Just weeks after pledging to launch a lineup of electric trucks by 2021, Daimler Trucks North America said it would begin testing 20 fully electric heavy- and medium-duty Freightliner models at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this year.
The multiyear, $31.3-million project provides early insights into the kinds of electric trucks Daimler is planning — their range and intended use.
It also shows that Daimler Trucks intends to remain at the front of the pack as most of its competitors prepare to launch electric models of their own. The company’s Freightliner brand is the top-selling heavy-duty truck in the U.S.
There’s a second aim as well — the program will help demonstrate how electric trucks can help reduce harmful diesel emissions.
Communities near the two ports and along truck routes between the ports and Southern California warehousing and distribution centers are among the worst in the nation for polluted air and related respiratory diseases, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
The project’s co-sponsor, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, provided almost half the financing as part of its clean air program. The two port facilities are the largest freight ports in the U.S. and generate almost 30,000 truck trips per day. Most of those trucks are diesel.
For its part, Daimler designed the project to gather real-world data to assist in the development of its upcoming line of e-trucks.
The project also is designed to demonstrate the viability of heavy-duty electric trucks.
Daimler is providing $15.6 million, the air quality district is contributing $13.2 million, each of the ports is providing $1 million and the EPA $500,000.
The company’s commitment to electric trucks underscores a huge shift in the industry as governments around the globe push to reduce emissions from trucks, cars and stationary sources such as power plants.
The German company is one of the largest truck makers in the world and owns the Freightliner, Western Star, Mitsubishi Fuso and Sprinter brands.
Freightliner and the smaller Western Star brand together claim a 42 percent share of the U.S. market for Class 8 trucks, according to WardsAuto, an industry research firm. The next largest player, Paccar, holds a 27 percent share with its Peterbilt and Kenworth brands.
“The value of this program is in speeding commercialization of electric trucks,” said Tim DeMoss, Air Quality Supervisor at the Port of Los Angeles.
“So far, we’d had electric truck demonstration in the 2s and 3s of trucks, but we really need the [original equipment manufacturers] to step in with some volume. It’s extremely exciting to have Daimler. I believe this is the largest single demonstration program we’ve had,” he said.
The two ports’ joint Clean Air Action Plan envisions a majority of the 17,000 trucks operating at the facilities running on zero-emission powertrains by 2036.
Daimler sees electric trucks as best suited for urban environments where they run regular loops and can return to a central depot for charging.
The first electric models from the company will be the Class 8 eCascadia and the Class 6 eM2 box truck.
They 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,” Roger Nielsen, president and chief executive of Daimler Trucks North America, said when introducing the company’s electrification plans last month.
Demonstration projects such as the Daimler e-truck program “are crucial to help implement and reduce costs for commercialized zero-emission technologies” that can replace diesel trucks and reduce harmful diesel emissions, said William Burke, chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
The district is the principal air pollution control agency for Orange County and major parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties — a region that’s home to the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports and much of the transportation and warehousing infrastructure that support them.\
Daimler plans to have a handful of electric trucks in service for the project by the end of this year with all 20 trucks in service by April 2019.
The project is expected to run until late 2021, DeMoss said. That’s the year Daimler has said it intends to begin commercial sales of its electric trucks.
The trucks will be electric versions of the popular Freightliner Cascadia, dubbed the eCascadia, and half will be battery-electric eM2 box trucks, based on the Class 6 Freightliner M2.
Logistics specialist NFI Industries will be operating the eCascadias. The eM2 box trucks appear to be part of an order of 10 eCascadias and 10 eM2s recently announced by Penske Truck Leasing Corp. Penske is Daimler’s only announced customer so far for the Class 6 trucks. Neither company would comment on the planned use of the eM2s, however.
Daimler has said that the 20 electric trucks in the port project will be used in regular commercial operations. Daimler will collect performance and reliability data and other information from the end uses to use in further development of its electric trucks.
The company designed the eCascadia to provide up to 250 miles of range between battery charges. The eM2 has a range of about 230 miles.
The truck maker said it would install a network of fast chargers at fleet user’s locations to ensure that the trucks’ effectiveness won’t be hampered by lengthy downtimes while recharging.
Fast chargers can operate at up to 850 volts — about seven times more powerful than a standard household circuit provides.
The ones that Daimler is installing can bring a depleted eCascadia battery pack back to 80 percent of capacity — about 200 miles of range — in three hours or less.
Daimler’s push into electric trucks comes as most of its competitors are preparing their own electric models. the list includes Volvo, builder of Mack and Volvo truck; Navistar, which owns the International brand; and China-based bus and truck builder BYD. Paccar also is testing a battery-electric Class 8 drayage truck at the Port of Long Beach.
Even diesel engine giant Cummins Inc. is trying its hand at an electric powertrain with its Class 8 Aeos prototype.
Truck makers simply can’t ignore electrification and hope to remain competitive globally, analysts say.
Clean air regulations, fuel efficiency concerns and the likelihood that electric trucks could reach cost parity with diesels in 10 years or so means that “eTrucks could account for 15 percent of global truck sales by 2030,” researchers at McKinsey Energy Insights said in a report issued late last year.