Stuttgart, Germany – When Mercedes-Benz Trucks premiered its first heavy-duty electric truck at the International Commercial Vehicle Show in September 2016 the customer reaction was so positive that it’s now building them for lease to customers, first in Germany and later, further afield in Europe.
While the 25-ton Urban eTruck suffers from the same problems as all other electric vehicles - short range and expensive batteries - Mercedes-Benz is pinning its planning for the future on its belief that by 2025 the energy density of commercially available batteries will have risen from 80Wh per kilogram in 1997 to 200Wh/kg, while it expects the cost to fall from €500(R6900) per kWh to €200(R2800) per kWh.
But it recognises that - in a real-life chicken and egg scenario - it cannot expect the electronics companies to develop batteries for trucks that don’t exist; the prototype’s 200km range was in any case good enough for deliveries and collections around town, and there was no shortage of customers ready to put their money where Mercedes’ mouth was.
So the Stuttgart skunk works is busy building a small batch - less than 20 - of 18 and 25-ton Urban eTrucks for a variety of customers in the food, logistics and disposal sectors - some with box bodies, some refrigerated and a few as flat-bed carriers for bulky loads (the eTruck has a massive payload capacity of 12.8 tons).
Each will be supplied with a special heavy-duty charger to reduce turn-around time, and they’ll be used for in real-world scenarios, not test runs, to gauge the cost of running the chargers on a more or less full-time basis against the cost of diesel for conventional trucks. The aim is to use actual applications so customers feedback can help improve the hardware, as well as battery and range management.
Mercedes-Benz Trucks head Stefan Buchner said: “We are among the world leaders in experimental electric and autonomous driving development; now it is time for the next step. 2017 will be our year of implementation with this small batch; by 2020 we want to be on the market with series-production electric trucks.”
The Urban eTruck is just part of it: a batch of about 150 light-duty electric truck Fuso eCanter will be handed over to selected customers in Europe, Japan and the United States in 2017, giving Mercedes-Benz Trucks a wide range of feedback from electric trucks in use all over the world.