Daimler's eCascadia and eM2 trucks feature fully electric drivetrains. Source: Daimler
Daimler’s eCascadia and eM2 trucks feature fully electric drivetrains. Source: Daimler

Daimler Trucks North America chief Roger Nielsen has told a gathering in Long Beach, California, that the German truckmaker that the end of diesel engines is nigh and that it believes the most viable energy source for clean buses and trucks is not hydrogen, nor gas or hybrid  – it is 100% battery electric.

An aggressive plan is being undertaken by the truckmaker, which is the largest maker of trucks on the North American continent, which will in the future see it manufacture only pure electric trucks and buses.

In addition to planning to go fully electric, Daimler Trucks are also apparently making moves to develop high-powered charging facilities, as a key responsibility in a job posting on its website indicates:

Lead future strategy, concepts, and innovation for next generation advanced charging systems, including strategies for very high power charging up to 3MW.

The ability to recharge at a rate of 3,000 kilowatts puts the notion of an “ultra-fast charger” (such as 350kW chargers that supply hundreds of kilometres of range to electric cars in just 10 minutes) to shame; although not likely to ever by used for passenger vehicles any time soon, such high-powered charging is imperative for all-electric trucks.

The plan to completely electric by the truckmaker is all the more significant considering the 123-year-old Daimler Trucks is supplier of 52% of trucks operated in the top 100 fleets in North America, accounting for 750,000 trucks.

Speaking to the  annual Advanced Clean Transportation Expo (ACT Expo), held last week at the Long Beach Convention Center, on April 24, Transport Topics reported that Nielsen said that,“I believe the future is electric.”

“The road to emissions-free driving will be driven by battery-electric vehicles,” he said.

While hydrogen technology is being touted as a clean energy solution for long-haul vehicles such as trucks, there are questions as to the high financial and energy costs associated with hydrogen production.

Nielsen believes that while hydrogen may be a suitable solution in the future, it is not yet viable – and that PHEV or gas-powered trucks offer only a temporary answer to lowering transport emissions.

“For trucks, I do not believe in plug-in hybrids,” he said. “For trucks, I believe that natural gas-powered engines are only an interim solution. For trucks, fuel cells as a range extender on battery-electric vehicles have promise, but hydrogen fuel cells alone are not yet viable.”

But Nielsen admitted that electric trucks have their challenges also, largely due to the high costs of the large batteries that are required for long-haul transport, and that subsidies and funding are needed for the time being.

“Unfortunately, there is no business case today for a sane and sober customer to buy a battery-electric truck,” Nieslen told attendees.

“Yes … it’s stripped of its accouterments of a diesel engine … But the battery packs that we add in? Boy, are they expensive. They’re heavy, and they’re large.”

“In the interim, we need financial incentives and government industry partnerships in order for us to scale up,” Nielsen said. “Incentives help.”

Nielsen’s comments at the ACT Expo come as Kenworth and Toyota unveiled 10 hydrogen fuel cell trucks that will service Long Beach’s and Los Angeles’ ports, thanks to $US41 million ($A57 million) awarded by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in August 2018.

Daimler presented two fully-electric trucks in June last year at a Capital Market & Technology Days event made by subsidiary Freightliner, the Freightoliner eCascadia and the electric variant of the Freightliner eM2, and also has the FUSO eCanter, the fully-electric Mercedes-Benz Citaro city bus and the Thomas Built Saf-T Liner C2 Jouley school bus completing its current EV offerings.

Also present at the ACT Expo was Australian electric truckmaker SEA Electric, which has been attending several events in the US this month that has resulted in multiple orders for its Ford F-59 stripped chassis trucks with electric drivetrain.

SEA Electric’s recent expansion into the US market has been positively received and is encouraging for the Latrobe-based truckmaker which officially commenced operations with a new factory funded by the Victorian state Labor goverment late last year.

“Feedback in the United States to our SEA Electric technology from both government and private buyers has been extremely positive with several customers already placing orders,” he said in a note.

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