Daimler Aims to Build Hydrogen-Fueled Long-Haul Trucks

Carmakers have been promising to scrap the inner combustion engine, and now it’s the truckmakers’ flip. But the makers of big 18-wheelers are taking a special route.

Daimler, the world’s largest maker of heavy vans, whose Freightliners are a well-known sight on American interstates, stated final week that it might convert to zero-emission autos inside 15 years on the newest, offering one other instance of how the shift to electrical energy is reshaping automobile manufacturing with important implications for the local weather, financial development and jobs.

The journey away from fossil fuels will play out in another way and take longer within the trucking business than it would for passenger vehicles. For one factor, zero emission long-haul vans should not but out there in giant numbers.

And totally different expertise could also be wanted to energy the electrical motors. Batteries work nicely for supply autos and different short-haul vans, that are already on the roads in important numbers. But Daimler argues that battery energy isn’t best for long-haul 18-wheelers, at the very least with present expertise. The weight of the batteries alone subtracts an excessive amount of from payload, an necessary consideration for cost-conscious trucking corporations.

Instead, Daimler and a few rivals are betting on gas cells that generate electrical energy from hydrogen. Fuel cells produce no tailpipe emissions, and hydrogen gas tanks might be refilled as quick as diesel tanks — a definite benefit in contrast with batteries, which usually take at the very least twice as lengthy to recharge.

In April, Daimler started testing a prototype “GenH2” long-haul truck able to going 600 miles between visits to the hydrogen pump. But a lot of work is required to deliver down the price of the gear and there may be not but a community of hydrogen fueling stations or an ample provide of hydrogen produced in a approach that doesn’t cancel out the environmental advantages.

Last week Daimler offered particulars of the way it plans to clear up these issues, with the purpose of promoting hydrogen-fueled long-haul vans by 2027 that might be cheaper to purchase and function than diesel fashions.

During a web-based presentation Thursday, Daimler executives introduced a partnership with Shell to construct a “hydrogen corridor” of fueling stations spanning northern Europe. For shorter-haul vans, Daimler introduced a partnership with the Chinese firm CATL to develop batteries, and partnerships with Siemens and different corporations to set up high-voltage charging stations in Europe and the United States.

A view inside a GenH2 truck. Daimler, the world’s largest producer of long-haul vans, introduced a partnership with Shell to construct a “hydrogen corridor” of fueling stations in northern EuropeCredit…Daimler

In March, Daimler and Volvo Trucks, that are often intense rivals, shaped a three way partnership to develop gas cell techniques that may convert hydrogen to electrical energy to energy long-distance vans. The message is that the power transition is just too huge even for a corporation the scale of Daimler, with income final 12 months of 154 billion euros, or $188 billion, to handle by itself.

Daimler has been engaged on hydrogen gas cell expertise for many years, however the expertise isn’t but low-cost sufficient or rugged sufficient for business use.

“The fuel cells out there today are not at all fulfilling the demands that we have coming from our customers,” Lars Stenqvist, chief expertise officer of Volvo Trucks (which is a separate firm from Volvo Cars), stated in an interview from firm headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden. “That’s one reason to join forces with Daimler, in order to share that development burden.”

Daimler, primarily based in Stuttgart, is planning this 12 months to break up its truck- and bus-making operations from the division that makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles, forming a separate firm with its personal inventory market itemizing. The spinoff of Daimler Truck, introduced in February, is a momentous occasion for the corporate, which traces its roots to the inventors of the car and was as soon as a sprawling conglomerate that manufactured airplanes and trains in addition to autos.

One motivation for the amicable divorce is to give the truck unit extra freedom to react to technological change, whereas elevating cash from buyers to assist finance the big value of creating emission-free long-haul autos.

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“Independent management and governance will allow them to operate even faster,” Ola Källenius, the chief government of Daimler, stated Thursday.

