MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – The company best known for producing diesel engines wants it known that its capabilities extend beyond diesel.
“We intend to be in the diesel business for a long time yet,” said Julie Furber, executive director of electrification with Cummins, during a keynote address at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit April 18. “We think the diesel market has a long way to go, but we also think hybrids have a part to play and we believe fully-electric has a part to play.”
Cummins has committed to spending US$500 million into electric power research and development over the next three years, but Furber said the trucking industry is still in the early stages of adoption.
“How fast is this going to happen? We are king of thinking in the next 20-25 years,” Furber said.
The industry is currently in Phase 1 of adoption. This is driven by social requirements for cleaner air. But Furber said challenges such as charging time and range remain. The energy density of batteries today doesn’t allow sufficient range without compromising payload, she explained.
Phase 2 will see the adoption of improved technologies, and lower-cost batteries that are smaller. Regulations will be required to promote the use of electric power, Furber said. And government subsidies will be needed. During this phase, lots of municipal return-to-base trucks will adopt electric power, as well as smaller pickup-and-delivery vehicles.
Phase 3 will see the economics work in a broader range of applications. Trucks will need to deliver a payback within a five-year initial life-cycle. Further breakthroughs will be required to provide 800 kms of driving range per day, and questions about resale value will need to be answered. Battery recycling programs will be necessary, and a more expansive charging infrastructure.
“Right now, we wouldn’t advocate an electric linehaul trucks,” Furber admitted.
Currently, Furber said Cummins believes diesel remains the best fit for longhaul, natural gas is ideal for regional haul and refuse, while hybrid is an ideal solution for utility fleets. Full electric power is best suited to urban transit bus applications.
In the future, customers will choose between internal combustion engines, hybrids, battery electric power and fuel cell electric.
“Many fleets will end up with a mixture of these vehicles,” she said. “We are moving from being an engine company, to being a power delivery company – to delivering the right power to customers at the right time.”
Furber was somewhat dismissive of new arrivals into the industry, including Tesla.
“We can all build one truck,” she said. “Anybody can build a truck and make an electric truck. The difficulty is the next piece – getting it on the road, doing it reliably, repeatedly and robustly is much more difficult.”
She said Cummins has a global network of 3,000 distributors to supports its engines, and Cummins won’t disappear before electric power becomes mainstream. Others, who are fully invested in an electric-driven future, will be in a hurry to see the technology succeed.
“There will be a lot of consolidation, and a lot of companies that run out of cash,” she predicted. “A lot of them care about how fast electrification adopts. If it doesn’t adopt fast enough, they will not have the cash to stay in business.”
Furber said Cummins is already working with OEMs today to integrate an electric powertrain. It plans to have fully electric buses in production by the end of next year, and trucks should come soon after – initially as prototypes.
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