenacious dumb ideas within the automotive industry is the claim that what electric cars really need to be successful are overhead power lines. The logic, at least, isn’t difficult to follow: When it comes to power, cars need a lot of it, batteries store too little of it, and overhead lines can supply it.
Now Siemens, the German electrical and engineering giant as well as the country’s leading rail-technology company, hopes to carry over the best features of rail technology to road traffic. The company has outfitted two heavy-duty Mercedes trucks with electric current collectors and a modified drivetrain capable of operating with two different systems. When an overhead line is available, these prototypes run on electricity alone, much like electric locomotives. When there’s no overhead line, a diesel engine kicks in, powering a generator that continues to supply the electric system with power.
Germany’s Ministry for the Environment (BMU) saw enough green potential in this hybrid truck to channel over €2 million ($2.5 million) in federal funding to the project. Siemens used the funds to help set up its first test track at an obsolete military airport north of Berlin. Overhead lines run above and along the roughly 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) track, supplying energy to the trucks whirring steadily along below.