Discover more about the topics and technologies to be discussed at this year's conference, via a series of exclusive interviews with a selection of our expert speakers
John Bennett, chief technology officer and vice president of global product strategy at Meritor, makes the case that economics are still the deciding factor in the adoption of electrified powertrains, and that modularity and economies of scale will be key in making them viable across the industry.
What will you be speaking about?
My talk is focused on the business and technical challenges our industry is facing with electric powertrains, and how Meritor is dealing with them. On the business side, companies must deal with maintaining their current business while also developing new technologies at the same time. On the technical side, new technologies often require capabilities that don’t yet exist in companies that manufacture or supply conventional mechanical equipment or components. Neither challenge is easy to overcome, and both require different approaches if companies are to succeed in the future.
What do you see as the respective roles in off-highway vehicles for pure internal combustion powertrains, hybrids, full-electric powertrains and hydrogen – both in the near and more distant future?
The adoption of hybrid and electric powertrain technology will be application-dependent. For example, vehicles that operate in ports will likely be subject to zero-emissions requirements, which will drive the need for full electric powertrains in those applications. On the other hand, vehicles that are generally stationary and only occasionally move between locations will most likely continue to use internal combustion engines. Long term, I think we will see a mix of all types of powertrains based on the local emissions legislation in place, available subsidies and the expected duty cycle of the machine.
What are the main issues holding back electric and hybrid powertrains in off-highway vehicles, and how can we solve them?
Economics is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome right now. Even with the significant reduction in battery costs that we have seen over the last decade, electric powertrains are still very expensive. It takes many years to pay back the high incremental investment in an electric vehicle and the charging infrastructure to support it. Some vehicles – like yard tractors and lift trucks that operate at ports – have the benefit of government subsidies to help offset the cost, but many other off-highway vehicles currently don’t have such advantages.
In addition, there are so many different types of off-highway vehicles and applications – each with their unique requirements for power, speed and battery capacity – that it is difficult to develop an optimised electric solution that offers sufficient economies of scale when it comes to manufacturing. As a result, non-optimised solutions are typically used, which results in a higher cost and exacerbates the first issue.
Another issue is that not all off-highway duty cycles are conducive to electrification. For example, equipment that is stationary for long periods of time can’t benefit from regenerative braking to recharge the battery. In other words, one of the main advantages of an electric powertrain is not realised in those applications. To solve these issues, the industry needs to focus on driving cost out of the electric powertrain by optimising system efficiency, developing modular components that increase manufacturing scale, and maximising integration to remove unnecessary cost and weight.
How does your company’s technology move the game on?
Meritor is developing electric drive system solutions that improve the total cost of ownership equation for fleets while minimising the weight impact and packaging requirements of the system. We are doing this in several ways. First, we are leveraging proven, high-volume, low-cost lithium-ion cells currently used in global applications to lower our total pack cost. Second, we are utilising multi-speed transmissions to maximise overall system efficiency and reduce the size and weight of the motor. This saves on motor cost and reduces the size and cost of the battery pack. Third, we are maximising integration wherever possible to reduce cost and weight by integrating the rotor, stator and multi-speed transmission into our differential assembly. And finally, we are designing our platforms to be highly modular to increase application flexibility for greater manufacturing scale and lower cost.
John Bennett will be part of a panel discussing the engineering challenges in transitioning from traditional IC powertrains to electrification and hybridisation. This event is part of the Electric & Hybrid Industrial Vehicle Technology Conference and the Industrial Vehicle Powertrain Technology Conference. Click here to book your delegate pass, which gives you access to all four conferences.