• Vegard Synnes

Container Transport: Electric Vehicles vs ICE Vehicles

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

In this article we explore a topic which has been very much in the wind over the past months from customers and partners alike; the difference of shipping Electric Vehicles – EV’s versus Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles – ICE Vehicles in containers.

The major difference to keep in mind when looking at the difference of EV’s and ICE vehicles are the following: the slightly heavier curb weight of EV’s; the difference in weight distribution across the vehicle; the use of a lithium ion battery as the vehicles energy source as opposed to the traditional internal combustion engine powered by gasoline.

Before getting into the details of EV Containerization, we recommend watching through this video which provides an excellent overview of the internal differences of an EV and an ICE vehicle: what are the differing components; how are these installed in the vehicle; and ultimately how does this affect total weight and weight distribution.

As can be observed in the video, though similar on the surface the internal composition of an EV and an ICE vehicle is quite distinguishable.

EV vs ICE Curb Weight

As seen in the video above, electric cars in general have a heavier curb weight than their ICE counterparts. This relates mainly to the relatively low energy density of lithium ion batteries as opposed to petrol fuel.

In the article "You gotta carry that weight: how bigger vehicles and EVs will challenge logistics" author Daniel Harris with Automotive Logistics exemplifies how the average weight of a range of popular electric vehicles looms higher than the average weight of similar ICE vehicles. Though components may be lighter, the battery of an EV will weigh between 300-500 kg, pushing up the vehicle curb weight drastically.

Though this weight increase will have a big impact on auto-haulers and other players operating specialized vehicle transport equipment due to weight restrictions both on equipment and from a regulative side, and also in form of increased fuel costs , it will not have a huge effect on containerised vehicle transport solutions. A 40HQ container is specced for a payload capacity of over 28 tons (though with regulative weight restrictions for certain modes of transport), and a global acceptable payload is usually considered around 20 tons. Even if shipping the heaviest cars in the market you will not get a load weight heavier than that. Thus the key differentiator becomes the equipment used to load and secure the vehicles inside the container.

This table shows the curb weight of a range of popular electric vehicles already available in the market, or set to hit the market in the coming year. As can be observed, the weight of several of these vehicles are touching upon 2.5 tons. Todays market trends of growing vehicle size and customer preference for SUV's and other large vehicle types, coupled with request for longer range electric vehicles; pushes OEM's to use larger battery packs, we can expect that EV curb weight will grow beyond these numbers as well in the years to come. Thus the tolerance and structural integrity of the loading equipment used will have to specced for this as well.

Kar-Tainer's cassette based loading solutions are centered on our steel base-units. The base-unit in itself is built to tolerate more than twice the weight of the heaviest vehicles listed above. The only weight limitation on our equipment would be the rampways, uprights- and cross-bars supporting the angled vehicles. However as these are interchangeable parts which could easily be swapped for stronger material depending on the weight of vehicles to be loaded, our equipment can easily be specced for even the heaviest vehicles in the market.

The Kar-Tainer system is 100% self supported, and does not rely on any structural integrity of the container floor, walls or any other fastening points potentially used within the container. The base-units completely covers the floor of the container, which together with its sheer weight, ensures the cassettes stay in place inside the container without any internal fastening. The angled structure on the end-cassettes in turn enables for increased vehicle load-rate per container. The system being independent of the container to ensure rigidity, enables us to fully control all aspects of loading even the heaviest vehicles in containers.

In comparison to other alternatives which relies on wooden- or iron-constructs being attached to the container, or on having vehicles suspended from straps or chains attached within the container, the Kar-Tainer system allow for safe loading and transport of vehicles at almost any weight.

Vehicle Weight Distribution

As was explained in the above video the weight distribution of an EV differs significantly from that of an ICE vehicle. Where in an ICE vehicle a vast amount of the vehicle curb weight sits in the engine and transmission at the front of the vehicle. In an Electric Vehicle the majority of the weight is with the battery which is usually placed in the floor of the car. This lowers the center of gravity and increases car stability of an EV compared to an ICE vehicle. This is an aspect we are able to take advantage of when designing solutions for loading electric cars in containers.

