Daimler Trucks will launch a full line of electric trucks and buses starting with small scale pilot programs later this year and ramping up to full-scale production by 2021.
The company unveiled a nearly silent, electric version of its flagship Freightliner Cascadia heavy-duty truck at the Portland International Raceway during a meeting with Wall Street analysts and investors in Portland, Ore., Tuesday.
It also revealed an electric version of its M2 medium-duty truck. The company already has shown its Thomas Built all-electric Saf-T-Liner electric school bus and the Fuso eCanter delivery truck.
“We are the undisputed global leader of the trucking industry and we want to remain in that position with regards to electric trucks,” said Martin Daum, global head of Daimler’s Trucks & Buses division.
The company will build 30 of the Freightliner medium- and heavy-duty trucks for test later this year. Daum said the company wants to learn how they perform and how customers use them. It will ramp up to full scale production at Daimler’s Freightliner and Thomas Built truck and bus factories by 2021.
Freightliner is the top-selling heavy-duty truck in the U.S., holding about 38 percent of the market.
The eCascadia will have up to 730 peak horsepower, Daum said. The batteries have 550 kilowatt-hours of capacity to provide a range of up to 250 miles. They can be charged to a range of 200 miles in 90 minutes, he said.
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. The company doesn’t see the initial versions as a substitute for its diesel long haul trucks, he said.
The eM2 will have up to 480 peak horsepower. The batteries have 325 kilowatt-hours of capacity to provide a range of up to 230. They can be charged to a range of 184 miles in about 60 minutes, Daum said.
Daimler sees the eM2 as a truck for local distribution, pickup and delivery, food and beverage delivery, and last-mile logistics applications.
The Freightliner eCascadia will have a gross combined weight rating of 80,000 pounds. The eM2 weighs in at 26,000 pounds.
The German automaker sees the best fit for electric trucks in urban environments where they run regular loops and can return to a central depot for charging.
“The Freightliner eCascadia and eM2 are designed to meet customer needs for electrified commercial vehicles serving dedicated, predictable routes where the vast majority of daily runs fall between 45 and 150 miles,” said Roger Nielsen, president and chief executive officer of Daimler Trucks North America.
Daimler is pushing into electric trucks and buses as regulators globally enact increasingly stringent carbon emission rules. Paris, Madrid, Athens, Hamburg and Mexico City all are considering steps to ban diesel cars and trucks. Electric vehicles also make less noise than diesel counterparts, making them attractive for package and freight delivery in dense urban centers.
Daimler outlined its electric truck development strategy during Daimler Trucks Capital Market and Technology Day, held in Portland for Wall Street analysts and investors on Tuesday. It provided only the basic outline of its electric truck plans and did not give pricing information.
Daimler also didn’t offer any sales or market projections and believes electric truck adoption will be slow.
“If we sell 500 or 1,000 in the first year I think it would be a success. If we sell 10,000 it will be a tremendous success,” Daum said.
The company said it is establishing a global E-Mobility Group to maximize its strategic investments in this electric powertrain technology. It plans to spend about $600 million on research and development for truck electrification, connectivity and automation this year and next.
“It will be a core of people whose only task will be able to get out profitable products for our customers and ourselves…and to recognize the transportation sector’s carbon emissions targets,” Daum said.
Subsidies such as the type the California Resources Board offers for green trucks will help launch the business but are not part of Daimler’s long term expectations, Daum said. The trucks have to quickly become cost competitive with their diesel counterparts.
“It is very easy to subsidize the first 1,000 trucks in a state but it is very difficult to subsidize 50,000 a year. At best it is a jump start to get the first vehicles on the road,” he said.
Daimler’s commitment to large electric trucks will provide stiff competition to startups such as Thor Trucks and Tesla Inc., which has plans to add a semi-tractor to its electric car line. Tesla has orders for about 2,000 electric trucks.
“It’s a challenge in that manufacturers with a lot more established market share and manufacturing capability are now signaling they are coming,” Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of Calstart, the Pasadena, Calif., clean transportation technologies booster.
Daimler, for example, has a commanding market position in the U.S., a vast dealership network and book of customers who order trucks by the hundreds to the thousands at a time. Other major manufacturers, including Navistar and Volvo, are working on electric trucks.
“When Tesla came out with its electric trucks a number of manufacturers said they had plans as well,” said Luke Tonachel, director of the clean vehicles and fuels project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But it also could provide a boost for Tesla by validating the electric truck concept, Van Amburg said.
“It shows the momentum around the technology in which they are leaders and which they deeply understand and validates the platform and approach they have announced,” he said.
Tonachel agreed that Daimler’s plans also are an important market signal.
“It shows that electric zero emissions trucks can be used in a large range of applications,” Tonachel said. “This is evidence that Daimler sees a market and a need for zero electric emissions vehicle.”
Daimler is taking a savvy approach to the electric truck market, Van Amburg said.
“This announcement is directly in line with what we have identified as the truck sizes and applications for the growth of electrification,” he said. “They fall directly on the tech roadmap and first success ‘beachheads’ we have identified for the growth of electrification in the medium- and heavy-duty market.”