The all-electric punch up: Cummins v Tesla markets
Tesla technology v the Cummins super train
A BATTLE is shaping up between one of road transport’s old stagers versus a new, cashed-up kid on the block.
Before the bell rang for round one, the old veteran hit the new boy with a damaging left hook but did not put him down for the count.
The electric-powered Tesla Semi, a medium-range prime mover, has been the subject of gossip for the past 18 months and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk kept the rumours stoked without revealing any details or specifications of the truck that is set to revolutionise – or, in Musk’s vision of the world, disrupt – the road transport industry.
Set to be revealed to a slavering media pack in September, Musk postponed the launch until November.
But then, out of the blue, came the Cummins launch of the Aeos, an all-electric prime mover designed for urban and short-haul distribution.
The launch in New York (reported in Big Rigs early September) was on August 29, strategically still two weeks ahead of Tesla’s planned launch in mid-September.
Now it seems the Aeos was shown to the world two and a half months before the Tesla truck, if the November launch happens according to the schedule.
There is a lot of chatter coming out of the US, with more apparent sightings of the Tesla than UFOs in the same period.
Tesla trucks have been reported being transported in California near the Tesla proving ground.
There have been sightings and rumours of a “mule” truck as they call it, from all accounts the Tesla drive line and batteries in the body of a Freightliner Cascadia.
It is an interesting story how Cummins engines pounced on the market and in no uncertain terms ran a flag up the pole, making a statement that Cummins may be an old diesel company but the fight was on in this new age of electric power, alternative power and the predicted disruption from rich but inexperienced start-ups like Tesla.
There are differences between the Cummins Aeos and the Tesla Semi. The Aeos looks like a chunky offspring of a wind tunnel, surprisingly reminiscent of the Australian PowerTrans Pit Hauler in general shape.
What is strange is that Cummins did not squeeze into bed with traditional OEM partners Kenworth or perhaps Navistar.
Obviously the truck builders were keeping their electric plans tucked away for some far distant launch under their own brand. Possibly by then, using the Cummins electric powertrain.
On the corporate market front there are reasons for Cummins’ possibly premature jump. A respected market analyst in April downgraded the value of Cummins and Paccar shares because of the threat posed by Tesla.
Perhaps the late August reveal by Cummins was an attempt to keep Tesla at bay in the boardrooms and on the road.
Many consider the Tesla technology to be superior to the Cummins powertrain but Cummins engine business president Srikanth Padmanabhan says the company has been spending millions of dollars a year for a decade on this technology.
Cummins has made it clear it is not going all electric and still has a strong corporate belief in diesel as well as natural gas engines.
Named after one of the four winged horses driving the chariot of the Greek sun god Helios, the Cummins Aeos is fully operational today and capable of hauling a 22-tonne trailer with 160km range.
It can be recharged in about an hour at a specialist charging station with 140kW/h capacity and it is
reported that Cummins’ goal is to get that down to 20 minutes by 2020, with production beginning for the Aeos in 2019.
Market pundits claim the Tesla will initially target medium haul and regional distribution applications with a working range quoted as “between 200 and 300 miles” (320–480km).
The Cummins spinners of course have trotted out a predictable line that Cummins has the edge because it understands its customers needs. The 98-year lifespan of the Indianapolis company should offer at least that.
Tesla’s annual production output is set at 25,000 tractor-trailers a year compared to Cummins’ production of more than a million engines going into automotive applications.
The Tesla all-electric heavy-duty truck project is being run by former Daimler executive Jerome Guillen, who led the development of the Cascadia truck program.
He is executing Musk’s “Master Plan Part Deux”, which tells the market little other than Tesla’s belief the Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it “really fun to operate”.
“Fun to operate” is an interesting phrase coming from the Tesla rulebook, which makes you wonder how many hard miles on the road these fellas have done.
Tesla production of its electric cars has built a reputation for being slow on delivery. If you lived in the US and ordered a mass-market sedan today, it would not be delivered until 2018.
It is uncertain if these supply difficulties will extend into the company’s truck manufacturing, if Musk is keeping all details about truck design and manufacturing processes close to his corporate chest.
In spite of the sightings and descriptions of a
❝one, Before the bell rang for round the old veteran hit the new boy with a damaging left hook but did not put him down for the count.
noiseless truck without exhaust stacks, the shape of a Cascadia (the so-called test mule) and myriad other sightings of “might be” Teslas, Musk is still playing coy as the tweets fly faster than a White House briefing.
All truck manufacturers have a finger in the electric plug and it is yet to be seen if it will merely electrocute the companies or if electric trucks gain wide use as battery technology improves, power increases and range goes from 160km to a 1000km-plus.
There are some strange spin-offs of the technology, such as one town in Sweden where Scania trucks are running on “electrified” roads, trucks with electric powertrains with spring-loaded booms that stretch up to suck energy from overhead power lines.
BEST OR LESS: Companies search for the new, best thing.
Advanced technology is just around the corner.
RIGHT: The final design of the commercial Tesla Semi is still a secret but this earlier iteration gives an idea. As Elon Musk tweets, he’s taking freight haulage to a new level so a surprise could come mid-November.
Hauling into the future.