Could be launched by 2020.

Urban air pollution will be one of the defining issues of the next decade. While private cars have long been a convenient scapegoat, legislators are finally waking up the fact that diesel commercial traffic - trucks and buses - is by far the biggest offender.

Electric buses are becoming an increasingly common sight, but the technology hasn’t quite caught up the demands trucking would put on it. However, the new Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck prototype could be a turning point.

The Antos-based eTruck is the first fully electric heavy truck, operating at a total weight of 26,000 kilograms (57,320 pounds). The three-axle rigid is intended for the sort of urban multi-drop work, where each journey is relatively short, that creates so much harmful pollution.

Three lithium-ion battery packs mounted within the chassis send power to the driven second axle, which features an electric motor adjacent to each wheel hub. Mercedes hasn’t said what the output of the system is, but does claim a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles). Which should be plenty for short-radius distribution work.

Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, Daimler-Benz board representative for the truck division, said: "Electric drive systems previously only saw extremely limited use in trucks. Nowadays costs, performance and charging times develop further so rapidly that now there is a trend reversal in the distribution sector: the time is ripe for the electric truck.”

Mercedes hopes to have an electric heavy truck in production by 2020. Expect other manufacturers to start work on their own electric trucks in the near future. As the technology becomes viable and controls on urban pollution tighten, commercial vehicle operators will likely switch to electric vehicles much more quickly than private car owners, potentially eliminating the vast majority of harmful urban emissions almost overnight.

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