DTNA boss John O'Leary

Daimler Truck North America boss John O’Leary has declared that charging infrastructure will be the key issue limiting further expansion of electric vehicle growth in the trucking industry, and reckons that Daimler could be selling more electric trucks if  the roll out of infrastructure was easier and happening faster.

“Electrification interest is there, but is currently constrained by infrastructure challenges,” O’Leary said  during the Manifest conference truck media briefing in Las Vegas last week.

“These continue to be the challenges most limiting to deployment of more units,” the Daimler US boss added

O’Leary said that some of its customers who have taken delivery of a meagre number  of its all-electric Freightliner eCascadias  heavy trucks have expressed interest in adding more, only to realise that there is a shortfallin charging infrastructure.

 “Infrastructure is really a limiting factor right now, they just don’t have a way to charge them,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary said the time and effort involved in building a charging site was one key reason for the issue.

“Site location, building permits and construction delays all currently  have current measured in years, not weeks or months,” he said.

“There is a lot of will in the regulatory arenas to make that happen, but as we all know when you start talking about moving large, megawatt lines of electricity around, building new substations and things like that, it takes time.”

What O’Leary describes as the perhaps unrealistic and high expectations being set by lawmakers may be clouding the narrative around infrastructure roll out.

“The general public thinks that because all of the politicians and regulators are saying all of these grandiose things — we need to do this and it’s going to happen, and passing rules and regulations — that doesn’t get dirt turned by shovels, and electric power generated and substations built. That’s the longer-term problem,” he said.

O’Leary said that DTNA hasd dedicated resources to helping fleets with these challenges.

“We do have an internal consulting group that is specialising on infrastructure, and helping customers understand what it takes to get permits, what it takes to find a construction company that is able to do that, and we are  working very closely with them” he said.

The truck maker is also working closely with dealers to prepare their  dealerships for servicing electric trucks, O’Leary said.

“In terms of training service techs  it’s not just how to fix it, but how to operate and fix them in safely, because you are dealing with voltage that is extremely dangerous,” he said.

“There is a whole safety protocol in training that has to be followed, so we have been working for well over a year to get our service network trained up. We have also been doing a lot of work to get parts into the parts distribution centres]so that we will be ready when the demand for those starts happening. But, as of right now, it’s still pretty early days.”

O’Leary said that it’s too soon to comment on any problem areas that operators have been encountering with electric trucks.

“It’s too early to really say what exactly they are experiencing — what are they actually struggling with — but I would say this: we have put a huge amount of work into preparing for that,” he said.

O’Leary said that while an all-electric truck obviously differs from a diesel-powered truck, DTNA’s strategy of building EVs from existing Freightliner models ensures some familiarity.

“It’s a Cascadia, and an m2,” he said.

“The powertrain is different, but the rest of the truck is tried-and-true. Everyone knows what they’re working on there. If you have an interior issue or seat issue, it’s not something that has just been invented by some start-up company. It’s something that’s in service today. That’s something that, we think, simplifies it radically.”

O’Leary hopes that this kind of preparation and planning will coalesce around the roll out of more charging infrastructure to help propel the electric market, and believes DTNA could be selling more EVs now.

“We have the capacity to produce 2,000 right now, and that will continue to grow over time,” he said.

“We are in the process of rolling out that capacity because we know at some point that will be required.”

DTNA has based that production ramp up on  what O’Leary describes as many conversations with customers, but said that customers have often changed course in the face of the charging infrastructure challenges.

“The customers might say, I know I told you I wanted 200 in 2023, but now say, how about I take 25 and push the rest out until later,” O’Leary said.

 “It’s great that the acceptance has been so strong, the operators who have them love them , and they just need to figure out how to charge them,” O’Leary concluded.