Cummins sees future in diverse power options

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ATLANTA, GA – Cummins continues to embrace a “buffet” of power sources for the marketplace as it prepares for a future that includes diesel, hybrids, electric powertrains, and fuel cells.

“We win in the marketplace by seeing the future first, and beating the competition to it,” proclaimed Srikanth Padmanabhab, president of the Cummins engine business, during a briefing at the inaugural North American Commercial Vehicle Show. “We will be there to provide that power of choice to our customers.”

Cummins itself will produce 1.3 million engines this year, bringing its worldwide total to 15 million engines overall.

But the underlying source of power is clearly evolving.

Future internal combustion engines could be fueled by diesel, natural gas, or gasoline, he said. Battery-electric systems will find a place depending on specific applications, particularly in regional and urban environments — especially as batteries improve. Cummins expects range-extended electric vehicles in 2019 and 2020 to serve the bus market and urban pickup and deliveries, and it has also unveiled an electric Class 7 urban hauler.

“We’ve been in this electrified business for well over two decades,” he stressed. “The technology is viable, and it’s economically viable in certain markets.”

In selected cases, hybrids will combine electric and internal combustion power. And there will be a place for fuel cells, too.

Emissions-friendly technologies are rolling out in markets around the world, improving the quality of life in the urban environments from Amsterdam to New Delhi and Beijing, he added.

It isn’t the only way the engines are evolving. Fifteen years ago, industry disruptors came in the form of globalization, emissions, and available power. Today, he said, the driving issues are diversity, connectivity, and automation.

As important as the fuel will be, connectivity is reshaping powertrains through the confluence of sensors, analytics, and artificial intelligence. To demonstrate that, he discussed how smartphones have become commonplace because of the combination of reliable hardware and killer apps. In the latter case, he referred to the way that Waze has become popular. Each phone has a GPS locator and accelerometer, and Waze has connected that to a network of people who can provide traffic data. That has disrupted the marketplace despite the navigation systems available through OEMs.

Engines were incorporating electronics as early as the 1980s, but communication-related technologies have reached a critical tipping point. “We did not have WiFi until recently. We didn’t have Bluetooth capability until recently,” he said. “We were not able to analyze data in a meaningful way.”

“I’m so excited about this connected enterprise we’re talking about,” Padmanabhab said, referring to the ability to collect masses of data that might otherwise be glossed over. Cummins Connected Customer Care, for example, is linking diagnostic capabilities, software and service providers.

“We’ll be doing predictive shifting. We’ll be doing optimized power depending on where you are in the U.S.,” he observed. “This will lead to intelligent braking and this will lead to other things.”

The next generation of Cummins powertrains will be lighter, smaller, and produce lower CO2 emissions, and will have the capabilities to be a hybrid, he said, adding that accessories will increasingly become electrified. And hybridization will allow more downsizing, making it possible to spec’ engines with smaller displacements.

“We are super excited about this because we’ll be in the longhaul market for the longhaul,” he said.


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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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