Cummins, a leading maker of diesel and natural gas engines for commercial trucks, unveiled a Class 7 heavy-duty truck cab Tuesday featuring an advanced 140 kWh battery pack that it will sell to bus operators and commercial truck fleets starting in 2019.
The 18,000-pound tractor cab, dubbed AEOS after one of the four-winged horses driving the chariot of the Sun God, Helios, across the sky in Greek mythology, is just a demonstration model. But the Class 7 urban hauler tractor is fully operational and capable of hauling a 22-ton trailer.
With a 100-mile range, the Cummins electric power train is being targeted at urban delivery vehicles (like a beer truck or food delivery truck) as well as for short haul trips in and around ports and other terminals. It can be recharged in about an hour at a 140 kWh charging station, and Cummins' goal is to get that down to 20 minutes by 2020, reducing down time for its business customers. Production begins in 2019.
An extended range version, which uses an efficient diesel engine as an on-board generator, will be available a year later, offering up to 300 miles between charges and 50 percent fuel savings compared to today’s diesel hybrids with zero emissions.
Because of the limits of today's battery technology, Cummins' Chief Executive Thomas Linebarger said the Class 7 truck cab represents the "stretch application" for a heavy-duty electric truck. An electric powertrain does not yet make sense for a Class 8 semi tractor-trailer, also known as an 18-wheeler, because of the larger loads they carry and the longer distances they travel, he said.
Cummins will not build trucks, but will instead supply a fully integrated battery electronics system and will buy the cells from an unnamed provider. Tesla famously makes its own battery cells at a massive "gigafactory" in Nevada.
Cummins' announcement comes a few weeks ahead of Tesla's planned reveal of an electric "semi" truck. The maker of premium plug-in cars hasn't provided any details of its project, including the truck classification, but last week Reuters reported that Tesla will apparently target the regional hauling market with an electric big-rig with a working range of 200 to 300 miles.
By getting a jump on Tesla's announcement, Cummins is getting across loud and clear that it intends to remain a major player in the commercial truck business, even if that market shifts away from its core diesel engine business.
"There are more technologies coming into economic relevance than we've seen in my career, ever," Linebarger said in an interview. "This is what we do. We feel we do better when technologies are shifting."
Indeed, the 98-year-old company has stayed successful through innovation, especially when regulations and customer preferences are changing. Over the years, it's been at the forefront of environmental shifts, embracing stricter clean air standards, for example, when other manufacturers resisted. It led the shift from 2-stroke to 4-stroke diesel engines, for example, and was a leader in developing aftertreatment systems for NOx particulates.
Cummins has been working on electrified powertrains and fuel cells for about a decade, and feels confident it is well-positioned to remain a leader, despite competition from new players like Tesla, Proterra and Nikola Motor Company.
"All those competitors we take very seriously," Linebarger said. "They're innovative, well-funded and have a technology mindset, much like Cummins." Where Cummins has an edge, he said, is in understanding its customers needs.
"We know that we cannot have one solution for everybody," he said, which is why Cummins will continue to provide a variety of power technologies -- including electric, diesel, natural gas and future alternative fuels -- for different applications. "We need to make sure we have the right technology for the right application," he said. "Even if the electrified power train replaces the internal combustion engine completely, that's still a 20- to 25-year transition period customers have to manage through. If we have good technology, they'll want to buy it from us."