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On Jan. 29, 1886, Carl Benz—who had invented the first stationary gasoline engine seven years earlier—patented a "vehicle powered by a gas engine," which he had built in Mannheim, Germany. By 2030, the country may ban his invention.
The world's first automobile, invented in 1886.Mercedes-Benz
Germany's Bundesrat, its upper house of parliament, passed a bipartisan resolution calling for a ban on sales of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, which includes both gasoline and diesel.
"If the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions is to be taken seriously, no new combustion engine cars should be allowed on roads after 2030," weekly news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Green Party lawmaker Oliver Krischer as saying.
The shockwaves from this action, reported over the weekend, haven't quite hit the global auto industry or German manufacturers just yet. Germany has one of the largest automotive industries in the world, and it is the biggest industrial sector in Germany. Automobile manufacturing and related businesses employ 774,900 German workers and account for one-fifth of German industry revenue.
The country is also Europe's top automobile market, and U.S.-based manufacturers do big business there as well. General Motors sold 244,000 vehicles in Germany in 2015, while Ford is on track to sell 280,000 vehicles this year. The Ford Mustang is the most popular sports car in Germany. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sold 90,000 vehicles there last year, with its U.S.-built Jeep brand growing strongly.
The company that Carl Benz started, today's Mercedes-Benz, is investing $1.1 billion in battery production and plans to launch 10 new electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025. The company says that every model series will be electrified. BMW is expanding its EV lineup, while Volkswagen—reeling from its diesel emissions scandal—announced that it plans to sell three million electric cars by 2025. At the current 2016 Paris Auto Show, virtually every major auto manufacturer is showcasing new electric or hybrid vehicles.
The Bundesrat resolution would require only electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2030, and Germany's action is likely to precipitate wider European Union policy.
"We're ready for the launch of an electric product offensive that will cover all vehicle segments, from the compact to the luxury class," said Daimler AG Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche at the opening of the Paris Auto Show in September. Daimler is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. The company that invented the automobile now needs to reinvent itself.
Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the world's first big rig that drives without a drop of fuel.
The Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruckMercedes Benz
The new Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck has an electrically driven rear axle and is powered by three lithium-ion battery modules. The zero-emission vehicle has an admissible total weight of up to 26 tonnes with a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles).
Although the range is on the low side, the model here is still a prototype. And, as Engadget pointed out, the "Urban" prefix implies that it's meant for use in the cities instead of, say, cross-country hauls.
As for noise pollution? Hardly a whisper, the German carmaker says.
"In the future, it will be necessary to transport goods in urban environments for increasing numbers of people—and with the lowest possible emissions and noise," Mercedes said in a press release. "By now large cities such as London or Paris are considering a ban on internal combustion engines in city centers in the future. That means: there will be fully electric trucks ensuring the supply of humans with food or other goods of daily needs."
Daimler, the company tasked with creating the vehicles, said their eTruck will be ready for the market by the beginning of the next decade. At that point, Daimler believes battery technology will be vastly improved and estimated that the cost of batteries will lowered by a factor of 2.5.
"We push the boundaries of what is technically feasible, very widely to the front," Wolfgang Bernhard, the CEO of Daimler Trucks and Buses, said.
Watch here as the eTruck whizzes down Germany's streets:
"To date the use of electric drives in trucks has been extremely limited," Bernhard added. "Meanwhile, cost, performance and charging time evolve so rapidly that we now see a turnaround for distribution: It's time for the electric truck."
He's right—this is a much-needed upgrade as heavy duty vehicles are some of the biggest polluters on the road. According to Slate:
Transportation is responsible for 28 percent of the nation's carbon emissions, second only to power plants at 31 percent. By nearly any measure, trucks play an outsize role in contributing greenhouse gas. They comprise just 4.3 percent of vehicles in the U.S., drive 9.3 percent of all miles driven each year, yet consume more than 25 percent of the fuel burned annually.
The Obama administration has made major efforts to slash truck emissions. Last year, in an effort to slash emissions and fight climate change, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed new fuel-efficiency and carbon-cutting standards for trucks and other large vehicles. The proposal is meant to cut emissions by 1 billion metric tons, trim fuel costs by $170 billion and reduce oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels, U.S. News reported.
Mercedes might have beat him to it, but Elon Musk also has a vision of all-electric trucks. As the Tesla CEO wrote in his now-famous
Master Plan, producing electric buses and heavy duty trucks are part of his vision of transitioning to a sustainable transportation future.
"In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport," he wrote. "Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year."
"We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate," Musk continued.
Incidentally, Musk even has some Daimler talent on his team to bring his vision to life. Jerome Guillen, a longtime Daimler engineer who helped develop the Cascadia truck, is in charge of the Tesla Semi program, Electrek reported.
Mercedes and Daimler also has the
world's first autonomous bus to its name, so Musk and his Tesla team definitely have some friendly competition in this arena.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Could this be the future of public transportation? Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the world's first autonomous bus—and it actually works.
The "Future Bus" just completed its first 12-mile journey "without steering, accelerating and without brake pedal" on public roads in the Netherlands, according to Daimler Buses, the company working with Mercedez-Benz.
Using CityPilot autonomous driving technology, the full-sized bus successfully navigated through bends, passes, tunnels and traffic lights along the route between Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and the town of Haarlem.
Daimler said its bus drives up to 43-miles-per-hour and can recognize obstacles, especially pedestrians on the road, and brake autonomously.
Thanks to CityPilot, as Wired UK explains, the bus is connected to the city's wireless network, "so it can communicate directly with traffic lights and other city infrastructure for a smoother ride. The built-in camera systems can even scan the road for potholes and avoid bumpy areas the next time it travels on them, sharing that information back to the city."
In the video below, the driver does not touch the wheel as the bus whisks through the city streets and picks up passengers. The cockpit has a large screen that displays information the driver might need.
The Future Bus is equipped with a GPS system and about a dozen cameras that can scan the road and surroundings. A long and short-range radar systems constantly monitors the route ahead. It can even handle bus stops without driver intervention, as the doors open and close automatically.
"Connectivity plus camera and radar systems with data fusion are catapulting the city bus into the future," Daimler said.
As Wired UK pointed out, even though the bus can drive itself, regulations require a human operator in case he or she needs to intervene, like during an emergency.
As for its design, the 39-foot bus features a sleek exterior and open-plan interior inspired by the layouts of city squares and parks, the German automaker said.
Designer seats are loosely arranged along the walls to allow for open seating, grab rails branch upwards like trees and the ceiling lighting resembles a leaf canopy.
The bus even offers wireless charging.
Besides the obvious environmental benefits of public transportation, automated buses have a number of eco-friendly traits. A bus that's connected to a city's communication network could relay and receive information to operate more efficiently and with better fuel economy than perhaps a human driver can. It could also help alleviate city traffic in densely populated areas.
Europe is particularly friendly towards self-driving vehicles. This past April, the transport ministers of all 28 European Union member states signed the Amsterdam Declaration, in which EU member states and the transport industry pledged to "draw up rules and regulations that will allow autonomous vehicles to be used on the roads."
Daimler tweeted that it invest approximately €200 million to further develop its city-bus portfolio by 2020. It is currently unclear if or when these buses will become a reality or even if they will make it stateside but for a sustainable transportation future, these buses can not come soon enough.