Electric Truck Race Has Started
When it comes to electric trucks, Silicon Valley’s Tesla Semi has gotten the lion’s share of attention, but they aren’t the only one developing battery-powered heavy-duty haulers. Instead of long-haul semis, Mercedes-Benz parent, Daimler, is focusing on electric urban delivery vehicles.
This week, the automaker best known in the U.S. for its luxury cars and SUVs, introduced the eActros, the production version of the Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck concept that first appeared in 2016. An initial test fleet of 10 trucks will be deployed with customers in Europe in a few weeks. Mercedes plans to begin full-scale production of the eActros in 2021.
Mercedes-Benz is putting electric heavy-duty trucks on the road
While Mercedes isn’t attempting to build an electric semi-truck like Tesla, the eActros shows that the company wants to scale up from small, local-delivery vehicles to larger models. The company plans to spend $3.2 billion on research and development for its truck division through 2019, focusing on developing electric mobility, connectivity and automated driving technology for commercial vehicles. Meanwhile, Mercedes will launch electric versions of its Vito and Sprinter vans and an electric bus over the next two years.
Electric Motors and Batteries
The structure for the eActros is provided by the frame of the standard Actros diesel truck. Both two- and three-axle versions with a gross weight rating of 18 to 25 metric tons (39,000-55,000 pounds) depending on the variant will be evaluated by customers.
The drive system comprises two electric motors located close to the rear-axle wheel hubs. These three-phase asynchronous motors are liquid-cooled and operate with a nominal voltage of 400 volts. They generate an output of 170 horsepower (125 kilowatt-hours) each, with maximum torque of 358 pounds-feet of torque (485 Nm) each. The gearing ratios convert this into 8,113 pounds-feet (11 000 Nm) each, resulting in driving performance on a par with that of a diesel truck.
It has a claimed driving range of 125 miles (200 kilometers), provided by two lithium-ion batteries with an output of 240 kWh. The batteries are accommodated in 11 packs: three of these are located in the frame area, the other eight are to be found underneath.
The high-voltage batteries do not just supply energy to the drive system, but to the vehicle as a whole. Ancillary components such as the air compressor for the braking system, the power steering pump, the compressor for the cab air-conditioning system and, where relevant, the refrigerated body, are also all electrically powered.
A full recharge takes three to 11 hours, depending on the power of the charging station. Recharging of the prototype trucks will be provided by portable rechargers.
Two Years, 20 Test Customers
“We are now passing both two- and three-axle variants of our heavy-duty electric truck, the Mercedes-Benz eActros, into the hands of customers. Initially, the focus will be on inner-city goods transport and delivery services—the ranges required here are well within the scope of our Mercedes-Benz eActros,” said Stefan Buchner, head of Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
The eActros battery pack can charge in 3-11 hours
The range of requirements means that the vehicles are fitted with a variety of bodies—refrigerated box bodies, tankers or tarpaulin sides are used. The drivers of the eActros are trained specially to work with the vehicle.
The first 10 pilot customers, including German supermarket chain Edeka and parcel delivery service Hermes, will be testing the vehicles in real-life operations for 12 months, after which the trucks will be going out to a second set of customers for a further 12 months.
A Poke At Tesla
Daimler cast doubt on Tesla’s plan to deliver electric heavy trucks next year, saying its more modest goal to start selling battery-powered big rigs by 2021 is more realistic, according to trade publication Automotive News.
As the largest global truckmaker, Daimler has the most to lose should Tesla succeed in producing a semi-truck with a 500-mile range for delivery starting in 2019.
“If Tesla really delivers on this promise, we’ll obviously buy two trucks—one to take apart and one to test because if that happens, something has passed us by,” head of Daimler Trucks Martin Daum said. “But for now, the same laws of physics apply in Germany and in California,” he added.
Who Will Win the Race?
