By Tom Brant
Electric trucks are already on the road in some cities, but they’re best suited for packages and other light duties. Now, Mercedes-Benz wants its customers to use them for a lot more, up to 26 tons of cargo.
The concept is called eTruck, and it uses some of the same technology in the curent generation of electric trucks, but with a much higher capacity and a range of up to 124 miles. Mercedes unveiled the eTruck this week at an event in Stuttgart, Germany, and said it could hit the road with commercial operators in the early 2020s.
Other than a futuristic paint job, the exterior of the truck isn’t all that unique. It’s based on an ordinary heavy-duty, three-axle urban delivery truck. But the chassis has not only been completely revamped, it also takes a different approach to electric drive compared to consumer electric vehicles currently on the market.
Instead of a single battery pack and one electric drivetrain, the eTruck has an electrically driven rear axle with motors directly adjacent to the wheel hubs. It’s the same design Mercedes uses in its hybrid electric buses. There are three lithium-ion battery modules, which gives the truck enough range for a typical day of deliveries.
“Electric drive systems previously only saw extremely limited use in trucks,” Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Mercedes’ trucks and busses division, said in a statement. “Nowadays costs, performance and charging times develop further so rapidly that now there is a trend reversal in the distribution sector: the time is ripe for the electric truck.”
Earlier this month, Mercedes teased a concept bus in which commuters can wirelessly charge their smartphones, recline in Ikea-like seating pods, and make small talk with their driver while computers do all the driving.
As cities prepare for an electric truck future, highway authorities are doing the same. Another German company, Siemens, recently proposed an electric highway for long-haul semi trucks. It uses a catenary line suspended above one lane of the roadway, similar to the power supply electric railways have been using for more than a century. Siemens plans to test it on a 1.25-mile stretch of highway in Sweden over the next two years.