Cum­mins Beats Tesla To The Punch, Un­veil­ing Heavy-Duty Elec­tric Truck

ForbesWeekly - - NEWS - BY JOANN MULLER, FORBES STAFF A demon­stra­tion cab for Cum­mins’ new 140 kWh elec­tric pow­er­train for com­mer­cial truck fleets. FOL­LOW JOANN MULLER AT www.forbes.com/sites/joan­n­muller FW

Cum­mins, a lead­ing maker of diesel and nat­u­ral gas en­gines for com­mer­cial trucks, un­veiled a Class 7 heavy-duty truck cab fea­tur­ing an ad­vanced 140 kWh bat­tery pack that it will sell to bus op­er­a­tors and com­mer­cial truck fleets start­ing in 2019.

The 18,000-pound trac­tor cab, dubbed AEOS af­ter one of the four-winged horses driv­ing the char­iot of the Sun God, He­lios, across the sky in Greek mythol­ogy, is just a demon­stra­tion model. But the Class 7 ur­ban hauler trac­tor is fully op­er­a­tional and ca­pa­ble of haul­ing a 22-ton trailer.

With a 100-mile range, the Cum­mins elec­tric power train is be­ing tar­geted at ur­ban de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles (like a beer truck or food de­liv­ery truck) as well as for short haul trips in and around ports and other ter­mi­nals. It can be recharged in about an hour at a 140 kWh charg­ing sta­tion, and Cum­mins’ goal is to get that down to 20 min­utes by 2020, re­duc­ing down time for its business cus­tomers. Pro­duc­tion be­gins in 2019.

An ex­tended range ver­sion, which uses an ef­fi­cient diesel en­gine as an on-board gen­er­a­tor, will be avail­able a year later, of­fer­ing up to 300 miles between charges and 50 per­cent fuel sav­ings compared to to­day’s diesel hy­brids with zero emis­sions.

Be­cause of the lim­its of to­day’s bat­tery tech­nol­ogy, Cum­mins’ Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Thomas Linebarger said the Class 7 truck cab rep­re­sents the “stretch ap­pli­ca­tion” for a heavy­duty elec­tric truck. An elec­tric pow­er­train does not yet make sense for a Class 8 semi trac­tor-trailer, also known as an 18-wheeler, be­cause of the larger loads they carry and the longer dis­tances they travel, he said.

Cum­mins will not build trucks, but will in­stead sup­ply a fully in­te­grated bat­tery elec­tron­ics sys­tem and will buy the cells from an un­named provider. Tesla fa­mously makes its own bat­tery cells at a mas­sive “gi­gafac­tory” in Ne­vada.

Cum­mins’ an­nounce­ment comes a few weeks ahead of Tesla’s planned re­veal of an elec­tric “semi” truck. The maker of pre­mium plug-in cars hasn’t pro­vided any de­tails of its project, in­clud­ing the truck clas­si­fi­ca­tion, but last week Reuters re­ported that Tesla will ap­par­ently tar­get the re­gional haul­ing mar­ket with an elec­tric big-rig with a work­ing range of 200 to 300 miles.

By get­ting a jump on Tesla’s an­nounce­ment, Cum­mins is get­ting across loud and clear that it in­tends to re­main a ma­jor player in the com­mer­cial truck business, even if that mar­ket shifts away from its core diesel en­gine business.

“There are more tech­nolo­gies com­ing into eco­nomic rel­e­vance than we’ve seen in my ca­reer, ever,” Linebarger said in an in­ter­view. “This is what we do. We feel we do bet­ter when tech­nolo­gies are shift­ing.”

In­deed, the 98-year-old com­pany has stayed suc­cess­ful through in­no­va­tion, es­pe­cially when reg­u­la­tions and cus­tomer pref­er­ences are chang­ing. Over the years, it’s been at the fore­front of en­vi­ron­men­tal shifts, em­brac­ing stricter clean air stan­dards, for ex­am­ple, when other man­u­fac­tur­ers re­sisted. It led the shift from 2-stroke to 4-stroke diesel en­gines, for ex­am­ple, and was a leader in de­vel­op­ing af­tertreat­ment sys­tems for NOx par­tic­u­lates.

Cum­mins has been work­ing on elec­tri­fied pow­er­trains and fuel cells for about a decade, and feels con­fi­dent it is well­po­si­tioned to re­main a leader, de­spite com­pe­ti­tion from new play­ers like Tesla, Proterra and Nikola Mo­tor Com­pany.

“All those com­peti­tors we take very se­ri­ously,” Linebarger said. “They’re in­no­va­tive, well-funded and have a tech­nol­ogy mind­set, much like Cum­mins.” Where Cum­mins has an edge, he said, is in un­der­stand­ing its cus­tomers’ needs.

“We know that we can­not have one so­lu­tion for ev­ery­body,” he said, which is why Cum­mins will con­tinue to pro­vide a va­ri­ety of power tech­nolo­gies—in­clud­ing elec­tric, diesel, nat­u­ral gas and fu­ture al­ter­na­tive fu­els—for dif­fer­ent ap­pli­ca­tions. “We need to make sure we have the right tech­nol­ogy for the right ap­pli­ca­tion,” he said. “Even if the elec­tri­fied power train re­places the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine com­pletely, that’s still a 20- to 25-year tran­si­tion pe­riod cus­tomers have to man­age through. If we have good tech­nol­ogy, they’ll want to buy it from us.”

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