Daimler and rivals including Tesla, Volkswagen’s MAN, Volvo AB and U.S. truck maker Kenworth and engine maker Cummins are all racing to bring electric trucks to market to cope with a push to shift from fossil fuels to greener vehicles and reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. At the moment, Daimler is at the front of the pack while Tesla can boast of 100s of orders for its future truck.
The eActros can be configured to haul up to 55,000 pounds
In October of last year, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation, part of Daimler Trucks, launched its new Fuso eCanter in New York City, the world’s first series-produced all-electric medium-duty truck. First on the list to buy three eCanter trucks was the United Parcel Service (UPS).
A few days after the New York introduction, Fuso showed off a Class 8 electric truck at the Tokyo Motor Show. The E-Fuso Vision One concept, called a trailerless or “straight” truck with an enclosed cargo area, carries a payload of approximately 11 metric tons (24,000 pounds) with a driving range of 210 miles on a single charge.
So, while Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, talks (brags) about a big electric truck, Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and Fuso already have two being driven by customers and the eActros arriving in a few weeks.
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Cargo & People Hauling To Became Cleaner in 2019
Mercedes-Benz pulled the covers off its new Sprinter van line this week at the company’s logistics center on the Mercator Island in Duisburg, Germany. In addition to the usual diesel- and gasoline-powered models, the truck and carmaker Daimler revealed an all-electric Mercedes-Benz eSprinter. The eSpritner goes on sale in Europe in 2019 and will be offered eventually in the U.S., said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.
Few Electric Drivetrain Details
The 2019 Mercedes-Benz eSprinter will be front-wheel drive only and at this point Mercedes says the new van will have a 41.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a driving range of around 100 miles. The exact specifications could change before the vehicle comes to market, including the battery size.
It’s a big electric box
According to Mercedes, the pairing of the electric battery with dedicated front-wheel drive lowers the load floor by 80mm and may end up as a slightly lighter drivetrain. Both low load floors and lighter vehicle weight are important factors not only for fleet purchasers, but for the drivers who end up running delivery routes in them.
Mercedes says the eSprinter will primarily be used in large metropolitan areas, where range isn’t critical, but emissions are. European cities like London, where electric-vehicles are exempt from a congestion charge, will likely make the electric van a popular choice for small and large trucking fleets. Mercedes says operating an eSprinter will cost about the same as a diesel-powered Sprinter. These electric vans can be tailored for specific payload requirements.
In Profile, Still A Sprinter Van
The 2019 Sprinter van’s exterior hasn’t changed much since its 1995 introduction. In profile, the new third-generation model remains with its boxy design, but the front and rear have some nips and tucks to look fresher. Of note, the new look up front adapts the latest Mercedes design direction that applies to both its latest vans and passenger cars.
The Sprinter dash ups the tech quotient
Inside, the story is much the same. That means the Sprinter retains its durable, everything-is-hard plastic. But changes were made to bring the van into the 21st century, such as incorporating the display screen into a semi-floating part of the dashboard that tilts upward. There’s also a plethora of storage from under-seat cubbies to large slots and bins on the dashboard. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mercedes-Benz without door-mounted seat controls.
It’s not known what tech gear will be offered on the eSprinter when it arrives, but the standard van is lousy with new=fangled tech, whether it’s intended for driver convenience, safety or the fleet company.
In terms of safety equipment, the Sprinter’s tried-and-true Crosswind Assist system returns to help mitigate the effects strong wind has on a slab-sided van. Distronic will guide the van in its lane on the highway, keeping distance between the Sprinter and any traffic ahead. It’ll brake on its own if something gets in the way, and traffic-sign recognition will help drivers navigate unfamiliar areas.
The Sprinter will come in several different configurations
LED headlights will keep the road ahead nice and bright, while a new “Wet Wiper” system puts the wiper fluid nozzles inside the wiper arms for better dispersal and less spray-related mess. USB Type C connections allow you to charge devices at amperages up to 1.5A, but there’s a traditional 12-volt port in there, too, if you need that.
The infotainment screen can display both the backup camera and a top-down view of the world around the van when navigating gets a little tight.
