The idea of running a fully-electric truck might have been a pipe dream just 10, or even five years ago, but the days where freight can be carted around urban routes by quiet, clean vehicles are creeping closer. Having teased a heavily camouflaged prototype earlier this year, Mercedes has unveiled its battery-powered Urban eTruck with up to 200 km (124 mi) range.
Built on a modified heavy-duty, short-radius distribution truck chassis, the eTruck swaps the diesel engine for a liquid-cooled 400 V, 212 kWh lithium-ion battery and electric motors. The two motors kick out a relatively modest 125 kW (168 hp) and 500 Nm of torque each, but Mercedes says clever gearing delivers 11,000 Nm to the wheels.
Although the standard battery setup holds 212 kWh, Mercedes has acknowledged the fact different companies have different needs from their trucks. An extra battery module can be added to extend the standard range, or smaller batteries can be used to save weight and space on shorter routes.
Regardless of which battery is fitted, charging is handled by a 100 kW Combined Charging System Type 2 plug, and takes between two and three hours. The truck also uses a regenerative braking system to draw some energy back into the batteries while on the move, which has the added benefit of reducing strain on the brakes.
Although it's built on a modified diesel chassis, Mercedes has worked hard to make the eTruck look different to your average diesel rig. Gone is the grille, and in its place is a flat black panel, with cooling handled by an intake hidden on top of the cabin. The small aero skirts around the edges of the cab are almost imperceptible from a distance, and there are no wing mirrors, just compact cameras, cutting down on drag and noise.
This slick design focus has carried over inside, where the driver is faced with a totally new 12.3-inch central display. One section of the screen provides detailed information about the upcoming route, focusing on things that might make life tough for truckers (like bends and steep gradients), while the in-dash driver display can tell how far away the car in front is sitting and how fast it's going.
A traffic-sign aware cruise control system means the truck stays with the traffic flow in changing conditions, helping reduce driver fatigue and cutting down on any inefficient heavy acceleration and braking.
One of the major issues with battery-powered vehicles is range anxiety. On top of the screen in front of the driver is a horizontal charge indicator. When the batteries gets low the whole screen turns red, and if it looks like the truck won't make it to the nearest charge point another warning light pops up.
When things are looking seriously dire, drivers can switch to Eco Mode, which cuts performance for the sake of maximizing range. In regular driving, the default Auto Mode works to balance performance with efficiency, while Agile mode unleashes maximum power for steep terrain.
Fleet managers can also control drive modes remotely using the FleetBoard telematics and control system. This can shuffle tasks and routes around among a full fleet, making sure each truck in the company can be used to its full potential. As well as route distance data, it considers the weather in its calculations, because refrigerated trucks use more energy on hot days, and might not be able cover as much ground.
Mercedes and Daimler suggest the trucks could be set up and charged using smart energy systems made up of recycled battery packs. The company also claims the cost of running electric trucks is falling, and smart energy management is making it more economical than ever before.