Electric Big Rig: Cummins Shows Battery-Powered Semi before Tesla ""
Posted on: September 1, 2017

Cummins AEOS

Mention Cummins, and whether you associate the name with pickup trucks—such as the Ram 2500 or the Nissan Titan XD—or with semis, you almost certainly think diesel. Now, weeks before Tesla is expected to reveal details of its much anticipated electric semi, Cummins has essentially beaten it to the punch with a fully electric Urban Hauler Tractor that the company says previews “a series of next-generation, energy-diverse products.”

Cummins says that the truck, called the AEOS and termed a concept, has a “state-of-the-art battery pack” with improvements in energy density, driving range, and charging rate compared with other electric vehicles. With 140 kWh, the pack brings a range of just 100 miles—although Cummins says that’s extendable to 300 miles with additional (modular) battery packs.

The Indiana company also plans to offer a range-extending engine generator option; it claims that such a setup offers a 50 percent fuel savings versus today’s diesel hybrid models.

Cummins AEOS

Cummins showed the truck in Class 7 form for heavy-duty tractor-trailer hauling, with a gross vehicle weight rating of up to 33,000 pounds, although the company cites a Class 8 weight limit of 75,000 for the tractor day cab. Tesla’s semi, according to a recent Reuters report, is focusing on the same day-cab format as well as regional hauling needs and claims it will provide 200 to 300 miles of range.

The weight of the electric powertrain including the battery is about the same as that of the massive 12.0-liter diesel six, transmission, exhaust aftertreatment, and fuel tank. The truck, like many concept cars, gets rid of its side mirrors in favor of cameras, and its appearance takes some liberties with lower bodywork that are unlikely for production.

A solar array is one thing from the concept realm that may work well on the AEOS, though. While putting solar panels onto passenger vehicles isn’t all that viable, covering a tractor-trailer roof with them should provide a better payback. A fully electric semi would also quiet some roadways and eliminate the sometimes maligned (and sometimes loved) jake brake, reaping the efficiency benefits of regenerative braking in stop-and-go driving and mountainous terrain.

Electric Will Be Part of a Range of Solutions

But there are plenty of options, noted this established engine builder. Cummins also plans to roll out what it terms “a revolutionary heavy-duty diesel engine” in 2022 and is working with biofuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen fuel-cell technology.

Even if Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are relaxed for passenger vehicles, the aggressive plan to dramatically cut carbon-dioxide emissions and improve the efficiency of our nation’s big rigs through 2027 is likely to continue, especially since the trucking industry and fleet buyers are nearly unanimous in support of it.

Cummins electrification

Cummins and Tesla aren’t the only players looking to render diesel big rigs obsolete. Another company looking to carry out a similar vision is Nikola, which plans to create stout Class 8 hydrogen fuel-cell trucks along with the hydrogen infrastructure to support them. And Toyota has launched a feasibility study using two Mirai fuel-cell stacks to power a zero-emissions short-haul Class 8 semi.

While Tesla may have charmed many affluent luxury-car buyers into going electric, managers of shipping fleets are an entirely different kind of customer, looking not at Tesla’s Ludicrous mode and Easter eggs but at operating costs, amortization curves, manufacturer support, and downtime. Cummins has a lot going for it in that respect—diesel or not.

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