Speaking of infotainment, the Sprinter can also be optioned with Mercedes-Benz’s new MBUX infotainment system. With a 10.25-inch screen, MBUX (Mercedes-Benz User Experience) brings new connectivity to the table thanks to a new digital assistant that understands natural-language requests like, “I’m cold” or “The gas tank is empty.” Paired with the MBUX system is the new Mercedes Pro internet connectivity system. It connects customers to help with efficient fleet management, improved navigation, analysis of driving style, digitalized recording and remote vehicle operations.
Regular Sprinter vans will arrive in the U.S. before the end of this year and will be offered for the first time with a gasoline engine in addition to diesel engines. It will have configurations that work for nearly every commercial van use as well as serve as a recreational vehicle platform. It will come as a regular cab—the most popular body for a delivery van—as well as a crew cab.
As for the eSprinter, we’ll just have to wait (hopefully not too long) for details.
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Europe To Get Electric Trucks Next Year; the U.S. Later
Last year, beverage industry giant Anheuser-Busch InBev announced that, by 2025, it would purchase only 100 percent renewable electricity; proving that corporations are beginning to realize that fish don’t drink beer and rising sea levels could be very bad for business. This year, InBev followed that commitment by placing an order to receive 40 of Tesla’s new electric semi-trucks (whenever Tesla gets around to making them). But Tesla is not the only automaker looking to capitalize on the green corporate shift.
Volvo’s not saying which model, but here’s one likely candidate already in the city
Not to be outdone by the playground upstart, industry giant Volvo Group announced this week that it will also sell electric trucks in North America; but it’s not saying when. While Europe will get electrified medium-duty Volvo trucks in 2019, the auto maker has not released a firm timeline for bringing its trucks across the pond.
“By using electrically powered and quieter trucks for goods transport in urban areas, we meet several challenges simultaneously,” said Claes Nilsson, President of Volvo Trucks. “Without disturbing noise and exhaust gases, it will be possible to operate in more sensitive city centers.”
Urban Delivery Focus
However, urban truck mobility is not the only positive electrified trucks would bring. Less noise means trucks can operate during more hours of the night, reducing the number of trucks on city roads during daytime rush-hour traffic.
The first electric semis will likely be found making short runs in town
Electric range and mandatory recharge periods could also help prevent driver fatigue, a problem that has been blamed for causing many accidents involving semi-trucks. But the path to electrified product transportation could be a long one; especially in the U.S.
“Enabling long-term sustainable transport is a complex issue that requires a holistic and wide range of measures,” said Jonas Odermalm, Head of Product Strategy for Medium Duty Vehicles at Volvo Trucks. “We are working closely with customers, cities, suppliers of charging infrastructure and other key stakeholders to create the necessary framework for electrical trucks.”
Potential range, powertrain specifications and price have not yet been released.
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Welcome to 2018!
We wish all of you a very Happy New Year! We hope 2017 was as good for you as it was for us here at Clean Fleet Report. We published more articles than in any previous year, covered breaking news of new models and tested cars of all shapes and sizes. The team of John Faulkner, Larry Hall, Steve Schaefer and Nick Zatopa dug deep and brought you up close to all of the important stories this year.
It’s a great time to be focused on green cars as the number of EVs, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and high-mileage gas and diesel vehicles continues to climb. And autonomous technology and connected vehicles promise to become a part of our daily lives. This has been a great year for us, but we think 2018 promises to be even more exciting. Glad to have you along for the ride.
Look for some surprises in January!
Editor & Publisher
Clean Fleet Report
The Mode 3 is just one of the stories we’ll be covering in 2018
Electric Truckin’ War Heats Up
Thor is the hammer-wielding Norse god of thunder and lightning as well as a fictional superhero appearing in Marvel comic books and movies. Now, Thor has become the name of a Los Angeles-based startup that plans to bring its heavy-duty Class 8 electric truck to market before the battery-powered Tesla Semi hits the streets in late 2019.