The illustration shows an ICE vehicle (Top picture) and an EV (Bottom picture) loaded on the Kar-Tainer 3-car CBU Cassette System. As can be seen the engine and transmission in the ICE sits much higher up in the vehicle than what the battery in the EV does. The method of loading cars in containers, with bonnet facing upwards, further reinforces the effect this has on how the vehicles behave once loaded inside the container. Whereas the EV follows the same principle as Kar-Tainer's system with a heavy bottom and a low center of gravity, the ICE vehicle will be more susceptible to sudden abnormal forces impacting the container. Especially during container loading/unloading to container ships, railway wagons or trucks, the container can be subject to rough handling which creates momentum and risk for the vehicle to move around inside the box.

Especially when subjected to impact on the sides of the container, the vehicles loaded inside can be exposed to forces that will make them sway slightly to the side. If the center of gravity is sitting at the top-front of the vehicle, this motion will have greater effect than if the center of gravity is sitting towards the lower-back of the vehicle, which will better anchor the car in place.

In general all vehicles loaded in containers, be that on Kar-Tainer systems or through the use of alternative solutions, should be safely lashed and secured. However if accident first happens it is important to understand how the vehicle will behave within the container. Kar-Tainer has been providing solutions for containerising vehicles for close on three decades, and over 1.2 million ICE vehicles have been successfully transported on our equipment with market leading low damage rates (less than 0.02%). Our conclusion in regards to differences in vehicle weight distribution between EV's and ICE vehicles is that the low center of gravity of EV's is something that plays in our favor and creates an even safer situation for loading electric cars in containers. This conclusion does however consider the Kar-Tainer method of containerising vehicles. With the use of other one-time use loading systems, or other racking solutions where the vehicle rear is elevated as opposed to the front of the vehicle, these forces would rather work contradictory to this conclusion.

Lithium Ion Battery vs. Fossil Fuel

Besides the physical differences between an EV and an ICE vehicle it is also worthwhile to take notice of the different energy source used between the two alternatives. Whereas an ICE vehicle relies on fossil fuel for energy, an EV (or at least a BEV) relies on a lithium ion battery.

A lithium ion battery is classified as Level 9 Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods, and must be treated accordingly during transport and storage whether you ship by ocean, road or air. In most cases and regions of the world this does not affect the actual logistics of Electric Vehicles, but it is observed in some markets that transport by certain modes are restricted due to the Dangerous Goods element. This is however widely considered to be more results of a transitional regulative situation than of actual risk or danger of transporting electric cars. In the end, the vehicle itself is considered the "safest packaging" for lithium ion batteries.

Another point of interest to look at when talking about differences in the logistics of EV's and ICE vehicles is fuel levels during transport and storage. For ICE vehicles the fuel level should not be more than 1/4 of full capacity of the vehicle, and in no case exceed 250 liters. As for EV's powered by lithium ion batteries there is no specific guidelines on fuel level, or SOC - State of Charge, during transport. Key considerations to take is that the car and battery must be properly labeled and the battery must meet UN38.3 testing criteria.

Should it happen that a vehicle runs out of power during transportation or storage, this has to be dealt with and additional procedures have to be planned and implemented. For ICE vehicles standard procedures are well implemented for how to deal with this, however on the EV side it still depends to a great degree on the individual OEM and LSP quality demands and standard operating procedures.

A suggested SOC of EV's during transport which can be heard across the industry is 25% battery level. This should in most cases be enough to propel the vehicle throughout the different stages of the outbound supply chain; from factory to dealer. One should however keep in mind that a lithium ion battery will slowly lose charge even when not in use. Following ECG general guidelines on electric vehicle handling, a lithium ion battery loses about 5% of its charge every month it is sitting idle. It is also advised to not keep the vehicle at high charge during storage or transportation for more than 1 month.

Though such issues are creating new challenges to the automotive outbound logistics industry, it does not pose big problems to the solutions provided by Kar-Tainer. Vehicles loaded on our systems are unloaded from the container with the help of a forklift. Cassette and vehicle can easily be moved to battery charging area within a compound without creating difficulties for other unloading/loading operations taking place simultaneously.

In Conclusion

The differences in shipping electric vehicles and internal combustion engine vehicles in containers are not all that big. However, from a Kar-Tainer perspective, the minor differences that can be observed are items that factor in favorably for containerisation of EV's.

We encourage anyone having concerns about shipping electric cars in containers not to worry, and get in contact with us on how to safely load and transport your electric cars in containers using the tested and proven Kar-Tainer cassette based CBU system.

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