Ashok Leyland works on new concepts to cut electric vehicle cost
Ashok Leyland (AL), the Hinduja Group flagship company, plans to make its light commercial vehicles (LCVs) electric, followed by buses. Last year the commercial vehicle major introduced its first ‘Made in India’ electric bus, `Circuit’, that can travel up to 120 km on a single charge under standard test conditions.
Ashok Leyland has a strategic alliance with the electric vehicle (EV) major SUN Mobility to drive forward its EV segment plans. The partnership is critical to its goal of achieving more than 10% of revenue from EV sales by 2020, since it will give the company access to swap-and-charge battery technologies.
Speaking to AutoComponentsIndia, Ashok Leyland’s Chief Technology Officer, Dr Seshu Bhagavathula said, “The industry is in a turmoil right now. Big things are taking place in the powertrain industry. As a commercial vehicle player, we will be ready with the electric LCVs in 2 years. We are working on charging and swapping of batteries. In India the biggest challenge is the electric vehicle cost, which is at a higher side. Therefore, we are looking at decoupling the life cycle of the battery and the vehicle. If you decouple them in such a way, the vehicle and the battery will be bought separately. When you buy or lease the battery, the initial cost will be the same as a diesel vehicle. But the leasing works only when the volume is high.”
According to Bhagavathula, by the end of 2019, all the state governments in India will send future tenders only for Electric Vehicles for urban transport. This idea is based on the fact that most of the buses run around 30 to 35 km and come back to the depot. In 15 minutes it may not be possible to recharge the 350-400 kg batteries needed for the 30-35 km run but they can be swapped with pre-charged batteries in a few minutes. Initially there will be confusion regarding the charging and swapping of batteries as there should be wellmaintained depots to support robots and high-end chargers for batteries and sustainable charging points etc., There should also be efficient and different connectors between the battery and the vehicle. Any mistake may lead to explosion. But these issues can be resolved gradually and systematically and through perfect handling.
“If you wait for the battery prices to come down, it will take many years. For India, I think there is no other way, we will have to make the mistakes and the government has to
push some kind of safety standards across the industry. If we are not doing it, there will be a big issue. We have to learn the techniques to avoid mistakes,” he explained.
All types of light commercial vehicles, even the 5 or 7 tonne, can be managed well through batteries, says the CTO. Beyond which hydrogen fuel cells will play a major role. Fuel cells do not meet the torque requirements that are needed by trucks and other CVs but they work well with slow-speed vehicles. Range may not be the issue but the availability of hydrogen cylinders on the highways will be. Replacement of the fuel cells will be easy, but their cost could be exorbitant. Going forward it will be a combination of fuel cells and batteries for trucks. The OEMs are working on these lines, Bhagavathula said.
Ashok Leyland is ready with electric bus and it will be ready with e-LCVs. The company is also having a clear roadmap for larger emission-free vehicles. It is also considering fuel cells for medium commercial vehicles. Like all the OEMs, Ashok Leyland is also facing the heat in the electric vehicles in terms of cost of the aggregates.
“Today, the lithium-ion NMC (Nickel Manganese Cobolt) batteries are the best in the world in terms of technology because they offer best energy density (kW/$) and volume-metric density (kW/kilo), which are the 2 parameters that people talk about and decide everything. We can bring electric vehicles immediately, but the market is not ready yet. Once swapping becomes phenomenal then similar technologies can be followed in manufacturing. The government, after coming up with the swapping of batteries for buses, will also step into LCVs. From a commercial vehicle player, LCVs are going to be electrified first, which will have a range of 50-100 km, followed by medium commercial vehicles along with fuel cells. All our vehicles will come with lithium-ion batteries. To start with we have 2-3 concepts for battery packs and we also expect that some of the established tier players will offer battery packs at a competitive price. For fuel cells the technology is ready but it is very expensive. Batteries have come to a level where people now believe that the prices will come down. By 2020, the world can see the positive effect of battery-running vehicles. The companies and governments will be more bolder by then as enough experiences will be gained in this segment,” signed off Bhagavathula.
Ashok Leyland showcased the prototype of e-Dost and e-Boss (below) in 2015.
e-Boss has a 10T GVW