BOUCHERVILLE, Que. — In a facility that appears more laboratory than assembly line, a Quebec-based company is looking to play a leading role in the future of electric vehicles.
Boucherville’s TM4 – a former division of Hydro Quebec – once focused on the idea of developing electric motors for automotive wheel ends. These days, though, the focus is on developing electric motors, inverters, and electric propulsion control systems for ever-larger commercial vehicles.
It also has a global partner in the work. Last summer, Dana secured a majority interest in the business. Hydro-Québec still retains a 45% share, and keeps the engineering expertise in Boucherville.
This is more than a research lab alone. The facilities could also produce 5,000 electric motors and related electronics per year. And it’s where TM4 is developing prototypes of engines to run on fuel cells, as well as electric motors for passenger vehicles.
A global presence
The first commercial customer was Novabus, and TM4 has since secured work with start-up Thor Trucks and Quebec-based Lion.
“We have a factory in China that produces about 8,000 TM4 SUMO [medium-duty and heavy-duty] motors a year. If we have a big order, that’s where we produce them. The market is very strong in China, so it is important to be there to benefit from economies of scale,” says Eric Azeroual, vice-president – sales and marketing.
The 12,000 Sumo motors produced to date have traveled a collective 550 million km in commercial service.
The work has hardly come to an end.
During a visit to the Boucherville facility, we saw a new generator, developed in collaboration with Cummins. It will power a hybrid plug-in bus as part of a pilot project with the Transportation Society of Laval.
Using the on-vehicle generator to charge the all-important batteries, this could open up the option of using electricity in an urban center but a combustion engine on the open road.
The TM4 SUMO motor is available in different power ratings, but is largely designed for direct drive applications – replacing an internal combustion engine and transmission. The current focus is on medium-duty trucks, but there are plans to apply the technologies to heavy trucks as well.
The TM4 SUMO has a power output of 350 kW, about 470 hp, and delivers 1,991 to 2,591 lb-ft of torque. It weighs 760 lb.
A question of application
The electric motor and its control system costs less than a diesel engine and transmission, but the price of the required batteries continues to be a barrier. The more range is required, after all, the higher the price of the truck.
“We have to size the battery according to customer needs,” says Olivier Bernatchez, sales manager – commercial vehicles. “If we put enough batteries to drive 500 km, but in the end the vehicle only travels 250 km, we carry unnecessarily weight that is very expensive.”
Says Azeroual: ” The time is over when we bought a big diesel engine and a big transmission in case we went into the mountains once a year. That’s what’s interesting for us with trucking. Fleets are used to making choices based on their needs, and they are able to calculate their return on investment on a given route.”
Beginning in 2021, the business expects to go to market with electric axles used to support Class 8 vehicles.
It’s interesting, he says. “The axle manufacturers will become engine manufacturers.”
- Quotes in this article are English translations of comments originally offered in French
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