Roger Nielsen is blunt about the energy priority for Daimler Trucks. It is battery-powered electrics.
North America’s leading maker of heavy trucks and owner of the Freightliner brand believes the industry has entered the beginning of the end of the diesel trucking era.
Nielsen, the North American chief executive of the German-based truck maker, believes other alternative fuels like natural gas and hydrogen will find a small niche, but batteries are the future. Daimler is a sister company to Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.
In an interview with Trucks.com, Nielsen expanded on his theme and provided perspective on other energy alternatives. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Why are battery electrics the best solution for powering heavy-duty trucks?
We’ve seen the customer interest. Utility companies are under great pressure to become emissions-free in power generation. So, they say, “Why waste all our effort and not put it to full use all the way down the chain?” Everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction.
When do you see electrics becoming dominant for drayage and short-haul trucking?
We’ll be in production in 2021. We’ll constantly improve the battery. But we have to be realistic. I think five to 10 years.
How do you manage the cost of batteries?
The base core elements inside lithium-ion batteries on the open market are still volatile. We are looking at anybody who believes they have a new set of chemistries or a combination that would improve the power density, reduce the weight and reduce the size and/or improve the number cycles that a battery can be recharged. Daimler recently invested in SIla Nanotechnologies that has seen some breakthrough innovations in lithium-ion chemistry.
Given your dominant share of the diesel truck market, how hard is it to look at another power source?
We’ve got customers who have absolute needs. The core of their business and our business is diesel-powered trucks. We have additional improvements coming with Greenhouse Gas Phase 2 (regulations) in 2021, 2024 and 2027. We’ll be compliant with each of those steps, and each will come with additional efficiencies.
What about diesel?
How do you square your battery-electric commitment with the reality that most trucks run on diesel?
It took 120 years to get diesel fuel efficiency to where it is today. We’re going to continue to invest in diesel engines because we believe improvements can be made in efficiencies and emissions. For the next 120 years, we’re going to be worried about getting efficiency out of a battery-electric powertrain.
What role do you see for hydrogen fuel cells?
We know what fuel cells can do. We’ve been putting hydrogen fuel cell buses on the roads since 2003. There’s a lot of discussion about infrastructure and availability in hydrogen fueling. That’s not the problem. The fueling network will develop no different than diesel exhaust fluid. Hydrogen as a stand- alone is not economically viable. We need to invent an efficient hydrogen fuel cell which is affordable.