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Daimler Trucks pledges carbon neutrality in key markets by 2039 — with caveats

Dropping natural gas truck development in favor of pure carbon dioxide reduction plays

Daimler is displaying the FUSO brand “Vision F-Cell” fuel-cell medium-duty prototype at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show. (Photo: Daimler AG)

Daimler Trucks is targeting 2039 to sell only battery- and hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric trucks in its key markets.

The pledge comes with several caveats.

“This can only be achieved if competitive conditions for CO2 [carbon dioxide]-neutral transport are created for our customers in terms of costs and infrastructure,” Martin Daum, Daimler AG Board of Management member responsible for Trucks & Buses, said October 25 at an international supply chain conference in Berlin, Germany. 

When transport is “CO2-neutral” or “carbon-neutral,” it implies that CO2 emissions are offset through using renewable sources or an emissions credit system.

Daimler will stop development of natural gas-powered trucks because they are a fossil fuel-based transition strategy, according to Daum’s prepared remarks. The money can be better spent elsewhere, he said.

Daum said the Stuttgart-based truck maker is committed to:

  • Battery-electric series-production vehicles by 2022 in the U.S., Europe and Japan;
  • CO2-neutral production plants in Europe by 2022 with all other plants to follow; and
  • Hydrogen-based series-production vehicles by the end of the 2020s. 

Daimler is displaying the FUSO brand “Vision F-Cell” fuel-cell medium-duty prototype at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show that’s running from October 24 through November 4. FUSO has more than 140 eCanter medium-duty battery electric trucks in customer service in New York City, Tokyo, Berlin, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Lisbon. 

The Mercedes-Benz battery-electric eCitaro bus, which went on sale in 2018, will get a fuel cell range extender in 2022. 

The Mercedes-Benz eActros heavy-duty truck, which can travel up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) between charges, is being used by customers in Germany and Switzerland. In the United States, the first medium-duty Freightliner eM2 and two heavy-duty Freightliner eCascadias are in demonstration fleets in California.  

“Still,” Daum said, “there are very specific challenges (for hydrogen) in the commercial vehicle sector, such as service life and payload availability.”

Cost competitiveness

Battery-powered and hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks cost more to purchase than diesel-fueled power units that dominate the industry. Fleets focus on total cost of ownership. If infrastructure is readily available and maintenance costs are low enough, they could be competitive with conventional trucks.

“Locally CO2-neutral trucks and buses won’t sell themselves, because even in 2040 — despite all efforts by manufacturers — the acquisition and total cost of ownership will be still higher than for diesel vehicles,” he said.

The effort in Europe needs government help through:

  • Purchase incentives;
  • Staggered tolls that would benefit carbon-neutral vehicles;
  • Targeted subsidies for buses; 
  • A nationwide electric and hydrogen refueling infrastructure; and
  • Uniform standards for the transport and refueling.

Tank to wheel

Putting CO2-neutral transportation on the road by 2050 is Daimler’s ultimate goal.

“As it takes about 10 years to completely renew a fleet until 2050, our ambition is to offer ‘tank-to-wheel’ locally CO2-neutral new vehicles in (North America, Europe and Japan) by the year 2039,” Daum said.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.