Daimler Trucks North America LLC (DTNA) said Wednesday it was expanding its test program for improving the design of electric trucks by partnering with vehicle rental giant Penske Truck Leasing Co. and third-party logistics provider (3PL) NFI Industries to share information about adopting the fast growing technology.
Beginning with preliminary vehicle deliveries starting in late 2018, Reading, Pa.-based Penske and Cherry Hill, N.J.-based NFI will operate Daimler's latest models—its eCascadia heavy-duty trucks and eM2 106 medium-duty trucks. The two companies will become members of the German company's Electric Vehicle Council, sharing knowledge gathered through their use of the Freightliner Electric Innovation Fleet and participating in activities to prepare their facilities and fleet operations for Daimler's launch of full-scale electric truck production in 2021.
The strategy is part of Daimler's effort to enlist its customers in a "co-creation process" for developing commercial electric vehicles, the company said. That process will launch in three sites: Penske will take delivery of 10 eCascadias and 10 eM2s for use in California and the Pacific Northwest, NFI will operate 10 eCascadias for drayage activities from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to warehouses in California's Inland Empire, and Portland, Ore.-based DTNA itself will operate electric trucks within its Product Validation Engineering (PVE) test fleet in Oregon.
Electric truck technology has been gaining momentum since Palo Alto, Calif.-based electric car manufacturer Tesla unveiled an electrically powered tractor-trailer in 2017, saying it planned to launch production of the Tesla Semi by 2019. Industry heavyweights such as FedEx Corp., Schneider Inc., J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., PepsiCo Inc., and UPS Inc. have lined up to put down deposits on the vehicles, but industry experts say questions remain about how users will adapt to limits on electric vehicles' driving range, recharging facilities, and maintenance experience.
And in May, beer giant Anheuser-Busch Co. LLC said it had placed an order for up to 800 hydrogen-electric powered semi trucks from Salt Lake City-based Nikola Motor Co., with plans to begin using some of the electric vehicles before the end of the year.
Creating an Electric Vehicle Council is a way for Daimler to answer some of the questions about industrial adoption of electric vehicle technology by collecting information from users, developing use cases with customers, and integrating commercial electric vehicle solutions into companies' supply chain operations, the company said. "Running multiple trucks in real-world applications will provide better insights for our engineers into the requirements of integrating electric commercial vehicles into fleet operations," Roger Nielsen, president and chief executive officer of DTNA, said in a statement. "We are partnering with these two customers for this phase of the co-creation process because they have use cases that closely fit the target applications we have identified."
The move is Daimler's latest step in exploring ways to meet the most promising target applications for electrified commercial vehicles, with products like Thomas Built Buses all-electric Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus and the FUSO eCanter already operating in limited trials.
Daimler says its eCascadia model will be a Class 8 tractor designed for local and regional distribution and drayage, with a range of up to 250 miles and the ability to charge up to 80 percent (providing a range of 200 miles) in about 90 minutes.
The firm's eM2 truck is intended to be an electrified solution for local distribution, pickup and delivery, food and beverage delivery, and last-mile logistics applications. It will have a range of up to 230 miles and have the ability to charge up to 80 percent (providing a range of 184 miles) in about 60 minutes.
Tesla has announced that it plans to build electric semi models with a 300-mile range and a 500-mile range, but has not given as estimate for how long they take to charge their batteries. Tesla says its vehicles will offer autonomous driving capabilities that improve fuel savings and reliability.
Thanks to their fuel cell technology, Nikola's Nikola One trucks offer a range of 500 to 1,200 miles per refueling stop, and a 20-minute refueling time to top off their tanks of hydrogen.