Electric big rigs are now union-made in Portland


Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) started production on the long-awaited eCascadia this summer, and plans to start customer deliveries of the all-electric big rig later this year. 

The eCascadia is based on the diesel-powered Freightliner Cascadia frame, but it has a battery capacity of up to 475 kWh, almost five times the battery capacity of a Tesla. That means it can go about 250 miles before it needs to be recharged. Recharging takes about 90 minutes. 

“If you’ve got a truck that is going to run around town all day and not burn one drop of diesel—that’s something to be proud of,” said Machinists Lodge 1005 member Dwayne Canham. Canham is a team leader at the Portland factory on Swan Island. His group puts the finishing touches on the trucks after they roll off the assembly line. 

The eCascadia is designed to run short-haul routes such as last mile deliveries, local and regional distribution, and warehouse to warehouse applications. A Class 8 heavy duty truck, it’s capable of 360 to 525 horsepower and up to 82,000 pounds. 

Canham, 62, has worked since 1978 at the Portland truck plant, where his father also worked in the 1960s. As of 2021 there’s a third generation on the assembly line: Canham’s daughter, Kristen Mauldin. Mauldin recently became the first woman to commission an electric vehicle in the Swan Island plant. [To commission a vehicle means turning it on, making sure it’s working, and testing its systems and components.]

Daimler started converting the Swan Island factory to make electric trucks in 2021, and next year the plant will start producing a second model, the eM2 battery-electric box truck. The company has been familiarizing employees with key vehicle components and training them how to work safely in a high voltage environment. 

Canham and his daughter are “e-techs,” certified to the highest level. 

“We do diagnostic work on the truck,” he said. It can be dangerous work. “You’re playing with batteries from 430 to 500 volts.”

Electric trucks have fewer moving parts than their diesel counterparts, which has raised concerns about potential loss of vehicle manufacturing and assembly jobs as the automotive industry switches over to making zero-emissions vehicles. So far, there’s been no decline in the need for production workers at the Daimler plant, said Randy Lill, business rep for District Lodge 24 and former chief steward at the truck plant. In fact, labor shortages are a more pressing concern, he said. 

“Daimler is still actively recruiting, and still understaffed,” Lill said.

Also, for the foreseeable future, the Portland plant will also continue producing diesel models under the brand Western Star. 

In June Daimler announced an agreement with food services giant Sysco to deliver 800 eCascadias. The first deliveries are supposed to take place this year.



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