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The fully-electric Freightliner eCascadia heavy-duty truck and medium-duty Freightliner eM2 will form a fleet of 30 electric vehicles available to customers before the end of 2018. Series production is planned beginning 2021. (image: Daimler Trucks)

Daimler shows it's serious about electric and automated truck development

The recent flurry of electric truck reveals continues, this time in the Pacific Northwest at Daimler Trucks North America's (DTNA) headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Freightliner Trucks premiered two fully electrified trucks, the heavy-duty Freightliner eCascadia and the medium-duty Freightliner eM2 106, during the Daimler Trucks Capital Market and Technology Day on June 6.

Freightliner plans to deliver an "electric innovation fleet" of 30 vehicles to customers later this year for further real-world testing. Full-scale production of its proprietary electrification solution in commercial vehicles (CVs) is expected to start in 2021.

The truck maker also announced the creation of an Automated Truck Research and Development Center in Portland. The center will be dedicated to further developing automated driving technology and understanding its impact and benefits in the real world. Hundreds of engineers located in Portland; Stuttgart, Germany; and Bangalore, India will be focused solely on automated driving, leveraging the know-how across Daimler's vehicle divisions, including passenger cars.

The new electric trucks and automated-truck facility are part of the company's plans to invest more than €2.5 billion in total R&D activities in 2018 and 2019, with more than €500 million of that earmarked for e-mobility, connectivity and automated CV technology.

Accelerated electric-drive development

To speed development of electric drivetrains on trucks and buses, the company has bundled all of its electric activities under a new organization called the E-Mobility Group (EMG). The group will be responsible for defining the strategy for all things electric, from electrical components to full electric vehicles for all brands and business divisions, while also creating a single global electric architecture.

EMG employees will be located throughout Daimler's global development network, in Portland, Stuttgart and Kawasaki, Japan. Effective July 1, Gesa Reimelt will establish and lead this new entity.

"We aim to take the leading role in the field of electric-powered trucks and buses," said Martin Daum, member of the Daimler Board of Management for Trucks & Buses. "By establishing our new global E-Mobility Group, we can maximize the effectiveness of our investments in this strategic key technology. This will enable us to provide our customers with the best solutions in battery systems, charging systems or energy management."

Part of this electrification effort, the eCascadia Class 8 tractor is designed for local and regional distribution and drayage, producing up to 730 peak hp. At 550 kWh, its batteries provide enough energy for a range of up to 400 km (250 miles), and can be recharged to around 80% within 90 minutes to cover a further 320 km (200 miles).

The eM2 medium-duty truck offers up to 480 peak hp. The batteries provide 325 kWh of usable capacity, a range of up to 370 km (230 miles) and the ability to charge up to 80% within 60 minutes for a range of around 300 km (184 miles). The eM2 is suitable for local distribution, pickup and delivery, food and beverage delivery, and last-mile logistics applications.

Both trucks were designed in the U.S. specifically for "dedicated, predictable routes where the vast majority of daily runs fall between 45 and 150 miles," said Roger Nielsen, president and CEO of DTNA.

The eCascadia and eM2 join Thomas Built Buses' all-electric Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus and the Fuso eCanter ( to form a range of electric CV models in North America.

Dedication to automation

Fully-autonomous commercial trucks will not be series-produced any time soon, according to Daimler Trucks. But that doesn't mean it's not worth fully exploring all aspects of the technology now: Thus, the creation of the new Automated Truck R&D Center in Portland, dedicated to the development, testing, and validation necessary for high levels of automation.

This exploration includes software, sensors, machine learning, and simulation, as well as the adaptation of the base vehicle platform. The new R&D facility will also serve as a center for co-creation, where customers, suppliers, and business partners can provide their input.

"Automated driving offers enormous advantages in the logistics business, with the potential to mitigate the shortage of truck drivers around the world," said Daum. "From a technological point of view, there is still a long way to go until trucks can drive fully autonomously. Automated vehicles must be as safe as possible. We are putting all our effort into this at Daimler Trucks."

The Detroit Assurance 4.0 suite of safety systems forms the basis of the sensor systems that will ultimately be used in highly automated applications.

Platooning (called "pairing" when two vehicles are used) was demonstrated with paired trucks as part of the Daimler Trucks Capital Market and Technology Day at Portland International Raceway. Using the radar and camera sensor systems currently available as part of Detroit Assurance, along with vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), braking is coordinated across platooned vehicles and steering is partially automated to keep the trucks in the center of their lanes. The following trucks in the platoon respond to braking commands in less than three-tenths of a second.

DTNA says the first real-world operation testing of platooning in the U.S. is in preparation. The company is working with top customers to validate the practicality of hauling commercial freight with platooned vehicles.

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