The all-elec­tric punch up: Cum­mins v Tesla mar­kets

Tesla tech­nol­ogy v the Cum­mins su­per train

Big Rigs - - TECH TALK - Bruce Honey­will

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.

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