Just a month after Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company was pursuing an electric truck in his “Master Plan, Part Deux,” Daimler revealed a stylish one of its own.
During a German trade show for electric vehicles last September, a Daimler trucking unit showed off its eCanter: a light-duty, electric truck that has since undergone over 60,000 kilometers (roughly 37,000 miles) of testing on public streets in Germany and Portugal.
Daimler is launching a limited series production run of the eCanter later this year in Tokyo, Lisbon, and New York. The ultimate goal is to begin mass production in 2019, around the same time Tesla plans to reveal its semi-truck.
“In trucks, of course [Elon Musk’s] stepping into it, but we don’t see him as someone who is threatening us because you need a whole infrastructure,” Marc Llistosella, Head of Daimler Trucks Asia, told Business Insider. “You need dealerships, you need infrastructure, you need maintenance.”
“It’s not so easy like a consumer good, it’s an industrial good, so it will be very difficult for him,” he continued.
‘The game is just starting’
The move is a natural progression for a company that has sought to diversify its portfolio with investments in trucking since the early 2000s. Daimler’s truck unit now oversees four different brands: Mercedes-Benz Trucks, Freightliner Trucks, Mitsubishi FUSO, Western Star, and BharatBenz.
Freightliner Trucks, Daimler’s heavy duty trucking division, has secured 40% market share in the US. Mitsubishi FUSO, which has struggled with declining demand, sells light-, medium-, and heavy- duty trucks to 172 markets.
“In class 8, with freightliner, we are the number one in America, so we have something to defend,” Llistosella said. “In the smaller ones, the game is just starting.”
The eCanter is being developed by FUSO, which Daimler acquired a majority stake of in 2004. Llistosella is also the president and CEO of Mistubishi FUSO.
Llistosella said FUSO will lease a total of 150 trucks to municipalities and private companies this year. Convenience chain 7-eleven bought 25 trucks in Tokyo, but Llistosella declined to name other buyers. Daimler will begin full-scale series production in 2019.
The eCanter has an expected range of over 100 kilometers (62 miles) and can carry between two to three tons (4,000-6,000 pounds). It can charge in under an hour with a DC fast charger.
Daimler’s ultimate goal is to launch an entire line of electric trucks, including a heavy-duty truck, as battery tech improves over time.
The truck industry is ripe for massive disruption in the next decade as companies look to electrify and automate trucks.
Within Daimler, Mercedes-Benz Trucks is currently testing its battery-powered Urban eTruck in Germany and plans to bring it to market in 2020. Meanwhile, in 2015, Freightliner Trucks tested a semi-autonomous big rig on a public highway – a first for the trucking industry.
“We said, ‘just do a truck.’ Other companies are doing the same, let’s do it right, let’s be a frontrunner in something,” Llistosella said.