Three of the world’s largest heavy-duty truck manufacturers will build an electric charging network in Europe in a deal that points to a similar U.S. venture.
Volvo Group, Daimler Truck and Traton Group said they have signed a non-binding agreement to create a joint venture to manage the project. Each will make an initial investment of about $600 million.
Starting next year, the venture will begin to build 1,700 charging stations close to highways and at logistics sites and other destinations. The venture, which will be based in Amsterdam, intends to grow beyond its initial charging site goal by seeking additional partners and public funding.
Talks have begun on a similar venture that would operate in the U.S., according to Calstart, a Pasadena, Calif., nonprofit clean transportation industry consortium.
“We have been having very preliminary discussions on a similar framework with some of the involved parties. That’s all I can say at this point,” said Bill Van Amburg, executive vice president of Calstart.
All three companies either build and sell trucks in the U.S. or will soon own operations here.
Daimler owns the Freightliner and Western Star brands. Volvo sells Volvo and Mack trucks. Traton is the heavy-duty vehicle unit of Volkswagen and is in the process of acquiring Navistar International Corp., which owns the International truck brand. All three companies also own U.S. bus and coach brands.
One wrinkle that needs to be solved is a common charging system for all the makes and models of commercial vehicles and busses.
The industry is developing the so-called Megawatt Charging System, or MCS, as a standard system, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Guidehouse Insights. All of the major truck manufacturers but Tesla – which wants to enter the market – are working on the system, he said.
“However, there are still a number of challenges and it will likely be a couple more years before we see anything finalized and MCS charger deployments happening. There are issues with getting enough power to chargers, thermal management and how various regulatory and incentive programs are structured for utilities and charging providers,” Abuelsamid said.
Right now most of the electric trucks coming to market are shorter range and still rely on the Combined Charging System, or CCS.
For now, the venture the truck builders announced this week is aimed only at the European market. The venture said its charging time is designed to leverage the 45-minute mandatory rest period for long-distance transport in Europe.
“We are laying the necessary foundation in making a breakthrough for our customers to make the transformation to electrification by creating a European charging network leader,” said Martin Lundstedt, Volvo Group’s chief executive.
“It is clear that the future of transport is electric. This requires the rapid development of publicly accessible charging points, especially for long-distance heavy-duty transport,” said Matthias Gründler, chief executive of Traton Group.