Freightliner has hit an impressive milestone at the end of July: its fleet of 30 medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks has reached 300,000 cumulative miles.
The Race Is On
The race to build fully electric Class 8 trucks is upon us, but Freightliner wants to make sure they do it right the first time. To that end, Freightliner has created a group that they call the Innovation Fleet, which is comprised of 30 trucks of various weights, and is testing them to work out any kinks before beginning larger scale manufacturing.
“Crossing the threshold of 300,000 miles of testing, then one million miles, then more — together — before we begin series production of battery electric trucks will ensure we deliver the performance and reliability our customers count on and which has made Freightliner the undisputed leader in commercial trucks,” Richard Howard, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), senior vice president of on-highway and marketing, says.
At 100,000 miles per vehicle, the rate of accumulating miles of the electric vehicles paints an interesting picture, considering how the project started approximately two years ago. Freightliner is proving with its electric vehicles that the technology is almost as, if not just as, dependable as the diesel engine when it comes to smaller trips.
The Innovation Fleet
Freightliner’s Innovation Fleet is made out of 30 medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks, with a split of ten eM2s and twenty eCascadias. The trucks are performing work for the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD), an agency focused on the goal of improving and maintaining the air quality in the Southern California Basin.
The Basin area comprises most of the landmass for the four most populous counties in Southern California (Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, and San Bernardino), and is home to over 18 million residents. Its high traffic and steep slopes, combined with the natural barriers of the surrounding mountains keeping smog contained, makes it a prime place to test the efficacy of electric trucks and how they can be used to reduce pollution. Any diesel trucks taken off the road in the Southern California Basin will have a greater effect on the populace’s air quality than replacing a diesel truck in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Innovation Fleet performs a variety of tasks for the South Coast AQMD to fulfill its goals. Such applications include drayage, food distribution, local delivery, regional delivery, and parcel delivery. By providing a nearly $16 million dollar grant to the Innovation Fleet, the South Coast AQMD has essentially paid approximately $530,000 per truck. Nobody said that technological research and development would be cheap.
Beyond the Innovation Fleet, Freightliner has launched a sister project called the Customer Experience Fleet in March 2020. This fleet comprises of two eM2 106s and six eCascadias that are on loan with various companies rather than exclusively used by one organization. Its current mileage is unknown.
The Future of Innovation
While the Innovation Fleet has already accumulated 300,000 miles, Freightliner and Daimler Trucks North America say more testing needs to be done before they are comfortable with mass production.
“It’s critical that we collaborate with customers across multiple segments to further our understanding of how commercial battery electric trucks will be part of a long-term solution in CO₂-neutral transportation,” said Richard Howard. “Our customers provide important, continuous feedback that contributes to our ongoing design and purposeful innovation of these trucks and together we will lead the future.”
The United States is a country with various biomes, so even when the Innovation Fleet hits 1,000,000 miles in Southern California, the full testing experience will probably not be done. From the constant downpouring rain in Washington, to the risk of overheating in the Arizona desert, to the icy roads of Alaska, there is no doubt that there will be more testing to be done on the behalf of Freightliner before they are fully confident in mass production of their trucks.
Additionally, Freightliner may consider further testing of long-haul applications. With thirty trucks traveling 300,000 miles in two years, each truck travels approximately 137 miles per day. The average long haul trucker can more than double that on any given day. Freightliner has made progress in this by giving Penske and NFI trucks to drive and test, but more work is needed to be done to fully integrate the electric long-haul into the typical trucker routine.
Only time will tell how long it will be until Freightliner is fully satisfied with their testing procedures, but they currently predict to start mass-producing the eCascadia in mid-2022 and the eM2 for 2022. This is a push back from their initial 2021 prediction, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic putting the brakes on society as a whole. Considering their current rate of accumulating miles, they may need to test with additional fleets to get a better understanding of the entire United States in time for production.
The race to be the first truck manufacturing company with an electric medium-duty and heavy-duty truck on the market is starting to ramp up. We wrote earlier about Nikola and Tesla racing to build their factories before the other one, with Nikola having a smaller factory and Tesla having more spending power, but both pale in comparison to Freightliner’s breakneck speed. As Freightliner already has factories for trucks established, it takes a lot less time to rework an existing factory into making electric vehicles, as Freightliner did with a portion of their factory in Portland, Oregon.
Nikola and Tesla no doubt have their own working versions that they are testing out on the open road, perhaps with more road diversity than Freightliner, so the race is not decided just yet.
Beyond getting the vehicles to market, there is also the case of making them attractive to buyers. Will customers prefer Freightliner as an established brand, or are they more willing to take a risk with the stylish Tesla? As with all things, only time will tell.