Cummins Road To Electrification

Development of electric vehicle powertrains symbolize company’s longtime embrace of disruptive technologies

By Mike Brezonick

When the Aeos all-electric truck was unveiled at the Columbus Technical Center, it was likely seen by many as a radical departure for Cummins, a 98-year-old supplier of diesel and natural gas engines and engine-related components for a broad range of on- and off-highway applications.

But for some at Cummins, the sight of the sleek vehicle — named for one of the winged horses that pulled the chariot of the sun god across the sky in Greek mythology — engendered a sense of déjà vu.

“Actually, it reminds me reminds me of kind of 15 years ago, around 2000,” said Rich Freeland, Cummins president and chief operating officer. “As a company we had some major changes coming at us and there were some pretty strong risks to the company.

“Financially we weren’t in the strongest position, we had emissions standards coming at us hot and heavy that we were going to have spent a lot of money on and we were wondering how we were going to do that.  Then there were the risks of globalization and people were talking about how Japanese trucks, Chinese trucks and trucks from India were going to take over and we weren’t going to be in business.

“As a company we said those things in fact are real. But we decided to actually embrace those challenges and build capability to turn those risks into opportunities. And for the most part looking back, while it’s not been a straight line and there were some good and bad days along the way, I think we did a pretty good job of embracing that.

“The whole idea of taking risks, building capabilities and turning them into opportunities – I think we’re in a similar phase right now. There’s a different set of risks in a different set of challenges coming at us. Emissions and greenhouse gas were some of things that we’re still talking about, but then there’s also electrification, autonomous vehicles and telematics and how are we going to respond to those? We’re accepting those challenges, seeing what it takes to win, investing in those and doing it better than anyone else.”

Part of the company’s investment in the future was demonstrated in the early summer, when Cummins announced the establishment of a business dedicated to electrification technology and applications.

The more tangible and physically imposing sign of that all-in attitude was the Aeos truck, a 4 x 2 day cab tractor with full battery electric power that Cummins called a commercial vehicle demonstrator. With a gross vehicle weight rating of 75,000 lb. and a maximum payload of 44,000 lb., Cummins said the vehicle is suitable for a range of vocational applications such as urban delivery operations, port drayage and terminal container handling applications.

“If you think about how you use a truck, there are certain applications where it will be viable to use an electric powertrain pretty soon,” said Julie Furber, executive director, Electrification Business Development at Cummins. “Things like urban trucks, regional trucks will be viable economically and technically soon.”

The Aeos vehicle was assembled by Roush Engineering, Livonia, Mich., with specific technical assistance from Wabco and Hendrickson. While specific details were few at the unveiling, the vehicle incorporates a high-energy lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery pack rates 140 kWh. The battery pack drives a traction motor with a peak output of 350 kW/469 hp and 225 kW/301 hp continuous, ratings that are similar to internal combustion trucks. Similarly, torque output is also diesel-like at 1365 lb. ft. continuous with a maximum torque output of 2507 lb. ft.

As with most electric or diesel electric hybrids, the Cummins e-powertrain uses regenerative braking to recover energy into the system. And when the vehicle stops — a very common occurrence in urban or pickup and delivery duty cycles — it consumes no energy at all, adding to overall efficiency.

In an effort to highlight its electrification capabilities, Cummins developed a Class 7 tractor demonstrator with an all-electric powertrain. The Aeos tractor uses lithium-ion batteries to drive an electric traction motor that offers a peak output of 350 kW/469 hp —225 kW/301 hp continuous — making it able to match the hauling characteristics of a vehicle with an 11 or 12 L diesel, the company said.

At 18,000 lb. — which Cummins said is weight neutral when compared to conventional Class 7 diesel-powered tractors — the Aeos powertrain delivers a diesel equivalent fuel economy in excess of 30 mpg, which is leaps and bounds ahead of the best combustion engine vehicles operating today. In addition, Cummins said acceleration is 25 to 35% faster than an equivalent vehicle with an 11 or 12 L diesel, depending on the rear axle ratios.

The 140 kWh battery pack provides 100 miles of service before recharging is required, Cummins said. That range is extendable to 300 miles by incorporating an additional battery enclosure in free space under the hood or at the back of the cab. The powertrain also has a range-extender option which utilizes 4.5 or 6.7 L Cummins B series diesel engines to drive an onboard generator to expand the vehicle’s range to as much as 600 miles, the company said.

The Li-on batteries can be partly recharged in 20 minutes using a 140 kWh charging station, Furber said, while a full charge takes an hour. The company aims to bring full-charge time down to 20 minutes by 2020, Furber said.

The Aeos vehicle also incorporates a range of additional aspects designed to enhance energy efficiency. These include low rolling resistance tires and a significantly streamlined, low profile aerodynamic design that includes elimination of the front radiator opening and replacing side mirrors with cameras (a feature that is currently awaiting regulatory approval). The steeply sloping hood also provides increased visibility to the driver, Cummins said. The tractor is also equipped to import energy from solar panels mounted on the trailer roof, Cummins said.

The powertrain is controlled through a drive-by-wire system with no gear shifting required, Cummins said. The dashboard includes two additional gauges for electric power level and battery pack state of charge, with readings from zero to 100%. The vehicle also incorporates real time connectivity with Cummins over-the-air diagnostics,

freight logistical information and platooning capability.

Furber said that Cummins “will have our first fully electric powertrain launched at the end of 2019 and that will be for the transit bus market initially. That will be closely followed by the range extended powertrain system early in 2020.  That again will be for the transit bus market, but we will be quickly bringing out applications for other markets.”

Among those other markets are off-highway and material handling, as well as regional haul trucks. “This is just the beginning,” Furber said. “We’re going to take electrification to all our markets and all the applications that we serve when the time is right.”

Cummins also believes it has a distinct advantage in doing that, thanks to its size and history in market segments that are just now starting to serious consider electrification.

“We are a technology company and we are more uniquely positioned than anybody else in the marketplace to win in the new and emerging technologies,” added Srikanth Padmanabhan, president of Cummins’ Engine Business. “We will be the powertrain choice for our customers regardless of what the powertrain choice is in the on and off-highway world.

“Electrification is something that we’ve all been hearing about for a while. We’ve been working on this for over two decades and we know with real data and real life experience as to where it works, where it and where it makes sense.

“We’ve had customers tell us, ‘hey, I just had one of the startup companies come and say that they can supply me with a battery electric powertrain and I’m glad that you guys are in this business.’ When we ask them why, they invariably talk about support, because of the relationships we’ve developed in industries we actually understand.

“This is why we feel confident that no matter what the technology is, we’ll be there to take care of our customers’ needs and will be the powertrain supplier of choice for our customers — no matter what their needs are.”

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