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Closer look: An electric-power truck from a global diesel leader

Though a sudden downpour tangled its "sneak peek" unveiling a bit, it couldn't dampen onlookers' enthusiasm for the AEOS all-electric Class 7 truck Cummins, Inc. showed off Tuesday at its Technical Center in Columbus, IN.

When Cummins — a company that has built its global core business and reputation on diesel power — sets its sights on electric powertrains, people sit up and take notice. But with the growing momentum around the potential for electric commercial vehicles, what's the likelihood that this alternative power could make real inroads in North American trucking, where diesel is the undisputed king of over-the-road?

Julie Furber, executive director of Cummins' Electrification Business Development Initiative, noted the company has been testing out prototype electric and range-extended electric vehicles over the last decade. She conceded that electric power is likely to appear in other commercial vehicles before long-haul trucks.

Even so, the company believes there are applications for commercial electric powertrains that make sense today. "We see transit bus, we see underground mining, we see material handling and some other markets, and then it'll move into perhaps some municipal vehicles and school buses and things like that," she told Fleet Owner.  

"I think trucking will be a bit later. There are some things that have to advance for electric power in trucking to make sense," she added. Those include cost-effectiveness, where the cost of electric powertrain components needs to continue to drop, "which it is," Furber noted. And power density also needs to improve so that battery size and weight necessary to power something like a heavy duty truck is more compatible with trucking needs.

Still, "I think what you'll see is that fleets will have a mixed bag of powertrains in the end, where some of their missions which are more sensitive in terms of things like emissions [restricted] zones will be fully electric," Furber said. For other duty cycles or where range needs are greater, Cummins anticipates that electric powertrains will be range-extended — perhaps with downsized diesel engines to generate power when batteries are depleted — or will incorporate hybridized configurations.

The reality for North American trucking, though, is that "you'll still have long-haul trucks for many years to come that will be diesel-powered," Furber said.


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