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Germany’s pepper motion GmbH calls itself a ‘digital OEM’ as it doesn’t have its own warehousing and manufacturing facilities. The Denkendorf-based company offers electrification solutions for retrofitting used and new commercial vehicles such as trucks in distribution transport, buses in local public transport and municipal vehicles.
Auto Futures has been talking to Andreas Hager, Managing Director of pepper motion. His company was formed in mid-2021 through the renaming of e-troFit GmbH.
“This step was necessary because in the future it is also planned to cover other business areas beyond retrofitting such as new vehicles and digital services. All new business areas will be managed under the pepper brand. etrofit, however, will remain as the established brand for the retrofitting business area,” says Hager.
With a holistic approach to telematics, charging infrastructure, fleet management and autonomous driving, the company designs packages for sustainable mobility transformation that offer a ‘second life’ for existing commercial vehicles.
“etrofit is an innovative conversion kit for diesel-powered commercial vehicles. Existing vehicles are given an environmentally friendly “second life” as electric vehicles. etrofit is thus an innovative bridging technology that facilitates the rapid and cost-effective entry into electromobility and allows the sustainable use of existing vehicles,” he explains.
The core element of pepper’s conversion offering is its own Vehicle Control Unit (VCU), an adaptable system software architecture for reliable control of the entire vehicle.
Hager says key benefits of retrofitting include the cheaper purchase price and running costs.
“The conversion is about 50 percent cheaper than buying a new electric bus. The use of an electric bus reduces the ongoing operating costs for the operator, compared to vehicles with an internal combustion engine, in particular due to lower maintenance and energy costs.”
pepper sees great potential for the retrofit market in Europe, as EU targets for cutting CO2 emissions will be unattainable for new electric and diesel vehicles.
“By 2030, there will be over half a billion commercial vehicles on the roads – and pepper intends to electrify a significant proportion of them with its sustainable solutions.”
Analysis, Design and Conversion
The etrofit retrofitting takes place in two phases. Firstly, pepper’s team analyses the vehicles to be converted for technical peculiarities. This analysis includes requirements such as route lengths, route profiles, circulation times, charging points, etc. The design in terms of range, battery capacity, powertrain, air conditioning and optional charging concept can then be defined.
The conversion process takes approximately four weeks.
The diesel engine, transmission, and drive axle are replaced during the retrofit. The battery is installed in the engine compartment. If a larger battery capacity is needed, additional batteries can be installed on the roof.
“All ancillary units previously driven by the combustion engine, such as the air conditioning system, air compressor, pumps, and radiator, are removed and replaced by electrically driven components. Optimum control of the interaction between these components guarantees the most energy-efficient operation possible,” adds Hager.
In the driver’s cabin, an additional display is installed, which shows information on the vehicle status, battery and charge level, or any important system messages.
pepper Eyes French Market Potential
pepper’s key markets in Europe include Germany, France, Italy, Austria, and Poland. In March 2022 it concluded a partner agreement with REV Mobilities to bring retrofitting to France. The partnership is aiming at converting at least 5,000 zero-emission buses and trucks in France by 2030.
“In the short term the partners plan to bring the retrofitting of commercial vehicles in OEM series quality to France. With this first German-French cooperation in the field of retrofitting, pepper is addressing one of the strongest bus and truck markets in Europe,” explains Hager.
The first pepper retrofitting solutions available for the French market are fitted for the Mercedes-Benz Citaro C1 and Citaro C2 bus models as well as the Mercedes-Benz Actros and Atego truck models (above 7.5 tons).
Further models such as the IVECO Crossway for inter-regional public transport and additional truck models are planned in cooperation with REV in France for 2023 and beyond.
“A public transport offensive is already planned, REV Mobilities and pepper are currently running a nationwide roadshow with the etrofit bus lasting several weeks, and traveling to the most important regions of French public transport in order to rouse enthusiasm for the highly efficient technology and to break down still widespread prejudices against electromobility,” he adds.
“We Believe in a Global Transition to Green Future Mobility”
pepper recently completed its Series A financing round with nearly 30 million Euros. The capital will primarily go towards ramping up series production with strategic partners as well as the market entry phase into other European countries that is already underway.
Looking to the futures, Hager tells us that pepper is open to new technologies, and fuel cells will play an important role for the development of specific solutions in the commercial vehicle sector in the future. In fact, the company plan is to have the first production-ready buses and trucks based on fuel cell technology on the road as early as 2024.
“On the one hand the focus of development is on battery-powered electric vehicles with fuel cell range extenders. On the other hand, pepper intends to offer a hybrid powertrain primarily based on hydrogen as an energy carrier in the future for longer ranges in coaches and heavy-duty transport. The battery is used here only to support high drive power, for operation of the fuel cell at optimum efficiency and for the recuperation of braking energy,” he says.
Finally, we asked Hager for this thoughts on what urban transportation look like by 2030.
“We believe in a global transition to green future mobility – climate-neutral, emission-free, and energy-efficient. It must be available to all people, affordable, and designed to meet their individual needs, whether on water, on land, or in the air,” he answers.
“In addition to the EU targets, we are in line with the German government’s goals to increase the use of clean road vehicles. These targets include not only passenger cars but also commercial vehicles. Due to the high German and EU targets as well as the regulatory support, we see a huge market growth potential for the use of our zero emission vehicles and are optimistic to achieve these goals,” concludes Hager.