Eaton's Larry Bennett (pictured) says the 'push' for autonomous vehicles will come from the automotive world simply because 'they have the economies of scale.' (Photo by Sean Kilcarr for Fleet Owner)

Viewing the connected roadmap for commercial vehicles

Feb. 27, 2017
Eaton Corp. expert expounds on the future of commercial trucks and what will change them.

NASHVILLE. Larry Bennett, director of the vehicle technology center for the vehicle group at Eaton Corp., will tell you that the future of commercial trucks is one that’s going to involve more “intelligent” technology – systems that, eventually, will drive them without a human at the wheel – and drive the need for more “electrification” as well.

“When you lay out the roadmap for the future, several trends stand out,” he explained during a presentation here at the 2017 Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) annual meeting.

First, societies in general are becoming “more and more environmentally conscious,” so emission control technology will remain an integral part of future truck designs. “And whatever technology we put in place for that, it must become more affordable,” he added.

Along those lines, vehicles will need to be built with more “sustainable processes and materials” in order to reduce weight to help improve fuel economy.

Connectivity will become key as it will be “critical” to know what is going on inside the vehicle in order to ensure greater uptime, Bennett said.

Finally, greater vehicle “intelligence” will become a necessity in order to make more pinpoint adjustments to operating behaviors in “real time” to maximize efficiency.

“We’re talking about changing operating calibrations for fuel savings in increments of five to 15 seconds, not three months out,” he emphasized.

As part of the drive to gain greater commercial vehicle efficiencies, Bennett said truck designs will need to start looking to incorporate 48 volt electrical systems in order to “augment” the truck’s ability to enter “hotel mode” in terms of operating vehicle accessories without running the main engine.

“We’re working to optimize that ‘power management’ system,” he added. “The challenge is to get more electrification on board without increasing vehicle cost.”

Bennett added that the sheer scale of the development work going on at Eaton touches many different areas:

  • He said the company as a whole spends about $750 million annually on research and development, with $70 million of that, plus the expertise of 1,200 engineers, focused on developing “platform agnostic” electrification systems for vehicles, construction equipment, and others. “There is a common need for better electrical management,” he noted.
  • Eaton’s been doing “a lot of work” with the Dept. of Energy to reduce battery size and weight while boosting lifecycle length. “That minimizes costs as well,” he pointed out.
  • More technology from the passenger car world is going to find its way into commercial trucks – especially where autonomous vehicle systems are concerned. “They have the scale to make autonomy really happen,” Bennett noted.
  • He believes that Phase 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) rules will remain in place and unchanged. “Most OEMs are pretty supportive because they see a path to meet the 2021 rules now,” Bennett said. “And for the 2024-2027 targets, they would be introducing new engines anyways.”
  • New automated mechanical transmission (AMT) software Eaton developed now help provides “semi-autonomous” functions for drivers, especially in terms of backing up to freight docks. “You back up to within 3 feet of a dock, hit a button, and the transmission will go into a controlled creep mode until it reaches the dock,” he said. That's the type of near-term "automation" the industry will continue to experience.

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