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Daimler takes centre stage at world’s biggest show

Hanover in northern Germany is home to the IAA Transportation, the biggest truck show in the world. How big? The Daimler Truck stand alone would equal 15 stands at the Brisbane Truck Show. The pavilion they are in is as big as the entire Brisbane Truck Show footprint, and there are some 27 pavilions. I walked over 13km on my first day!

Big Rigs was invited by Daimler to attend the show, witness the launch of their latest Actros prime mover, the next generation Fuso eCanter and test drive the electric Actros rigid around the streets of Hanover. 

As with the rigid truck, the eActros 300 4×2 prime mover is also electric. Indeed, some 80 per cent of the show was given over to alternative fuel sources – electricity, hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Whether we like it or not the world is changing and truck manufacturers in Europe are leading the charge. 

Karin Radstrom, CEO Mercedes-Benz Trucks.

Karin Radstrom, CEO Mercedes-Benz Trucks, articulated the company’s philosophy moving into the future. Whilst many other electric trucks are still built like their diesel equivalent, Mercedes fundamentally changed the layout of the entire electric vehicle. 

Two e-motors sit directly at the e-axle, effectively making the power source and differential one unit, unlike earlier iterations where the electric motor was connected via a tail shaft. This new compact design frees up space between the chassis rails for more batteries, increasing the driving range for the Actros.

The eActros 300 can tow all common European trailers just like a diesel truck. It houses three battery packs with 112kWh each, giving a range of up to 220km and can deliver 400 kW peak and 330kW continuous power. The truck will go into series production in the second half of 2023.

The Mercedes-Benz eEconic was also on display. Designed for municipal services such as waste collection, the truck has three battery packs providing sufficient charge to carry most drivers through their whole shift. Two of these vehicles which were launched in July are now in Australia and Big Rigs expects to test drive them later in the year.

The eEconic garbage truck. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

The company is also working on the Mercedes-Benz eAtego, a medium duty electric truck coming in the next few years and completing the company’s range in the distribution segment. All these zero emission trucks are designed for urban transport covering distribution, municipal and construction duties.

Taking centre stage was the worldwide launch of the battery-electric Mercedes-Benz eActros LongHaul prime mover. In consultation with customers, the top three issues to be addressed with this truck were range anxiety, higher investment and uncertainty about reliability.

The new eActros. Big, beautiful and above all silent last mile delivery.

The batteries in the eActros LongHaul employ lithium-ion phosphate cell technology (LFP) which offers a longer service life than other technologies and more usable energy, equating to a longer range. Customers will be able to do ‘megawatt charging’ which will allow the batteries to be charged from 20-80 per cent in well under 30 minutes at such charging stations.

A full charge will give the eActros LongHaul a range of around 500 km. While this distance is nothing in Australian terms, 60 per cent of long haul trips in Europe are shorter than 500 km so many customers will not need to rely on public charging but rather ‘fill up’ when the truck returns to the depot. 

To address the need for some to recharge whilst on the road, Daimler have entered into a joint venture with Volvo and TRATON to build public infrastructure across Europe. The company believes that these steps will address any concerns regarding range anxiety.

The cost of purchasing electric is more expensive than the equivalent diesel truck but the eActros LongHaul will have a much lower energy consumption per kilometre compared to diesel – in fact less than half, meaning lower running costs. Mercedes says that over five years at 120,000 km per year the electric version will amortise costs on par with a diesel truck and from that point on the customer is ahead.

The LongHaul is currently being trialled on public roads, to be followed next year by selected customer testing with full series production to commence in 2024. From Mercedes’ first electric truck in 2016 the company is moving forward at an ever increasing rate in this field, as is every other OEM. 

In 2018 Daimler Truck had just one zero-emission vehicle in series production – the FUSO eCanter light truck. Today they have a portfolio of eight different zero-emission vehicles in production in Europe, Japan and the Americas.

But the company is not stopping with battery electric. Cognisant of the long distances travelled in countries such as Australia, Daimler is investing heavily in partnership with third parties on the development of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. A typical fuel cell will put out 150 kW and is compact enough for two or even 3 to be placed within a truck, giving plenty of power for the multi combination trucks in this country. The company quotes a range of around 1000 km with refuelling to take no longer than filling a diesel tank.

The only emissions to come from these trucks will be water vapour in the form of steam. I politely suggested to Daimler Truck CEO, Martin Daum that if the company could find a way to make that steam black in colour they may well win over many diesel stalwarts. “Hmmm,” he replied. “Maybe we should investigate that.”

At least he didn’t laugh at me. As illustrated at the Daimler Trucks stand and every other OEM’s, it is a brave new world of trucking. Very shortly we will have no choice but to go along for the ride.

Whilst the emphasis on the Daimler stand was on alternative fuel sources, the company also introduced the latest Actros L (as it is called in Europe), the company’s premium diesel-powered long-haul truck.

The new eActros LongHaul will get up to 500km on a single charge.

The truck incorporates a number of changes and improvements, the most visible of which is the MirrorCam, of which I will was already a huge fan. In its latest iteration the camera arms have been shortened by 10cm to reduce chances of damage. 

The ‘mirrors’ placed on the A pillars now have nearly the same perspective as normal mirrors making reversing even easier. The tone of mapping of the cameras has also been improved meaning that the displays show contrast better than before which helps a lot when driving in the dark.

The drivetrain has also received attention with the heavy-duty OM 471 engine using up to 4 per cent less fuel consumption compared to the previous generation. The 12-speed gearbox – already a winner in my book – now features gearshift’s up to 40 per cent faster.

For those wanting the ultimate in luxury the company is producing what they call ‘Edition 3’ which has over 30 special features on both the exterior and the interior of the truck. 

Only 400 units will be produced, all in left-hand drive, so we will unfortunately miss out on this ‘Rolls-Royce’ Actros here in Australia. 

The Daimler hall at the IAA. Only 26 more to get through.

After the company’s presentations I was invited to get behind the wheel of the eActros rigid truck for a spin around the streets of Hanover. I’ve driven smaller electric powered trucks but this, by dint of size alone was another-world experience. 

Big, beautiful and above all silent, the truck wafts along the road with just the sound of the air-conditioning interrupting your thoughts. Plant your foot on the pedal and it jumps forward like a scalded cat. 

Admittedly there was no payload on board, but I have no doubt that it would win the traffic light races against any diesel-powered competition.

My driving experience with the steering wheel on the left-hand side was only tempered on one occasion when I rubbed the right-hand tires up against the curb going around long curve. 

My German host was urgently saying two words to me that I didn’t understand but took to mean, “MOVE LEFT!” I was already ahead of him on that front. 

Finishing the drive, I mentioned the incident to a seasoned Aussie truck journalist who congratulated me. “I did it four times,” he responded. “It’s weird driving on the wrong side of the road.”

Hanover was an eye-opener on many fronts, from the sheer size of the exhibition to the rapidly advancing technological developments. 

I just hope someone will invite me back again because two days was simply not enough to see even half of what was on offer. Simply incredible!

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