Aims to Beat Tesla in the Market’s Electric Truck Race
Daimler, the world’s biggest truck-maker best known in the U.S. for its Freightliner brand, unveiled two new battery-powered models as it looks to protect its market dominance. One, an all-electric Class 8 big rig called the Freightliner eCascadia, will compete directly with Tesla’s Semi.
The two electric trucks were revealed during the annual Daimler Trucks Capital Market and Technology Day, held in Portland, Oregon for Wall Street analysts and investors on Wednesday. In a presentation, Daimler Trucks North America president and chief executive officer Roger Nielsen said, “We are the undisputed global leader of the trucking industry, and we intend to remain in that position with electric trucks and buses.”
The truck maker said that a fleet of 30 vehicles would be delivered to customers later this year for testing. It went on to say it expects the electric rigs would be ready for commercial sale by 2021.
Heavy-Duty Freightliner eCascadia
The Freightliner eCascadia is based on the Cascadia, the best-selling diesel heavy-duty long-haul truck (Class 8) in the U.S. market. Designed with the characteristically long, U.S.-style hood, the truck uses wheel motors to develop 730 peak horsepower. At 550 kilowatt-hours (kWh), its batteries provide enough energy for a range of up to 250 miles. Using high-voltage DC fast charging, it can charge up to 80 percent in 90 minutes to give it an additional 200 miles of range. The eCascadia will have a gross combined weight rating of 80,000 pounds, so carrying the batteries has not compromised its hauling capacity.
The company doesn’t see the initial versions as a substitute for its diesel long haul trucks. Instead, Daimler anticipates that the Class 8 tractor will be for local and regional distribution and drayage, which are trucks used for shuttling containers at ports. That could make it a major contender for business in California, where 40 percent of goods imported to the U.S. come through the neighboring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Both ports have already announced initiatives to electrify the fleets of trucks that travel in, out, and around the ports.
Medium-Duty Freightliner eM2 Box Truck
The Freightliner eM2 is a dedicated delivery box truck designed for daily routes of between 45 and 150 miles. Weighing in at 26,000 pounds, the eM2 has a range of up to 230 miles from a 325-kWh battery. A quick-recharge of 80 percent yields another 184 miles in about an hour. Its two electric motors deliver up to 480 horsepower.
New Portland R&D Center
Daimler also announced that it would set up a new research and development center for autonomous driving at its U.S. headquarters in Portland. The division already has a significant R&D presence there, including a heavy-duty truck wind tunnel.
Engineers at the new facility will draw on R&D resources at Daimler Trucks operations in Germany and India to create a global network of hundreds of specialists in the autonomous driving sphere. “We are pioneering technologies across the automated vehicle spectrum that make roads safer and help trucking companies boost productivity,” said Sven Ennerst, head of truck product engineering at Daimler.
The Electric Truck Race Is On
Tesla may have nearly 2,000 orders for its planned long-distance Semi electric truck, but it has never built a truck and has not announced where or who will build it. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it will arrive in 2019, however the company’s track record for meeting production schedules is quite dismal.
Meanwhile, Daimler is already testing battery-electric trucks. Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation (MFTBC), part of Daimler Trucks, launched its new Fuso eCanter truck in New York City last October. First on the list to buy three eCanter trucks is the United Parcel Service (UPS). Daimler is also offering eight of the trucks to New York City-based non-profits.
And when it comes to Class 8 heavy-duty trucks, Mitsubishi Fuso also showed off the E-Fuso Vision One. It features an enclosed cargo area, called a trailerless or “straight” truck. The electric heavy-duty truck concept has a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) of about 23 tons and carries a payload of approx. 11 tons, only two tons less than its diesel counterpart.
In Europe, the Mercedes-Benz eActros heavy-duty electric box trucks with gross weight ratings of 39,000-55,000 pounds are already being tested by fleets. The trucks have a claimed driving range of 125 miles, provided by two lithium-ion batteries with an output of 240 kWh.
Compared with Tesla, Freightliner already has a commanding market in the U.S. It has a vast dealership network and an order book of customers who purchase trucks by the hundreds to the thousands at a time.
Daimler and Tesla are not the only companies looking to capitalize on the green corporate trucking shift. Industry giant Volvo Group said in January of this year that it will also sell electric trucks in North America; but it’s not saying when. It has since disclosed more about its first European-based EV truck. Other manufacturers also working on electric trucks include Navistar and Volkswagen. Engine supplier Cummins announced its electric powertrains prior to Tesla’s Semi introduction, indicating its intended to defend its industry position against any interlopers or distrupters.
Then there are those that believe hydrogen fuel cells are the electrified trucking answer, including Toyota and Utah start-up Nikola Motor Company.
At the moment, Daimler appears to be leading the electric truck race. Who will be the winner? Only time will tell.
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