Daimler Trucks North America is going all in on battery-electric trucks, renovating a plant in Oregon to produce Freightliner electric vehicles, said Roger Nielsen, the manufacturer’s chief executive, Wednesday at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo.
“The road to emissions-free transportation is going to be driven with battery-electric vehicles,” Nielsen said. “I believe the future is electric.”
Daimler, the largest commercial maker of heavy-duty trucks in North America, already had indicated a preference for battery-electric trucks for local and regional use.
It is building 20 medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks for Penske Corp. and NFI Inc., a major third-party logistics company, under a grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
But Nielsen doesn’t see electric powertrains replacing diesel engines throughout the industry. Daimler, which also owns the Western Star truck brand, believes diesel will remain the primary fuel for long-haul trucking for many years, he said.
TOO EARLY FOR FUEL CELLS
Daimler’s electric vision includes hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks. But it does not see them as viable in the near term.
“I can see a glimpse of it over the horizon. But it will not be this generation of engineers who will be delivering it,” Nielsen said.
Daimler’s declaration runs counter to recent enthusiasm for fuel cell trucks.
Earlier this week at the Port of Los Angeles, Toyota Motor Corp. and Kenworth Truck Co. showed the first of 10 fuel-cell trucks they are co-developing for use on regular routes from ports to distribution centers.
Nikola Motor last week showed its Nikola Two fuel cell semi-truck, which is scheduled for production in late 2022. Nikola is building a new plant south of Phoenix. It also is investing in a nationwide network of hydroge- fueling stations.
Daimler’s road to emissions-free driving excludes plug-in hybrids that combine powertrains that run on electricity and another fuel such as diesel. Freightliner will continue to build near-zero-emissions natural gas medium- and heavy-duty trucks until it commercializes the battery-electric Freightliner eM2 and eCascadia.
Nielsen listed three goals that must be achieved to make battery-electric trucks viable:
- A common charging infrastructure
- Cheaper, lighter and more powerful batteries
- A low total cost of ownership driven by increased incentives and lower maintenance and energy costs.
A $16 million grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District partially funds the Freightliner Electric Innovation Fleet shared by Penske and NFI. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach each contributed $1 million.
“Every single box truck that you see operating in a city should be battery (powered),” said Chris Cannon, chief sustainability officer for the Port of Los Angeles. “Whatever comes to your house to bring your boxes should be a battery-electric vehicle.”
Daimler will put nearly 50 battery-electric test vehicles on U.S. roads by the end of 2019. Its production electric-truck manufacturing will begin in 2021 at Daimler’s Silicon Forest plant in Portland, Ore., where renovations start next year. The plant will run on 100 percent renewable energy and send no waste to landfills, the company said.
Daimler chose Portland for electric-vehicle production because it is close to California, where stringent rules to curb greenhouse gas emissions are driving demand for pollution-free electric vehicles.
Separately, its Thomas Built unit will assemble electric school buses in High Point, N.C., employing a battery-electric system from Proterra Inc., in which Daimler Trucks invested $155 million.
Testing is the key to ensuring electric vehicles are ready for commercialization, Nielsen said. Daimler and its global affiliates have amassed millions of miles of electric driving on the track and in the real world, he said.
“We want them to test these vehicles to their extremes,” Nielsen said. “We want to see the failures so we can engineer solutions.”
Daimler delivered the first eM2 medium-duty truck to Penske in December 2018. Nearly 50 electric trucks are scheduled to be on the road by the end of the year, including a test fleet and the Freightliner Electric Innovation Fleet shared between Penske and NFI.
Affiliated brands Mitsubishi Fuso and Mercedes-Benz trucks have delivered the battery-electric eCanter and eActros in Asia, Europe, and North America. By the end of 2019, Daimler will have more than 150 battery-electric vehicles deployed for testing, co-creation and collaboration worldwide, Nielsen said.