Technology

DTNA CEO says future of commercial transport is battery-electric

Posted on April 25, 2019

During his keynote speech at the 2019 ACT Expo in Long Beach, California, Roger Nielsen stated the future of commercial vehicles is battery-electric.
During his keynote speech at the 2019 ACT Expo in Long Beach, California, Roger Nielsen stated the future of commercial vehicles is battery-electric.

Roger Nielsen, president/CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), the largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in North America, declared battery-electric vehicles as the solution to achieve emissions-free commercial transportation in North America.

Speaking to a crowd assembled in Long Beach, Nielsen said, “The road to emissions-free transportation is going to be driven with battery-electric vehicles. I believe the future is electric.”

The road to emissions-free driving, he continued, does not include plug-in hybrids for DTNA. Near-zero-emissions natural gas medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are currently available and will continue from Freightliner as an interim solution until full commercialization of the battery-electric Freightliner eM2 and eCascadia. The company sees potential for hydrogen fuel cells to extend battery-electric truck range, but does not see it as viable in the near term.

The vision of electric vehicles does not exclude fuel cells: “I can see glimpse of it over the horizon, but it will not be this generation of engineers who will be delivering it,” continued Nielsen.

To hasten the arrival of zero-emission commercial transport, three goals must first be achieved:

First, the industry must work together to establish a common battery-electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Daimler AG is a founding member of CharIN, an organization whose aim is to standardize charging requirements for electric vehicles, including commercial vehicles.

Second, batteries must become cheaper, lighter, and more powerful. DTNA is leveraging its global network to develop proprietary batteries for its commercial vehicles that meet the standards of quality, durability, and integration that customers demand.

Finally, the real cost of ownership for customers must be strengthened through increased incentives, decreased maintenance costs, and cheaper energy costs. Organizations like the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) will be instrumental in creating a viable business case for electric trucks. A $16M grant from SCAQMD partially funds the Freightliner Electric Innovation Fleet.

To enable rapid scale-up of thoroughly tested and validated electric vehicles, DTNA announced today that they will begin converting the Portland manufacturing plant to produce electric Freightliners. The plant lies just blocks from DTNA’s LEED Platinum headquarters. The plant renovations begin next year with series production scheduled to begin in 2021.

DTNA’s school bus division, Thomas Built Buses (TBB), is nearly ready to begin producing Proterra-powered Saf-T-Liner eC2s. The buses will be assembled at TBB’s school bus manufacturing plant in High Point, N.C.

Last year DTNA formed the Freightliner Electric Vehicle Council composed of 30 customers with strong use-cases for electric trucks to further drive its sustainable transportation program. The company is working with the council members to ensure a holistic approach to launching electric trucks. Members of the customer council benefit from co-development of deployment strategies for battery electric vehicles including applicable use cases, current legislation and requirements for facilities, charging infrastructure, and service support.

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