Daimler Trucks has launched a new e-mobility unit to bundle efforts from its five divisions and speed development of battery-powered engines for trucks and buses.

The world’s largest maker of commercial vehicles announced the creation of the unit during its capital markets day event in Portland, Oregon. The group also said it would spend €2.5bn on R&D this year and next, including more than €500m earmarked for electrification, connectivity and autonomous driving technology.

The e-mobility group “will soon be defining the strategy for everything from electrical components to completely electric vehicles for all brands and all business divisions, while also working to create a single global electric architecture,” Daimler said. “As the undisputed global market leader, we aim to take the leading role in the field of electric-powered trucks and buses.”

The five truck brands bundled into the effort are Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Fuso, Western Star and BharatBenz. It will be led by Gesa Reimelt, who is currently head of eDrive Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.

In an interview with the Financial Times, chief executive Martin Daum described the threat of electrification as a distant one for trucks — but one that Daimler must prepare for because the prospect of cheaper batteries with better densities could disrupt the industry “overnight.”

“Trucking is a business,” he said. “Nobody who buys a truck buys it because he wants to, but because he needs it. This is a huge difference to passenger cars. If you have to haul 40 tonnes of dirt, you have very few alternatives to a truck.

“So, whoever hauls your dirt wants to make money hauling it,” he added. “He will always look for the best, most efficient solution.”

Mr Daum, an economist by training, said at the moment a combustion engine is the most efficient solution because of how expensive batteries are, “despite that fuel is more expensive than electrical energy and electric trucks requires less maintenance.”

By contrast, the initial purchase price and longevity of the product speak in favour of diesel, he said. “But if that balance would one day shift, towards electric, you would go from zero to 100 per cent electric overnight.”

The creation of the e-mobility unit for trucks follows a broader restructuring that its parent, Daimler, initiated last October. Daimler said it was taking “first steps” to revamp the structure of the company by legally separating Trucks & Buses from Cars & Vans, in an effort to simplify operations so each can respond more quickly to threats that are reshaping the industry.

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