Daimler managers concede that some parts of its truck enterprise are ailing. In the United States, Freightliner, which Daimler acquired in 1981, is the highest promoting model of heavy truck, with greater than one-third of the market. But in Europe, Mercedes-Benz model vans have misplaced market share and rating behind rivals in buyer satisfaction surveys.

Karin Radstrom, employed this 12 months from rival Scania to repair the Daimler Truck enterprise in Europe and Latin America, stated the corporate put an excessive amount of power into fancy engineering that prospects weren’t keen to pay for.

“To some extent we lost touch with our customers,” Ms. Radstrom stated in the course of the presentation Thursday.

As with passenger vehicles, the truck-making dinosaurs like Scania, a unit of Volkswagen, or Paccar, maker of Kenworth and Peterbilt vans, face new opponents making an attempt to exploit the transition to electrical expertise.

Nikola, a truck start-up primarily based in Arizona, was briefly price greater than $20 billion on the inventory market. But its shares have misplaced three-quarters of their worth because the founder, Trevor Milton, resigned final 12 months going through accusations he had made quite a few false assertions concerning the firm’s hydrogen fuel-cell expertise.

Nikola at the very least demonstrated how keen buyers are to put their cash into hydrogen vans. Another instance is Hyzon, a maker of gas cells primarily based in Rochester, N.Y., that has begun providing full vans and buses. In February, Hyzon was acquired by Decarbonization Plus Acquisition Corporation, a so-called SPAC that raises cash earlier than it has any property.

Tesla unveiled a design for a battery-powered semi truck in 2017, which the corporate has stated it would start delivering this 12 months. Tesla, Scania and another truckmakers are skeptical of hydrogen expertise, which they regard as too costly and fewer energy-efficient.

The conventional truckmakers like Daimler and Volvo have some benefits over the start-ups. Truck patrons have a tendency to be sensible hauling corporations or drivers who fastidiously calculate the prices of upkeep and gas consumption earlier than they decide. Managers of massive fleets may be reluctant to take an opportunity on a producer and not using a lengthy observe file.

Not everybody agrees with Daimler that hydrogen would be the gas of alternative for long-haul vans sooner or later. Tesla, Scania and another truckmakers take into account hydrogen expertise too pricey and fewer energy-efficient.Credit…Daimler

“There is a lot more spreadsheet analysis and crossing the Ts before any orders are signed,” stated Daniel Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities who follows the tech business. “Daimler is in a massive position of strength.”

For trucking corporations, it’s a complicated time. They face strain from regulators to scale back their affect on the local weather earlier than there’s a huge choice of emission-free autos to purchase, stated Glen Kedzie, power and environmental counsel for the American Trucking Associations, an business group. President Biden has been selling electrical autos, however has not but outlined what which means for the trucking business.

Trucking corporations, which have trusted diesel for many of the final century, could have to revamp their upkeep departments, set up their very own charging or hydrogen fueling stations in some instances, retrain drivers and be taught to plan their routes round hydrogen or electrical charging factors.

But Mr. Kedzie stated that emission-free vans additionally had some benefits. Fuel prices for battery-powered autos are a lot decrease than for diesel vans. Maintenance prices could also be decrease as a result of electrical autos have fewer shifting components. Drivers like the way in which electrical vans carry out — an necessary issue in the mean time when there’s a driver scarcity in America.

Many corporations that ship a number of items, like Walmart or Target, try to scale back their carbon footprints and taking an curiosity in zero-emission vans. “There are a lot of potential benefits” Mr. Kedzie stated.

Daimler says its goal is to make battery-powered short-haul vans that may compete on value with diesel by 2025, and long-haul fuel-cell vans that obtain diesel parity by 2027.

“In that very moment when the customer starts benefiting more from a zero-emission truck than a diesel truck, well, there’s no reason to buy a diesel truck anymore,” Andreas Gorbach, chief expertise officer for Daimler’s vans and buses division, stated in the course of the presentation Thursday. “This is the tipping point.”