Daimler Isn't Worried About Tesla's Electric Semi Truck, Exec Says

Daimler thinks Tesla's lack of experience with commercial vehicles will put the Silicon Valley company at a disadvantage.

Daimler

Daimler is currently competing with Tesla on multiple fronts. Its Mercedes-Benz division plans to answer the Model S and Model X with a fleet of new luxury electric cars—but also like Tesla, the German conglomerate is planning on releasing electric commercial trucks into the market. And Daimler isn't worried about Tesla's electric semi truck, which will be unveiled in September. 

At least, that's the impression Marc Llistosella, head of Daimler Trucks Asia, gave in a recent interview with Business Insider. He said Tesla's lack of experience with commercial vehicles will make it difficult for the Silicon Valley company to crack that market.

"In trucks, of course [Elon Musk's] stepping into it, but we don't see him as someone who is threatening to us because you need a whole infrastructure," Llistosella said. "You need dealerships, you need infrastructure, you need maintenance." 

Tesla sells its cars directly to customers online or through company-owned showrooms, and operates a network of service centers. The question is whether Tesla can use the same facilities to sell and service a semi truck.

"It's not so easy like a consumer good, it's an industrial good, so it will be very difficult for him," Llistosella said.

Granted, Daimler's electric trucks probably won't compete directly with Tesla's. While Tesla is planning a semi, Daimler will build small and large box trucks. After years of testing with a select group of fleet operators, it plans to launch a limited production run of the Fuso eCanter later this year, with a full ramp-up to mass production in 2019. 

Daimler is also considering a production version of the larger Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck concept, which debuted last fall at the IAA commercial vehicle show in Frankfurt, Germany. Daimler has no apparent plans to offer the Urban eTruck in the U.S., although the Fuso eCanter is expected show up here at some point. 

While its approach is more conservative, Daimler is also being more realistic. Its electric trucks are designed for short-range urban operations, which means they will never be far from charging stations. The same can't be said of Tesla's truck, which is meant to compete with long-haul vehicles. Charging is an even greater issue for electric trucks than passenger cars, because they not only need to cover long distances regularly, but they need to do it on a schedule.