Awake at the wheel: Tesla is far from alone in electric trucks

Tesla Semi

Tesla Semi

This time, Elon Musk is not alone.

In mid-December, Daimler delivered its first 14 Fuso eCanter electric delivery trucks to customers in Germany, a reminder that while Tesla caught car companies flat-footed in 2012, incumbent truck makers are already preparing their countermeasures.

In Daimler’s case, these weren’t even the eCanter’s first deliveries. Customer trials with prototype vehicles began in 2014, and Japanese production began in July for convenience store chain 7-11 (headquartered in Tokyo), which is deploying 25 eCanters.

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The trucks, some of which were also delivered to UPS in September,  have an 82.8-kilowatt-hour battery and a payload of 3.5 tons. Daimler plans to increase  production as lower-cost, longer-range batteries become available in 2019.

Though delivery trucks and Class 8 tractor-trailers don’t compete directly with the larger, heavier Tesla Semi, the timeline coincides with that vehicle's planned premiere.

Despite its 300-kwh battery, Daimler’s larger E-Fuso Vision One prototype won’t compete head-on with the Tesla Semi either.

E-Fuso Vision One concept

E-Fuso Vision One concept

Demonstrating the challenge battery weight may pose for over-the-road trucking, the Vision One’s payload is 2 tons less than that of a comparable diesel-powered Class 7 truck: It’s rated to haul 11 tons (22,000 pounds) of goods up to 220 miles.

Also from Daimler came the Mercedes-Benz Electric Truck concept unveiled this summer, featuring a dual-display cabin. The prototype offers a range of 125 miles from 212 kwh of batteries.

The company's Freightliner division, it should be noted, has a commanding 37-percent share of the Class 8 (semi truck) market in the United States.

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Expected future EU regulations allowing higher permissible gross weights for alternative-fuel vehicles would effectively shrink the Mercedes e-truck’s weight penalty to1,500 pounds.

A commercial version with more battery capacity may well be launched as the Tesla Semi’s debut approaches.

Other major truck makers in North America

The other major players in the North American trucking market have not yet shown electric Class 8 trucks, but some have chosen to focus first on smaller vehicles, perhaps reflecting available battery options.

Navistar International and Volkswagen have announced a collaboration on a medium-duty electric truck—a likely competitor for the E-Fuso Vision One—to arrive in 2019.

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