Experts: Future Truck R&D Focused on Efficiencies
Electric trucks like the Cummins Aeos prototype (shown here at the NACV Show in 2018) show promise, but experts say diesel and gasoline will remain the primary fleet fuels for the foreseeable future.
Photo: Jack Roberts
Ford walked away from the heavy-duty truck market several years ago. So Dan Styles, a technology specialist for Ford, was the first to admit it was a little strange to see the company presenting at a session during the annual meeting of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council in Atlanta. But such is the pace of development across the entire range of commercial vehicles today, he noted, that Ford remains a dominant player in the medium-duty truck and van market segments.
Styles was the opening speaker at a TMC session entitled The Coming Impact of the New 21st Century Truck Partnership Initiative, which explained how usually fiercely competitive OEM and suppliers are working together on new technologies and systems with the potential to transform transportation, trucking and logistics in North America in the next few years.
Given all these new technologies, Styles first noted that in Ford’s view, diesel will remain the dominant fuel in trucking for the foreseeable future. Gasoline remains equally important, particularly in the smaller vehicle size classes, and electric trucks are currently “of interest” as they continue on their development curve and begin trial runs in real-world fleet operations.
However, Styles cautioned, familiar fuels don’t necessarily mean the status quo will continue in terms of how these fuels will be used by fleets.
“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity to improve the base internal combustion engine,” he told TMC attendees. “There are still plenty of interesting areas to research and develop, including the combustion process, fuel injection technologies, reducing heat loss, achieving higher peak engine pressures, increasing pumping efficiency, friction reduction and waste heat recovery, in addition to improving engine control systems, and optimizing operations better with other engine systems such as aftertreatment.”
Of course, Styles noted, any work on diesel engines would use future emission standards as a baseline around which any new technology would be added, in order to ensure they do not penalize fuel economy or CO2 emission performance. Much of this work, he predicted, would be focused on using new materials to reduce weight while offering improved performance for core engine systems and components such as the head, block, pistons and crankcase.
Gary Selemme, director of strategy and innovation for Cummins, took a closer look at rapidly developing electric truck technology, telling TMC attendees that OEMs and suppliers were working hard to reduce costs for these vehicles, define their performance and application requirements, ensure the components they use are robust enough for fleet operation while delivering long life cycles, as well as improving overall systems integration, optimization and controls on the vehicles.
A lot of the work being done now is focused on making electric truck components lighter.
“We are working on battery systems that deliver more energy and power per dollar of cost,” he added. “And uptime remains a big question mark on some of these electric systems. We need to know what their reliability is going to be. We’re also working on the software that is essential for operating these trucks, and integrating all of these systems, including regenerative brakes, with advanced safety systems.”
Looking at the Whole Transportation System
David Anderson, with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technology Office, gave TMC attendees a high-level view on the 21st Century Truck Initiative, detailing work being done by both the government and private sector on developing a transportation system based on shared mobility, mobility on demand, goods on demand – all delivered by connected and automated vehicles using emerging fuels, advanced powertrains and new modes of transport.
“Our goat is to achieve secure, robust, connected and automated systems by applying deep learning and data analytics to max future freight and passenger mobility, across the scale from independently operated vehicles up to electronic interactions among thousands of vehicles,” Anderson said. “We want to maximize mobility, while reducing costs, the amount of energy used, and the time it takes to move people, and goods. If we can do that, we will be providing people access to business opportunities to access global markets in new ways and help increase economic activity in this country.”