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Daimler’s etrucks now in Msanzi

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Daimler is the latest company to launch electric trucks in South Africa.

The eCanter and eActros rigid have already impressed fleet buyers with their 300 km of “realistic range” in Australia, which has very similar road conditions to South Africa.

Daimler has been testing these trucks in South Africa since last year and now aims to sell these small electric trucks to companies who plan to balance the much higher upfront cost of an electric truck by paying a lot less for solar power than for diesel. 

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The 4-ton electric JAC can already deliver at under R1 per kilometre – even while paying Eskom prices, according to Johannesburg-based logistics specialists, Aeversa. The cost drops even lower if solar power is used.

SAB and AB InBev Africa is one of Daimler’s customers who aim to offset the high price for a 7,5-ton Fuso eCanter by using solar power to recharge the eCanter’s 72,8kWh battery pack to give the light truck a delivery range 120km.

Strong Net Zero competitors

Daimler’s electric trucks will compete against the electric offerings from Volvo, Scania, and MAN, JAC, DFSK and BYD.

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Scania have been testing a two-axle rigid electric truck with Checkers in Cape Town since January 2023. The Scania has a gross trailer weight of 25 tons and a range of 350 km and reportedly works well between depots and stores.

Volvo handed over two electric FH trucks to KDG Logistics in June 2023 to deliver vehicles from Cato Ridge to Durban car terminal and Volvo now offers the electric FH for hire to companies who find the price too steep. 

DFSK, which was introduced to South Africa by Enviro Automotive in 2021, has since also moved to a monthly rental scheme, offering China’s most popular electric vans at R3,75 per kilometre.

Daimler's etrucks now in Msanzi JAC N75 EV 4 tonne

JAC partnered with Aeversa in 2021, which tested above low cost per kilometre claims and Takealot is now testing 10 electric JAC N75 trucks in Gauteng and the Western Cape. The JAC N75 has a payload of four tons, which a 106.95 kWh LFP battery pack can move for about 200 km before needing to recharge. This it can do in two hours via a direct current charger using a standard European CCS2-Combo connection. 

Also in 2021, China’s leading electric vehicle builder, BYD, delivered two electric buses to Golden Arrow Bus Services in Cape Town. Golden Arrow’s engineering department has now announced plans to add 60 MAN Lion Explorer E electric buses to its fleet by 2026.

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Two electrics needed for each diesel

To date, industry’s best-use of the instant torque from an electric motor has been shunting heavy loads in closed confines, as is evidenced by the many electric forklifts, aircraft tugs and specialised mining vehicles.

The fact that each of these vehicles still have a diesel counterpart that is at least 1.5 times cheaper shows that electric vehicles do not offer the final solution – far from it, according to Ryder, an international third party logistics solutions provider based in Florida, U.S. 

Ryder’s this week released a study that compares the annual Total Cost to Transport (TCT) of electric versus diesel trucks.

These total costs start with the initial purchase price of the truck and includes the cost of specialised high-voltage technicians, the drivers’ salaries, limited payloads and the hours spent on recharging while the diesel is still delivering, but excludes tax incentives, which differ from state to state.

In California, Ryder found small electric trucks cost 3% more to run than diesel. These costs skyrocket as the trucks get bigger.

Ryder’s figures show a light commercial electric van or bakkie costs 3%, or nearly $5,000 (over R91,000) more to operate per year than an equivalent diesel. This is because the electric vehicle cost 71% more and the labour cost are 19% higher, partially due to additional time required for EV charging. The high price is offset by 71% lower energy and 22% lower maintenance costs.

A medium commercial vehicle, what the Americans call a Class 6, costs 22%, or $48,000 (over R876,000) more to operate a year. This is because a Class 6 electric truck costs 216% more to buy than its diesel-powered equivalent. This high price is somewhat offset by paying 57% less for electricity than diesel; and the 22% drop in maintenance costs. 

An electric Class 8 truck tractor costs 94% more to operate for a year than a diesel truck. This translates to some $315,000 more a year – over R5,7 million more than running a diesel. This is because an electric truck tractor starts out costing five times the price of an equivalent diesel truck before any tax incentives. Labour and equipment costs also soared. 

Slow charging times and payload space lost to battery mass further led to Ryder advising fleet buyers they need almost two electric truck tractors to do the work of a diesel truck tractor.

Resale value the clincher

Ryder did not include any resale value of an electric truck at the end of its working life – because there is very little of it. Car rental giant Hertz is learning this fact while trying to sell the 30,000 Teslas it bought before discovering that electric trucks’ higher running and much higher repair costs also apply to passenger cars. 

Time will tell whether Europe and North America’s recent disenchantment with electric vehicles will have any impact on sales of Daimler’s last mile delivery trucks in South Africa. As Aeversa and Ryder’s numbers show, if a company already has solar power and batteries in place to recharge their vehicle, the energy costs can be lower than a rand a kilometre and total running costs can be only 3% higher than that of a small diesel truck.

If Daimler’s dealers offer good guaranteed buy-back deals to offset the resale fears, the medium commercial segment could see a few more electric trucks quietly buzzing around in South Africa’s cities. But don’t expect to see many of them on the open road. 

There, diesel will still rule for at least another 18 years, according to Golden Arrow’s chief engineer Gideon Neethling, who said this is how long the company operates their diesel buses before replacing them. 

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