Coming at you–maybe before Tesla?
Thor Trucks came out of stealth mode last Friday and introduced its prototype called the ET-One. The prototype also has aerodynamic fenders and a one-piece wraparound windshield.
The young company used established trucking components in order to get the demonstrator vehicle on the road quickly. The chassis comes from a Navistar commercial truck. It uses heavy-duty Dana axles and an off-the-shelf motor from supplier TM4—a motor used in a variety of heavy-duty applications, including buses, that puts out an estimated 4,700 pounds-feet of torque. A one-speed transmission simplifies the driving process.
Thor is building its own battery modules from cells and packs purchased from LG Chem for the 800 kWh battery pack, and mounts them to both sides of the chassis under side skirts. The company says its battery design “is different in its layout and cooling process to most electric batteries,” and is more energy-dense than any other on the market.
The ET-One will go for $150,000 for a 100-mile range version and $250,000 for the 300-mile version. Both have a top speed of 70 mph. The electric big rig recently demonstrated its towing capacity in a short drive around Los Angeles, pulling around 60,000 pounds of cargo. The plan is to test the Class 8 load limit of 80,000 pounds soon.
A Very Small Start Up
A pair of 25-year olds, Dakota Semler and Gio Sordoni, co-founded Thor Trucks in 2016. Its development has been funded entirely by the profits from some of Semler’s other commercial ventures.
In the cab plenty of comfort awaits
At the moment, Thor has a team of just 18 employees, but what the small truck company lacks in manpower it makes up for with experience. Sordoni says Thor has brought onboard the engineering talent to develop a chassis of its own and will be building trucks from the ground up beyond the prototype. Among the company’s 18 employees is John Henry Harris, who had stints at electric car company Faraday Future and Boeing. He now serves as Thor’s senior mechanical engineer. Priyankar Balekai, who joined Thor from BYD Motors, and also spent several years at Navistar, is the company’s chief product officer. Thor recently hired Jarod Doran away from green vehicle developer US Hybrid as lead electromechanical engineer.
While that sounds like a nice starting lineup. Thor needs some additional heavy weights.
Facing Off Against the Big Boys
Thor is tiny compared to its well-capitalized giant competition. In August, diesel engine maker Cummins revealed the AEOS, its first electric semi-truck. Cummins says the AEOS will offer a 100-mile range that can be optioned up to 300 miles with additional battery packs. Nothing has been said about price, but it’s known that the maximum payload will be about 44,000 pounds.
Another big boy looks to beat Tesla to market
Meanwhile, Germany’s Daimler says the E-Fuso Vision One will have slightly more than a 200-mile range and will be able to haul up to 22,000 pounds. Its Freightliner division has showcased autonomous and electrified class 8 trucks.
Then there’s the elephant in the room—or in Palo Alto, CA—Tesla Motors. Tesla says its battery-electric Semi will have up to a 500-mile range and will haul up to 80,000 pounds. Pricing is expected to be between $150,000 and $180,000 (depending on battery pack/range) and the Silicon Valley company has already snagged more the 300 pre-orders for the truck, which it has said will launch in 2019.
Beyond the above, there are hydrogen-powered electric Class 8 rigs planned from Toyota and Nikola Motor Co.
Thor says it will build a scaled-down, medium-duty truck, too. Its target market will be short hauls between a port and an urban center.
“A lot of players are coming in the commercial EV industry, because it’s a good time to get into it,” Sordoni said. “In comparison to other folks, I think what we’re talking about is all super reasonable. We’re not promising thousands of charging stations and millions of trucks. What we’re offering is scaled down and realistic.”
While that sounds like a good business plan, Thor, like many startups stubbed its toe by introducing its electric truck before rounding up funding. That’s a misstep that could lead to an early down fall.
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Tesla Moves Bigger & Back To Its Roots
Tesla has never been accused of underplaying its cards (or cars). Tonight (Nov. 16) it showed its all-electric heavy-duty truck, destined for production in late 2019. The”Semis” (there were two) have been previewed for months, but the presentation lived up to most of the hype. The truck promises to be the same kind of distrupter than Tesla cars have been in the light-duty market.
