What will spur electric vehicle adoption? DTNA’s Sean Waters has an idea

DTNA's Sean Waters

Stating that people buy trucks to make money, Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA) Sean Waters, vice president of product compliance and
regulatory affairs, outlined on Tuesday why diesel remains an important fuel
choice for fleets. In the keynote address at the Green Truck Summit, ahead of
the NTEA’s Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, Waters also explained DTNA’s
approach to electrification, and what needs to happen for widespread adoption
of electric vehicles.

“People don’t buy our
trucks because they want to, people buy our trucks because they have to,”
Waters said. “These are not toys. They buy the trucks to make money.”

Pointing to the 24/7
nature of trucking and the value it provides for the economy, Waters addressed
the challenges facing the industry as it seeks to adopt electrification. He
highlighted the many electric products Daimler produces across its global
brands, including the Class 8 eCascadia and medium-duty eM2 106 vehicles that
fleets are now testing. Other Daimler electric products include Thomas Built
Buses all-electric Saf-T-Liner eC2 Jouley school bus in North America, the FUSO
eCanter in North America, and the Mercedes-Benz eActros, eEconic and eCitaro in
Europe. The FUSO eCanter is also on the road in Europe and Japan. Freightliner
Custom Chassis Corp. is introducing the purpose-built MT50e chassis for walk-in
vans this week at the Work Truck Show.

“We are committed to the
decarbonization of transportation,” Waters said. “We are starting with our own

Daimler has set an
internal goal to have all production vehicles be carbon-neutral by 2039, but
that doesn’t mean only electric options. Diesel is not going away before then,
Waters said.

“As we transition to new technologies, we can’t lose sight of the importance of diesel because those [diesel] trucks we sell in 2039 are going to be on the road for a long time,” he said, pointing out that technological advancements have already cut emissions from diesel engines by 90% from baseline numbers.

DTNA, which already has 30
eCasadias and eM2 vehicles in test fleets that have amassed over 100,000 miles
to date, announced the new Freightliner Customer Experience (CX) fleet, which
will add six more eCascadias and two eM2s to test fleets. The CX fleet is part
of Daimler’s “co-creation” approach to electrification that works with fleets
to develop products they want and find ways to make those products work in
real-world applications.

The product is only one
leg of the stool needed to make electric work, Waters said. The e-mobility
ecosystem and policies and regulations also will play important roles.

“Where are we at for
commercial vehicle infrastructure [for instance],” Waters asked. “The answer
is, we aren’t there yet.”

Buyers are interested in
total cost of ownership, route assessment, financing, maintenance and
end-of-life considerations, Waters said, but “I think the infrastructure is the
biggest one.”

Right now, Daimler is
focused on drayage, regional haul, food and beverage, pickup and delivery, and
last-mile operations.

“We are trying to have a
vehicle for each of these applications because we believe these will be the
initial applications,” Waters said.

Electric vehicle adoption
will depend on how quickly the industry is able to develop standardized
procedures, such as those for charging infrastructure.

The final piece of the
puzzle relates to policies and regulations, and it is here that Waters is asking
for help.

“We’re not going to
accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles without the government’s help,” he
said. A best practice may be to consider the impact on electric vehicles for
each new rule or regulation, Waters suggested.

Building the charging
infrastructure will also require assistance.

“[Public utilities] are
not going to build charging infrastructure for no money,” he said. “The only
way they are going to build infrastructure is if they can pass along [the cost] in rates to customers.”

Public utilities must go
before rate commissions to ask for rate increases, which may or may not be

It is important for
countries to work together to assist manufacturers, Waters said, urging
governments to ditch the patchwork of regulations and create global standards.

“We need to get better
economies of scale, and we can get better economies of scale if we can bring
technology across the ocean,” he said.

One approach the U.S.
government can take to boost electric adoption is the elimination of the
federal excise tax (FET) on electric trucks. FET is a 12% tax on new vehicles.
The trucking industry has been campaigning for several years to eliminate the
tax entirely, but Waters noted that vehicles using advanced technologies or
alternative power such as electric, inherently cost more, and the FET is higher
as a result.

“As a matter of public
policy, we should have a conversation as to whether it is the right tax to have
on a truck,” he said. “This excise tax actually creates a disincentive to
invest in new technology.”

Waters said Daimler, like
others, will continue to meet customer demand, and that includes continuing
funding diesel advancements, but the world is changing, and customers are

“Our customers demand we
take action. Society demands we take action. And frankly, we demand it,” he