Interview: “Coming on in Leaps and Bounds”

Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard discusses advances in electric goods vehicles and the corporation’s dedication to drive this technology forward.

DR. WOLFGANG BERNHARD - The 56 year old industrial engineer has been a Daimler AG board member since 2010. He has directed Daimler Trucks & Buses since 2013

DR. WOLFGANG BERNHARD – The 56 year old industrial engineer has been a Daimler AG board member since 2010. He has directed Daimler Trucks & Buses since 2013. Photo: Jacek Bilski

Dr. Bernhard, you have never made a secret of your skepticism regarding electric trucks. Yet Mercedes Benz has now revealed exactly such a vehicle. What changed your mind?

Bernhard: We have been working intensively on this subject for years. For a long, long time, it appeared that electric drives for trucks were out of the question; the possible applications were extremely limited. Battery technology was held back by high costs, long charging times and limited performance. It has, however, come on in leaps and bounds, and a market is developing.

What has happened in terms of technology?

Bernhard: As the première of our Urban eTruck demonstrates, the electric revolution has come to our segment too. Take the batteries, for instance – massive progress is being made in this area, and between 1997 and 2025, costs are projected to sink by a factor of 2.5 when compared to 1997, whilst

performance will increase by the same amount. That doesn’t just make the electric car feasible, but the electric truck too.

Does the same apply to trucks for long-distance haulage?

Bernhard: The achievements made in battery technology aren’t quite sufficient for that currently, but they are enough for short-radius distribution applications. Electric trucks may soon be a common sight in our cities.

What is the range of Mercedes Benz’ Urban eTruck?

Bernhard: The basic battery configuration of the 26-metric-ton, three-axle solo truck that we recently presented provides energy for around 200 kilometers. We use lithium ion battery modules, which are securely mounted within the frame for crash safety.

How are these batteries charged?

Bernhard: With a charging power of 100 kW, fully discharged batteries can be charged to 100% within two to three hours. In practice, however, it will be very rare that batteries are completely discharged. The truck can also recover energy whilst braking. Connection of the truck to a charging station is by way of the European standard ‘Combined Charging System’ connector.

Can Mercedes’ electric truck compete with their diesel cousins?

Bernhard: The Urban eTruck weighs 1,700 kilograms more than a comparable truck with a combustion engine. The European Commission has declared itself in favor of increasing the maximum weight of trucks with alternative drives by a metric ton. This more or less negates the reduction in payload, meaning it is effectively only reduced by 700 kilograms when compared with conventional trucks. As a result, the Urban eTruck has a payload of 12.8 metric tons, which is more than enough for its typical application area of urban distribution.

Is the demand for an electric truck here yet? When can you envisage the Urban eTruck entering production?

Bernhard: We will, of course, have to wait a while to begin serial production. I believe that we will be in the right place to do so in the early 2020s. Interest in electric trucks has grown considerably, and continues to do so. Around the world, more people live in cities than ever before, and that trend that is set to continue. Simultaneously, more and more cities are enforcing stricter regulations on heavy goods traffic. Paris, for example, is considering forbidding trucks with conventional powertrains from entering altogether from 2020. Our customers want to prepare themselves for such eventualities. They are the ones starting the dialogue.

This surely hasn’t happened overnight?

Bernhard: Timing is decisive for all new innovations – begin too soon and you’ll lose money, begin too late and you’ll lose the market. Now, the time is right. The electric revolution has arrived for commercial vehicles.

What is your strategy?

Bernhard: We are committed to being a driving force in the development of this emerging segment from the very beginning. The electric truck is a concrete part of our strategy, and will become a firm fixture in our portfolio. Our goal is to offer electric trucks in the near future that are economical for our customers, allowing them to reliably perform their logistics.

Packed in: The battery packs are situated between the longitudinal beams. Photo: DAIMLER

Packed in: The battery packs are situated between the longitudinal beams. Photo: DAIMLER

 

Interview: Michael Kern

 

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