On October 10, Daimler Truck AG unveiled a battery-electric long-haul truck, the eActros 600, with a claimed range of 500 kilometres. The 44-tonne lorry comes with a 600 kilowatt-hour battery that can be charged from 20% to 80% in 30 minutes using a megawatt-charging system.

While this certainly is a big leap for heavy-duty commercial vehicles, the world's largest truckmaker is not giving up on hydrogen either. In late September, a prototype of its GenH2 truck covered 1,047 km of distance driven with one fill of liquid hydrogen, demonstrating that the fuel-cell technology can decarbonise long-haul road transportation.

"Historically, hydrogen was an alternate source of energy. But then as the battery technology matured and got to a point where you can pack enough batteries in a car which will give an acceptable range, then the passenger vehicle industry moved away from hydrogen," says Raghavendra Vaidya, managing director and CEO of Daimler Truck Innovation Center India (DTICI), a captive unit to support Daimler Truck's research, IT and product development activities.

But trucks are a different story as they need to cover as much distance as possible, according to Vaidya. "Heavy duty trucks carry 40 tonnes but they still need a 1,000 km range, at least. And that cannot be achieved by battery electric only. That's why we have a dual strategy of using battery electric and hydrogen as well. We firmly believe that both these technologies have their place in decarbonising and reducing tail-pipe emissions," says Vaidya.

There are two technologies in hydrogen. One is fuel-cell where hydrogen is used in liquid or gas forms in a fuel cell pack to generate energy. The other is Hydrogen ICE (H2ICE) – hydrogen internal combustion engine.

"The interplay of hydrogen and battery commercial vehicles is what we are trying to figure out. Where we use one and where we use the other to give the maximum range and torque," says Vaidya.

Vaidya, however, admits there are a lot of engineering questions that are unanswered. "We have to address tailpipe emissions. There is no way around that. There are cost, ecosystem, and infrastructure challenges but commercial vehicle emissions have to be addressed," he says.

Daimler gets fuel cell packs from cellcentric, a 50:50 joint venture of Daimler Truck AG, which was carved out of the Mercedes-Benz Group in December 2021, and the Volvo Group.

On the industry's transition to electric trucks, Vaidya says the products are here, the infrastructure is catching up but costs are still very high. "Until these three parameters are optimised to a level where it is a profitable manageable logistics cost, mass adoption is going to be a challenge," Vaidya explains.

Nobody buys a truck because it is pretty, they buy trucks because they are running a business, he says. "Battery electric trucks don't mean anything if we don't have the charging infrastructure. We are working with ecosystem partners to create this infrastructure at scale so that fleets get enough confidence to move from diesel to zero-emission technologies," Vaidya adds.

On safety, Vaidya says DTICI has a team working on safety features like active brake assist. "India is still catching up on regulations. If you look at the trucks we sell in Europe and the U.S., we call them drive-by-wire, which means between the input it gets from the driver, whether it is braking acceleration or cornering to the actual mechanical component that moves it, there is electronics and software. Even if the driver presses the acceleration fully down, it is not going to increase the acceleration because it is controlled by software and electronics," says Vaidya.

The Bengaluru-based R&D centre is also working with Daimler India Commercial Vehicles to implement some of these features which may become mandatory in the future.

"There is a regulation on active brake assist that is coming where the truck has to brake itself. These are not regulations yet but very soon they will be," says Vaidya. "This is where we will have a headstart over our competitors. We introduced these features in other parts of the world 15 years back. If this becomes a regulation we can bring it to the market very fast. And that is where we will work with Bharat Benz," he says.

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