Bosch envisions digital, electric future

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ATLANTA, GA – Imagine trucks without mirrors or internal combustion engines, relying instead on video monitors and electric power. It’s exactly what Bosch engineers are helping to develop.

The company unveiled a series of related components during the North American Commercial Vehicle Show this week, offering a peek at emerging technologies that in some cases are already proving themselves.

“The cockpit of the truck is set to transform,” said Jayson Roycht, vice president – North American regional business leader, commercial vehicle and off-road. Examples Bosch had on display included a 15-inch programmable gauge cluster. Rather than simply taking the place of a speedometer and tachometer, the screen becomes the centerpiece of driver controls, potentially integrating messages from driver assistance systems.

A version of the same screen flipped to a portrait mode delivers images from cameras that take the place of traditional West Coast mirrors. And the advantages are not limited to the better aerodynamics that emerge when replacing mirrors with tiny cameras. Images on two of the screens mounted inside the cab can also be adjusted based on lighting conditions or incorporate other messages.

Both versions of the screen were put to use in a drive between Detroit and Atlanta.

In terms of electrification, Bosch is one of the partners in developing Nikola Motor Company’s Nikola One and Two – a hydrogen-electric truck that promises to deliver more than 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 lb-ft of torque. Among the components Bosch is bringing to the project is an eAxle that combines a motor, power electronics, and transmission in a single unit. The company is also involved in developing the truck’s customized fuel cell system and vehicle controls.

“The approach using fuel cells for longhaul is pretty interesting, and being able to deliver that technology, and being able to deliver a cost benefit to diesel, is pretty interesting,” Roycht said.

It won’t be the only approach to electrifying vehicles, of course.

There are still many gains to be realized with hybrid systems, he said in an interview, referring to the ways that trucks in stop-and-go traffic could use regenerative braking to recharge batteries and extend potential vehicle ranges. Refuse vehicles using such technologies would also benefit because they wouldn’t chew through as much brake friction material.

“You don’t necessarily have to have a big, expensive, heavy battery pack. There’s other solutions out there. There’s other solutions also with different power voltage levels like 48-volt solutions. There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all,” he said.

Bosch’s eCity Truck, for example, is a diesel hybrid system that integrates its eAxle and a 48-volt system that supports accessories as well as energy recovery and start-stop capabilities at intersections. The U.S. Department of Energy has also awarded a Bosch-led team up to US $5 million to develop a commercially viable plug-in hybrid electric powertrain for medium-duty vehicles. Initial gains have already included a dual-planetary gear transmission with multiple clutches to reduce fuel consumption more than 50% in a real-world drive cycle. Effectively it allows internal combustion engines to be downsized by integrating two electric motors.

At a time when Tesla has promised to unveil an electric tractor, existing manufacturers such as Cummins and Daimler have also come forward with products of their own, he said, referring to the respective Aeos tractor and Fuso eCanter. “The more we look into all the different driving scenarios, and the more the technology comes down in cost on the electrification side, the more we’re going to see applications where it’s going to have a cost-of-ownership benefit beyond just being green.”

Still, there are different driving forces at play. In Europe, legislators are pushing for the technology with announced plans to ban internal combustion engines. “Here it’s more about can you produce on the cost basis. We see a lot of potential in a lot of areas. In terms of what comes to market faster? It’s anybody’s guess, but we’re seeing really interesting cost-benefits from everyone – including the longhaul.”

There are advantages to developing such vehicle platforms from scratch, such as introducing easier entry and exit, as displayed with the Mercedes-Benz Vision Van concept, he said.

 “In the commercial vehicle segment – other than the passenger car – you’ve really got to deliver on cost and you’ve got to deliver on performance,” Roycht said. “The easy fit everyone sees right away is the short-haul, and the repetitive stops.”

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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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