VSP News: Uptime Update, Episode 37 - Evolution of the electric powertrain

Jan. 27, 2020
Harry Trost, senior manager, product planning at Dana Commercial Vehicles, provides details on how the company has been at the forefront in developing vehicle electrification technologies.

Electric trucks have been a popular topic when it comes to future vehicle trends. But, a full battery electric truck isn’t necessarily the best solution for every application – at least not yet. There are, however, incremental changes happening in the commercial vehicle space when it comes to vehicle electrification. We talked with Harry Trost, senior manager, product planning at Dana Commercial Vehicles, for more details on how the company has been at the forefront in developing vehicle electrification technologies, anticipated changes to the vehicle’s structure, maintenance expectations, and technician training that may be required for these systems.

Transcription of interview: 

Erica Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: Welcome to VSP News: Uptime Update. I am your host Erica Schueller, editor in chief of Fleet Maintenance magazine, covering all maintenance, all vehicle classes, all management, all the time.

Electric trucks have been a popular topic when it comes to future vehicle trends. But, as we well know, a full battery electric truck isn’t necessarily the best solution for every application – at least not yet. There are, however, some incremental changes happening in the commercial vehicle space when it comes to vehicle electrification.

We talked with Harry Trost, senior manager, product planning at Dana Commercial Vehicle. The company has been at the forefront of development for vehicle electrification technologies.

He first gave us some background on the current systems available, and the different areas of the vehicle that may benefit from electrification.

Harry Trost, Dana: For electric vehicles, there are two core architectures. We have the central mount approach, and the e-axle approach.

Central mount can be central mount direct drive – Dana has put a lot of effort into those types of solutions. Those can also have gearing, and even multi-speed, accompanied with them.

On the rigid e-axle side, those can have the motors mounted in the center or those can have motors mounted on the wheel ends.

So, depending on where the customer is on the electrification journey, the central mount direct drive makes a lot of sense. It’s a simple, cost effective, efficient solution that works with existing powertrain architectures.

Then, for other customers that want to take advantage of space-saving benefits of e-axles, we have those solutions available.

We’re supporting both types of architectures to support the various approaching in the marketplace.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: How might the electrification of certain vehicle systems and accessories assist with the transition to full battery electric vehicles? Trost shares more.

Trost, Dana: Some of the technologies that are going on the vehicles initially will be electrifying the accessories. Things like the power steering, the braking system, the cooling system, these are electrified technologies that can go on conventional internal combustion engines today.

Power steering, for example, there is a 3 to 4 percent fuel savings in less than a one-year payback.

Some of these technologies will migrate onto the vehicles today. They’ll require some mild electrification to support them, and as additional hybridization of commercial vehicles, as well as battery electric vehicles, start to migrate into the population, we’ll have some of those core systems on the vehicle to support full hybrid and full battery electric vehicles.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: Next, we talked maintenance. Trost talks more about what fleets might expect with changes to maintenance and service intervals for a hybrid or full battery electric vehicle.

Trost, Dana: That’s really one of the best parts of an electric vehicle, is that the core systems are designed at the outset to be more in the service-free oriented type of deployment into the market.

Motors are a good example. The bearings are sealed, and they’re lubed for life. They don’t require any maintenance.

Some systems, such as the coolant – it’s very important to maintain the motor, the inverter, the battery system, if it’s liquid cooled – may require some maintenance.

Compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle, there are 38 percent fewer parts in a battery electric vehicle. They’re meant to extend the full range of the vehicle’s lifetime. That’s really a good news story about battery electric – there will be significantly less maintenance associated with the products. And then, other opportunities such as with regenerative braking, brake service intervals go longer. The elimination of the DPF, there are a lot of benefits from a maintenance standpoint when it comes to electric vehicles.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: Another consideration when it comes to new technologies, is the need for technician training. What type of training might be expected for electrical systems?

Trost, Dana: From a training standpoint, one of the big areas of training that will be required is in the areas of high voltage systems. Much like there is a driver shortage, there is a technician shortage as well – those well-qualified to complete these types of service events.

The motor and inverter that drive the vehicle, those are going to be high voltage systems, in order to highly efficient, compact energy dense, it really needs to be 350 volts or more. A typical commercial vehicle will be 650 volts, nominally.

But for some of these accessories, we see an opportunity to have lower voltage in the 24 to 48 volts, and that’s going to help fleets manage their pool of technicians, so you can have technicians that have the high-voltage certification to service the traction drive, but then won’t require as many [specially trained technicians] to service the accessories. We think that’s really the right balance – high-voltage for the traction drive, and lower voltage for the accessories. It’s really going to help the pool of maintenance technicians to support this industry as it grows.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: Trost shares his thoughts on the trends we might expect in the future, as it relates to vehicle electrification.

Trost, Dana: There’s probably three trends that I tend to think about.

First and foremost is the decline in battery prices. Nickel manganese cobalt chemistry still has a way to go from an energy density standpoint. So, we see additional cost declines in the batteries, which will improve the total cost of ownership for more and more battery electric vehicles.

Then you’ll have the really whole reimagining of what the truck looks like. Today, you have the north-south powertrain configuration. In the future, you can kind of reimagine that. We can have electronic drive units to support a variety of powertrain architectures, different cab configurations. The autonomous driving trend would certainly assist with that as well. We’ll certainly see those powertrains evolve.

And then, the central mount direct drive approach is going to be a great approach for Class 4 through Class 8, and we’ll find additional refinements to the electric powertrain as well, as we go into the future.

Schueller, Fleet Maintenance: If you’d like to learn more about vehicle electrification, like the continued evolution of the electric axle, head to the link below to read a recent feature on the topic from Fleet Maintenance magazine.

That’s it for this week’s episode. Thank you for tuning in to VSP News Uptime Update, I’m your host Erica Schueller.

Until our next broadcast, keep up with this, and other industry topics, by visiting us online at VehicleServicePros.com.

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