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James Kamsickas Photo: Neil Abt/Fleet Owner
Dana CEO James Kamsickas speaks with Fleet Owner during NACV.

For Dana's CEO, years of electrification planning is paying off

After a series of acquisitions, company in position to offer complete electrification systems for all end-markets.

When CEO James Kamsickas took over at Dana Inc. 4½ years ago, he said the company made decisions that some on the outside may have criticized. 

“Unlike most companies, we went way out there and said one of our five major priorities was electrification,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t believe in it at that point.” 

But Dana was already convinced it “was going to be real,” and after investing about $300 million on strategic acquisitions, it is now positioned as a complete provider of vehicle electrification systems, Kamsickas said. 

DanaDana NACV

A view of Dana's booth at the NACV exhibit hall.

The spree of acquisitions kicked into high gear in June 2018, when Dana bought a majority stake in Canadian-based TM4 Inc., which makes electric motors and inverters. 

Dana began 2019 by closing the acquisition of SME Group to gain expertise in low-voltage motors and inverters for the off-highway segment. It then closed the purchase of the Drive Systems segment of the Oerlikon Group for bus axle technology and other software controls. 

These all set the stage for Dana’s deal in August for Nordresa Motors Inc., which Kamsickas called a critical piece of the puzzle to offer the complete system.

"Each of Dana's customers are at different points on their electrification journey, and our strategy remains focused on supporting them with industry-leading technology and expertise for all vehicle architectures," Kamsickas said when the Nordresa deal was announced.  

During an interview at the North American Commercial Vehicle (NACV) Show in Atlanta, Kamsickas discussed how these deals have brought together some of the sharpest minds in the vehicle electrification space. 

“These people have been doing it 5 to 25 years, and those folks just aren’t out there” in large numbers, Kamsickas said. “They are now because they are inside the Dana family.”

Kamsickas spoke with Fleet Owner at Dana’s booth, where it displayed an electrified field terminal tractor built in collaboration with Lonestar Specialty Vehicles. 

As all of Dana’s pieces come together, Kamsickas stressed the company is positioned to offer electrification systems for all end-markets, including buses, mining, off-highway, construction, and light vehicles. 

The experience in these areas will prepare Dana for the gradual electrification of the longhaul trucking segment, which for the time being includes its investment in Hyliion Inc. and its diesel-electric hybrid axle system.

Kamsickas said the over-the-road market is not ready for “pure electric, but customers are excited to have an intermediate step before full electric is ready to go.”

At NACV, Dana announced it was partnering with an unannounced manufacturer to supply complete e-powertrain systems for a medium-duty vehicle program. In addition, it is partnering with a second manufacturer on an electrified vehicle development platform that will incorporate a TM4 SUMO HP motor.

Kamsickas pointed to these announcements as further examples why he is convinced the electrification of the trucking industry is going to happen. Yet there is also no doubt diesel power will continue to play a major role for decades to come. “We are going to watch the curve move and be ready for both,” Kamsickas said. 

Asked to look into the future, Kamsickas said he does not believe original equipment manufacturers will look to be “everything to everyone” when it comes to electric vehicles. 

Over the past decade, more OEMs have begun offering their own diesel engines, transmissions, and axles, a phenomenon often referred to as “vertical integration.”

Kamsickas said the growing electrification expertise from suppliers like Dana makes it more likely OEMs will focus their development efforts into limited markets and look to partner to keep prices lower across a wider range of electric vehicle offerings. 

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