Daimler Trucks North America on Dec. 20 delivered the first vehicle in its new Electric Innovation Fleet to Penske Truck Leasing in Carson, California, the result of a nine-month collaboration between the two companies to produce and test electric commercial trucks in real-world applications.
The vehicle is an electric version of the Freightliner M2 106 medium-duty truck, dubbed the Freightliner eM2. The event marked the culmination of a year of work for Daimler, partially funded by a $16 million grant from California's South Coast Air Quality Management District, an agency focused on improving air quality in the ports region of Los Angeles.
DTNA President and CEO Roger Nielsen called it, “a historic step in the real-world application of electric vehicles. With increased hauling demands and regulatory pressures, combined with ongoing concerns over energy resource depletion, it is more important than ever that DTNA continues to rigorously test and research electric vehicle solutions together with our customers,” said Nielsen, who was on hand to deliver the keys to Penske CEO Brian Hard.
Penske plans to take on an additional nine eM2 trucks as well as 10 of the Class 8 Freightliner eCascadia model, which will be launched next year. The company will offer the electric trucks to customers to use in regular service for one to two years.
The electric trucks won’t be available to all Penske customers, only those that have an "actual use case" for them. Hard didn’t disclose which of Penske’s customers were interested in the truck, but said the company has “a good handle on whom the first customers will be” and that they represent a broad spectrum of applications.
The reason for the limited offering is that the rollout is not a full launch of the technology. Daimler referred to the trucks as "Gen 1 vehicles." As part of Daimler’s e-Mobility initiative, announced earlier this year, the company intends to use this limited deployment as a real-world testing ground, with all of the ups and downs of a product that is still very much in beta phase.
A One-Year Startup Project within Daimler
The Freightliner eM2 project was headed by senior eMobility lead Andreas Juretzka, who brought together a crack team of engineers to take the concept of an electric heavy- and medium-duty truck from drawing board to reality in just a year’s time – an incredibly short period compared to the company’s usual five-year development time for vehicles.
The eM2 has three large battery packs that straddle the bottom of the vehicle, providing an expected range of 200 miles. The batteries can be charged to 80% of capacity within an hour, but need an overnight charge to completely top off. Rather than selling chargers to each customer, Penske will have the chargers at its facilities and will provide technicians to work on the unique vehicles.
Juretzka told HDT that the trucks will be ready to perform and have been thoroughly tested for safety. He said his team used knowledge they had coupled with what other companies had done with their electric vehicles – "We can steal with pride," he told HDT – to produce something that was more thought-out than just strapping an electric powertrain to an existing truck. They had to consider all of the components and technologies that tie all the pieces together – the chassis, the electric motor, the batteries, the air compressor – to come up with a system that could be as usable as a traditional truck in certain applications.
The engine was spec'd to meet the power needs of a typical medium-duty truck in pickup and delivery, local distribution, and food and beverage delivery service, with 480 peak hp, according to the specs Daimler gave at the vehicle's announcement in June.
But the batteries are the key component, Juretzka said. The company will be using batteries from multiple manufacturers to see which performs the best during this two-year deployment. At the end of two years, Daimler plans to launch its Gen 2 version of the truck.
Daimler assembled a group called the Freightliner Electric Vehicle Council, composed of 30 customers with strong use cases for an electric commercial truck. The company is working with council members on the launch of these trucks. Members of the council will benefit from co-development of deployment strategies for electric trucks, including applicable use cases, current legislation and requirements for facilities, charging infrastructure and service support.
It's still early days for commercial electric vehicle technology and costs are still three or four times that of a comparable diesel model, Nielsen told HDT.
While component costs are coming down Juretzka said it is likely too expensive to completely replace diesel trucks without government incentives. "The industry is right at the tipping point," he said of commercial electric trucks. "But it still needs funding."
The event concluded with Daimler and Penske honoring the eM2 team, all dressed in green and wearing green Santa hats. They loaded small trees into the back of one of the eM2s for delivery to a company called TreePeople.
As the first customer of the Freightliner eM2, TreePeople will use the seedlings to help replant the areas in California that were burned in the recent wildfires. The eM2 was driven off Penske's lot by a man dressed in a green Santa suit. It moved with complete silence, in stark contrast to the constant noise eminating from the nearby highway, a reminder that the coming electric-vehicle future could also cut down on noise pollution considerably.
After the festivities ended, Juretzka said he was glad to finally deliver the first eM2 just before the end of 2018, a goal of his and Daimler's. "If I could dance in front of you, I would do a dance," he said.