Elon wants this to be the “best truck ever”
That wasn’t all, though, as Elon Musk also revealed its next-generation “roadster.” The four-passenger performance T-top coupe was a surprise, but will be available in 2020.
The Big Truck
Tesla’s ambition to show that its electric propulsion technology has applications beyond expensive luxury sedans and SUVs came to fruition when two trucks rolled off the streets of Torrance into the Space X facility. The trucks were sleek, sporting a .36 Cd and enough batteries to claim a 500-mile range.
The Tesla Semi daycab is hyper-aero
The promises about the trucks were vintage Musk:
- “designed like a bullet” with super-aero looks
- 1 million mile “no break-down guarantee”
- sporty performance (0-60 in five seconds with the cab, 20 seconds with an 80,000-pound load
- an enhanced AutoPilot system (like the system featured in Tesla cars)
- “lowest cost of ownership” compared to current diesel trucks
- order one now for delivery in three years
Actual technical details were sparse, but what could be divined from Musk’s 20-minute introduction was that it was designed to run as an 80,000-pound rig (the maximum payload allowed on U.S. roads). What was not divulged was how much weight the huge battery packs would take away from the load capacity.
Two screens, no waiting
The power, coming from four Tesla Model 3 motors, was impressive, with the ability to accelerate a fully loaded trailer to freeway speeds in 20 seconds. Safety features–including automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and forward collision warning, are welcome additions. As are Tesla mobile apps like remote diagnostics and predictive maintenance notices.
The cab is configured as a single-seat daycab setup with the driver positioned at the center of the cab, flanked by two large Model S-like screens. It has the height to accommodate a six-footer and plenty of storage space.
Musk said the truck would “win on economics,” but until it’s really on the market, it will be hard to fully evaluate how those numbers work out in the real world.
The Surprise Roadster
I know model descriptions are in flux, but when the Tesla Roadster 2.0 rolled off the back of one of the Semis, I did a double-take. At first glance, it appeared to be a T-top (hello, bandit) Model 3 coupe. And that may be what it is, but Musk introduced it as taking the roadster Tesla started with and “making it new.” Whatever the chassis, about which little was said, the selling point of this car will be performance.
The new Roadster promises more practicality with its beyond-ludicrous speed
That’s something with which Tesla already has a track record. The new three-motor roadster (one for the front wheels, two for the rear) will be beyond “ludicrous,” as Musk put it. It aims to be the first production car to deliver 0-60 times under two seconds, 0-100 in 4.2 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 8.9 seconds. The top speed wasn’t disclosed, but was hinted to be north of 250 mph. In addition, it will have a 620-mile range from its 200 kWh battery pack. Musk’s summation was that it was the “hard-core smack-down to gasoline cars.”
Unlike some exotic supercars, Musk said this model could accommodate two small persons in its rear seat and had “real car” storage. It is promised to be on the market by 2020.
A Tesla reveal is never a straightforward event. As was predicted by some skeptics, it started on “Musk Standard Time,” i.e., a half-hour late, but wasted no time in getting the trucks on screen and then on stage. Musk breezed through his portion of the program in about 20 minutes and the Roadster took less than 10 minutes to present. It was compact, but packed with quite a bit of real information and marketing conjecture.
Elon Musk goes big & back to Tesla’s roots
As with all Tesla products, the story will be complete when they are in production and on the market, but the mere presence of two running heavy-duty truck prototypes should be enough to accelerate the development of competitive trucks around the world. Some have already started, like Daimler, Cummins and Chanje, but I’d expect more during the next few years. Given what happened in the electric car market, where the major car companies seemed to have underestimated Tesla and been caught off-guard by its success (albeit not financial, yet, except in the stock market), I’d predict that the truck OEMs will accelerate their competitive products. It should make for an interesting truck market during the coming decade.
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