Daimler Trucks sets up fuel cell subsidiary

Daimler Truck fuel cell leaders

Daimler Truck AG is assembling its fuel cell expertise in a new subsidiary as a forerunner to a 50-50 joint venture with rival Volvo AB that will make fuel cell-powered backup systems for data centers and eventually hydrogen-fueled heavy-duty trucks.

“We will now bring together the great expertise and enormous wealth of experience from several decades of development work on fuel cells at Daimler – and combine it with the right know-how in connection with trucks,” Daimler Truck AG Chairman Martin Daum said in a statement on Monday, June 8.

Daimler and Volvo announced plans for a non-binding fuel cell joint venture in April. Daimler has focused most of its zero emission fuel cell technology in passenger cars and buses. Volvo has little background in hydrogen.

Daimler Truck Fuel Cell GmbH & Co. KG “is to be the immediate predecessor organization of the joint venture,” Daum said.

Advancing fuel cell work to over-the-road trucks is part of Daimler’s target of selling only battery- and hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric trucks in its key markets by 2039.

Competition ascendant

The move comes as newly public Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) is attracting significant investor interest in its plan to build battery electric trucks in a joint venture with IVECO in 2021, followed by the manufacture of fuel cell Class 8 trucks in 2023 at a new plant south of Phoenix, Arizona. Its shares traded as much as 71% higher on Monday.

Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) is pursuing hydrogen-powered fuel cell heavy-duty trucks,  working with Kenworth Truck Co. in the U.S. and with its subsidiary Hino Trucks in Japan.

Hyundai Motor Co. revealed a fuel cell-powered concept truck at the North America Commercial Vehicle Show (NACV) in Atlanta in October 2019. Hyundai also signed a memorandum of understanding with engine maker Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) to work on developing and commercializing electric and fuel cell powertrains, including stationary backup power systems for data centers. 

Daimler’s organization

Daimler named two veteran fuel cell experts – Andreas Gorbach, 45, and Christian Mohrdieck, 60 – as managing directors to lead the subsidiary. 

Gorbach, who has been responsible for all fuel cells at Daimler Truck since the beginning of May adds the CEO title. Mohrdieck has been in charge of fuel cell development at the Daimler Group since 2003 and is managing director of the fuel cell development unit Mercedes-Benz Fuel Cell GmbH, which will be allocated to the new subsidiary.

Daimler and Volvo plan to start series production of heavy-duty fuel cell commercial vehicles for heavy long-distance freight in the second half of the decade. Volvo, which had no investment in fuel cells, will acquire 50% of the joint venture for 600 million euros (about $678 million). 

“The fuel cell is a crucial CO2-neutral solution for trucks in heavy long-distance transport,” Daum said. “We and our future joint venture partner, Volvo Group, are convinced of this.”

The first joint venture project is expected to be making stationary fuel cells for the British technology group Rolls-Royce plc. Rolls-Royce’s Power Systems division plans to use the fuel cells for emergency power generators in data centers. The deal is expected to be signed by the end of the year.

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