The “Digital OEM” that is modernizing Europe – pepper motion GmbH MD Andreas Hager
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German company pepper motion GmbH calls itself a “digital OEM” because it does not have its own warehousing and manufacturing facilities. The Denkendorf-based company offers electrification solutions for the modernization of used and new commercial vehicles such as trucks in distribution transport, buses in local public transport and municipal vehicles.
Auto Futures spoke with Andreas Hager, Managing Director of pepper motion. His company was established in mid-2021 by renaming 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 lines of business will be managed under the Pepper brand. however, etrofit will remain the established brand for the renovation business area,” says Hager.
With a holistic approach to telematics, charging infrastructure, fleet management and autonomous driving, the company designs packages for the transformation of sustainable mobility that offer a “second life” to existing commercial vehicles .
“etrofit is an innovative conversion kit for commercial vehicles with diesel engines. Existing vehicles are given an environmentally friendly “second life” as electric vehicles. etrofit is therefore an innovative transition technology that facilitates quick and cost-effective entry into electromobility and enables the sustainable use of existing vehicles,” he explains.
The core 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 the main benefits of modernization include lower purchase price and running costs.
“The conversion is around 50% cheaper than buying a new electric bus. The use of an electric bus reduces 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 CO2 reduction targets will be out of reach for new electric and diesel vehicles.
“By 2030, there will be more than half a billion commercial vehicles on the road – and Pepper aims to electrify a significant proportion of them with its sustainable solutions.”
Analysis, design and conversion
The etrofit upgrade takes place in two phases. First, the pepper team analyzes the vehicles to be converted for technical particularities. This analysis includes requirements such as route lengths, route profiles, running 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 about four weeks.
The diesel engine, transmission and drive axle are replaced during the refurbishment. The battery is installed in the engine compartment. If more battery capacity is required, additional batteries can be installed on the roof.
“All auxiliary units previously driven by the combustion engine, such as the air conditioning system, air compressor, pumps and radiator, are removed and replaced by electrical components. Optimal control of the interaction between these components ensures the most energy-efficient operation possible,” adds Hager.
In the driver’s cabin, an additional display is installed, which displays information about the status of the vehicle, the level of the battery and charge, or any important system messages.
pepper Eyes French market potential
The key markets for pepper in Europe are Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Poland. In March 2022, it entered into a partnership agreement with REV Mobilities to bring retrofitting to France. The partnership aims to convert at least 5,000 zero-emission buses and trucks in France by 2030.
“In the short term, the partners plan to bring to France the retrofitting of commercial vehicles in first series quality. With this first Franco-German cooperation in the field of retrofitting, pepper is addressing one of the strongest bus and truck markets in Europe”, explains Hager.
The first pepper retrofit solutions available for the French market equip the Mercedes-Benz Citaro C1 and Citaro C2 bus models as well as the Mercedes-Benz Actros and Atego truck models (over 7.5 tonnes).
Further models such as the IVECO Crossway for interregional public transport and additional truck models are planned in cooperation with REV in France for 2023 and beyond.
“An offensive in public transport is already planned, REV Mobilités and Pepper are currently organizing a national roadshow with the etrofit bus for several weeks, and travel to the most important regions of French public transport in order to create enthusiasm for the technology. highly efficient and to break down the prejudices that are still widespread against electromobility”, he adds.
“We believe in a global transition to green mobility of the future”
pepper has just closed its Series A funding round with almost 30 million euros. The capital will mainly be used for the ramp-up of series production with strategic partners as well as for the market entry phase in other European countries which is already underway.
Looking to the future, Hager tells us that Pepper is open to new technologies and that 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’s plan is to have the first production-ready buses and trucks based on fuel cell technology on the road as soon as 2024.
“On the one hand, the development is focused on battery-powered electric vehicles with fuel cell range extenders. On the other hand, Pepper intends to offer in the future a hybrid powertrain mainly based on hydrogen as an energy carrier for longer ranges in coaches and heavy transport. The battery is only used here to support high drive power, for optimal operation of the fuel cell and for the recovery of braking energy,” he explains.
Finally, we asked Hager to share his thoughts on what urban transport will look like by 2030.
“We believe in a global transition to green future mobility – climate-neutral, emission-free and energy-efficient. It should be accessible to everyone, affordable and designed to meet their individual needs, whether on the water, on land or in the air,” he replies.
“In addition to EU targets, we are in line with German government targets to increase the use of clean road vehicles. These targets include not only passenger cars, but also commercial vehicles. Due to Germany’s and the EU’s high targets as well as regulatory support, we see enormous market growth potential for the use of our zero-emission vehicles and are optimistic to achieve these targets,” concludes Hager.