Test Drive

Fuso leading charge with impressive new eCanter

Back in 2017 Fuso – under the Daimler Trucks umbrella – were the first company to series produce an all-battery electric light duty truck in Japan – the Fuso eCanter.

Five years on, hundreds of eCanters are serving customers in Japan, US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Together they’ve clocked enough miles to circle the planet over 100 times.

At IAA Transportation in Germany recently, Karl Deppen, the CEO of Daimler Truck Asia described those five years as the trial stage, while introducing the company’s next generation eCanter.

The all new eCanter on show in Hanover.

From the current single model on offer, forthcoming eCanters will come compatible with many types of bodies, making it ideal for diverse applications. The vehicles will come in a range of tonnage, between 4.25 tonne and 8.5 tonne, nearly matching the offerings of the diesel Canter product portfolio. They will also come with six different wheel bases and two cab variants.

Another innovation is the installation of a mechanical PTO, enabling the eCanter to cater to many special-purpose applications that currently use existing equipment for diesel vehicles. This will give companies an EV option for applications as varied as dry vans, tippers, rear cranes, garbage collection and all types of logistics.

The first generation eCanter offered a range of 100km, fully loaded. Generation two has a state of the art LFP battery technology. It comes with an all-new modular battery concept with three options according to wheelbase – S, M and L. The S option has a driving range of 70km, the M model offers 140km and the L model offers up to 200km. The aim of these options is to allow customers to balance range with cost and payload.

As with the latest eActros, the eCanter now features the new eAxle where the electric motor and differential are wrapped up in one unit, allowing more space for battery stowage.

The latest iteration also adds more safety features such as the company’s most advanced collision mitigation brake system (ABA5) and Sideguard Assist which warns drivers about blind spots. Series production of the Fuso Generation eCanter begins in 2023.

And some of that production comes from a very surprising place. After our whirlwind tour of IAA Transportation at Hanover, Daimler put we assembled journalists on a bus (Mercedes-Benz of course) back to Frankfurt where we caught a plane to Lisbon, Portugal. 

Early the next morning we board yet another bus and head 145km north-east of Lisbon to the small town of Tramagal. 

Rounding the final corner on the edge of town is a two-story white building proudly displaying the words, eCanter. 

The plant has been around since 1964, originally producing military trucks under the Berliet brand name. Some 5000 were made up until 1974. The following six years saw only another 1000 trucks produced. From 1980 through 1996, 67,000 Canter, Fuso, L200, L300 and Pajero were produced under various factory ownership, all for the Portugal market. 

With Daimler’s purchase of Mitsubishi in 1996 the factory was also purchased and concentrated on the Fuso Canter product with distribution extending into wider Europe and Morocco. In all, 235,000 Canters have left the factory.

At the main entrance we are met by Arne Barden, the expatriate German head of plant and Rui Correia, director, general operations for a presentation on the plant’s operations and the production process of the Next Generation eCanter. 

In line with its parent company’s ambitions, the Tramagal plant reaches carbon neutrality this year, expects net zero by 2030 and being carbon positive by 2040. 

Given the plethora of transportation OEMs at Hanover’s IAA not only aiming for the same but actively producing product to achieve it, I could easily believe that truck manufacturers are at the forefront of changing the world’s reliance on fossil fuels.

Following lunch, and unfortunately only a tiny sip of the delightful multi-award winning wines at nearby Casal Da Coelheira Winery, we return for a tour of the factory.

The highly-skilled team in Portugal produces a new Canter every eight minutes.

Covering an area of over 158,000m², the Tramagal plant employs 600 people, making it the major employer in town – its importance in the community illustrated later in the afternoon when we take the eCanters for a spin. 

The team produces a brand-new Canter every eight minutes. The factory tour demonstrates the skill of the workforce, aided by robots where necessary. 

Both diesel and eCanters are produced from CKD kits on the same production line, only parting ways at the fitment of the powertrain. The eCanter will become the main focus of production at Tramagal in future years.

The proof of the product is always in the pudding as they say, so the time comes to hop behind the wheel of an eCanter for a spin, and it is here that the business’ importance to the town becomes apparent. 

As I round a corner and come to a T-section, there is the local constabulary blocking traffic to allow me a free run. The next junction is the same and so on until the journey is completed. Oh, there was also a police car heading up the eCanter convoy. Did I feel important? Yep.

So what’s it like to drive? In Aussie slang: ‘She’s a bloody bewdy mate!’

The world she’s a-changing and Fuso, along with others, is leading the charge – no pun intended.

Graham Harsant travelled to Germany and Portugal as a guest of Daimler Truck.

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