Electric atmosphere in Vegas

March 14, 2019

As part of its activities at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Daimler Trucks hired the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and let us loose on and around the track … in order to experience its latest (and most definitely greatest) North American truck and bus/coach range.

Daimler Trucks is aiming to offer the widest electric commercial vehicle product range in North America (out of all the original equipment manufacturers). Accordingly, the bulk of the test vehicles – the Freightliner eM2, eCanter, Saf-T-Liner C2 Electric Bus and Freightliner eCascadia – featured electric propulsion.

The exception was the new Cascadia, which happens to be the first level-two automated truck in series production in North America. I’m going to ignore the eCanter for now – because we’ve written about it so much before – and focus instead on the rest of the vehicle line-up.

Freightliner eM2

Like all the other vehicles we drove, this isn’t a pie-in-the-sky product that will never come to market. In fact, the first fully electric Freightliner eM2 was handed over to Penske Truck Leasing Corporation in Los Angeles during December 2018.

The vehicle will be used for local distribution in the Northwest Pacific and in California. This wasn’t a once-off delivery either. During the course of this year, Penske Truck Leasing Corporation will take delivery of 20 fully electric Freightliner trucks: ten medium-duty eM2 trucks and ten eCascadia trucks for heavy-duty transportation.

We were able to drive the eM2 and it’s a terrific medium-duty (six to 12 t) truck. The range of the eM2 is 370 km, and the batteries can be recharged to around 80 percent within 60 minutes – sufficient for a range of around 300 km. The batteries provide 325 kWh of usable capacity and, like so many other electric vehicles, it’s an absolute blast to drive. Series production is planned by 2021.

Saf-T-Liner C2 Electric Bus

Also known as Jouley, this is the first all-electric school bus that will enter series production in North America. It can transport up to 81 children safely, quietly and emission-free. Oh, and free of charge too; the Daimler experts told me that all school buses with electric propulsion are free of charge in the United States.

It is equipped with the PowerDrive 7000ev from Efficient Drivetrains, a specialist in electric powertrains. The battery power is 100 to 160 kWh, which is good for a range of up to 160 km. With additional battery modules, the range can obviously be increased. Limited production of this bus starts in 2019.

Freightliner eCascadia

This is the truck that Elon Musk probably really hates right now – because, as I’ve already pointed out, it will be delivered to at least one customer this year. The eCascadia is based on its namesake, the Cascadia, which happens to be the most successful heavy-duty, long-distance truck (class 8) in the North American market (it’s the one truck all its rivals hate with a passion!)

The first generation eCascadia will offer up to 730 peak horsepower (or 544 kW). The eCascadia’s batteries, with 550 kWh, will provide enough energy for a range of up to 400 km and can be recharged to 80 percent in about 90 minutes, allowing it to cover another 320 km.

As is expected of all electric vehicles, it’s quiet and responsive. Based on my short test drive, I’m sure that Penske will welcome this new addition to its fleet with open arms. The eCascadia will enter series production in 2021.

New Freightliner Cascadia

Daimler has been rabbiting on about developing autonomous vehicles for about five years now. And now, with the latest Freightliner Cascadia, it is delivering on its promises – kind of.

I say “kind of” because the new Cascadia still needs a person behind the wheel. In Vegas, that was a professional driver (for some strange reason, journalists were not allowed to drive). Despite this, I can assure you that the Cascadia is a most impressive vehicle: I watched it accelerate, decelerate and steer all by itself. In fact, the driver never touched the accelerator or brakes. Not once on our test trip!

As we all know, the most dangerous component in any truck is the nut behind the wheel. On a serious note, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reckons that a whopping 94 percent of all crashes in the United States are attributable to human error!

The new Cascadia should do a terrific job of reducing those accidents, because it will be able to keep itself centred in a lane, match the speed of a vehicle in front, and alert the driver when cars or pedestrians wander into the blind spot.

I’m told that the truck will also brake automatically in an emergency (we didn’t get to experience this on the test drive, no doubt partially due to the fact that I was not allowed to drive). The truck is going into series production this year. Expect to see them crawling all over the roads of North America very soon.

My friends call me a glomad (a global nomad lest you don’t get it). That’s a particularly apt word, because I am always trawling all corners of the globe, looking for stories. As a result, I have slept in some seriously strange places – on a bed of ice in the Arctic circle, on the floor in a traditional Japanese hotel, on the sand dunes in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan … and even on the floor of a Thai cargo ship. Mostly however I tend to sleep on aircraft (if I had a dog, he would bark at me when I eventually come home). I am passionate about trucks, cars, travel, food, wine, people and hugs – so I write about all these things. Except the hugs.

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