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Daimler Trucks chief says clean trucks will be ready before clean fuels

FILE PHOTO: Martin Daum, head of Daimler Trucks and Buses gestures during the annual results news conference in Stuttgart

DETROIT (Reuters) – Daimler Trucks could have a full line of zero-emission commercial vehicles ready by 2027, ahead of most proposed deadlines for phasing out internal combustion engines, but deploying them will depend on infrastructure investments that have not yet been made, the Daimler AG unit’s chairman said.

“The infrastructure will take longer than we take to make a good product available,” Martin Daum, who will lead Daimler Trucks into a planned spinoff later this year, told Reuters in an interview.

Shifting commercial trucks to fuel cells or batteries will require mass production of hydrogen and significant investments in electric charging infrastructure, Daum said.

“The regulators are playing with the future of their respective economies,” Daum said. “Without trucks you don’t have the flow of goods. If you cut that without an alternative then it’s pretty bad.”

Daimler Trucks is the world’s largest commercial truck maker, with significant shares of the North American and European markets. Daum said the company has growth opportunities in China, India and other markets such as Indonesia. In mature markets, Daimler Trucks is working to expand services driven by data collected from trucks, which could represent 10% to 20% of a truck’s value, Daum said.

“The biggest growth potential I see is in technology in our existing markets,” Daum said. “The truck of the future will be significantly more capable and more expensive.”

Like its major rivals, Daimler Trucks must overcome investor concerns about the global economy and the cost of moving away from diesel engine technology that has powered long-haul trucks for decades. Shares in Traton SE, majority-owned by the Volkswagen AG truck unit, have still not returned to their 2019 IPO price after a sharp fall in 2020.

Startup companies such as Nikola Corp, as well as electric automaker Tesla Inc, are challenging established truck manufacturers with plans to field electric and hydrogen fuel cell commercial trucks.

Daimler Trucks is working on battery-electric heavy trucks, but Daum said electric trucks still are too expensive to compete with diesel technology on long-haul routes.

For long-haul duty, Daimler is investing in fuel cells, and it formed a joint venture last year with rival Volvo AB to develop hydrogen systems for heavy trucks.

Daimler Trucks does not plan to invest in hydrogen refueling infrastructure, Daum said. “I don’t want to become a competitor to BP and Shell and Exxon,” he said.

(Reporting by Joe White; Editing by Paul Simao)

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