Daimler Trucks North America is going all in on battery-electric trucks, renovating a plant in Oregon to produce Freightliner electric vehicles, said Roger Nielsen, the manufacturer’s chief executive, Wednesday at the Advanced Clean Transportation Expo.

“The road to emissions-free transportation is going to be driven with battery-electric vehicles,” Nielsen said. “I believe the future is electric.”

Daimler, the largest commercial maker of heavy-duty trucks in North America, already had indicated a preference for battery-electric trucks for local and regional use.

It is building 20 medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks for Penske Corp. and NFI Inc., a major third-party logistics company, under a grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

But Nielsen doesn’t see electric powertrains replacing diesel engines throughout the industry. Daimler, which also owns the Western Star truck brand, believes diesel will remain the primary fuel for long-haul trucking for many years, he said.

TOO EARLY FOR FUEL CELLS

Daimler’s electric vision includes hydrogen-powered fuel cell trucks. But it does not see them as viable in the near term.

“I can see a glimpse of it over the horizon. But it will not be this generation of engineers who will be delivering it,” Nielsen said.

Daimler’s declaration runs counter to recent enthusiasm for fuel cell trucks.

Earlier this week at the Port of Los Angeles, Toyota Motor Corp. and Kenworth Truck Co. showed the first of 10 fuel-cell trucks they are co-developing for use on regular routes from ports to distribution centers.

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