ACE - Automated, Connected, & Electric Trucks?

Thursday, November 03, 2016

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Michael Ippoliti – CTSG Director at CALSTART

At the Hanover Show in Germany, Bosch was channeling the movie “Tron” with this video:

But they are fundamentally CORRECT!

The rise of autonomous systems will synergistically pull electric drive into the market. And vice versa.

Let me summarize the reasons why I can confidently predict the future will be electric drive for both medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Autonomous systems will accelerate this EV conversion. Conventional battery-electric hybrids will gradually disappear, with range-extended EV trucks (REEVs) used in certain applications such as long-haul. Timelines are always a guessing game, but I would propose that by 2030, the electric conversion will be in full effect.

The reasons why Connected & Automated technology will blend with EV technology to displace Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) are:

1) ADAS/Automated and EV technologies are developing together. – Early adopters will want both (Tesla is showing this, and even in the truck world, it will likely prove true). The technologies will mature at the same time, and light duty will be leading the shift to electric, bringing with it pressure on fueling and operations, pushing trucks to adopt electric drive. For example, wireless fast charging will eliminate plugging in and work beautifully with autonomous operation in depots and truck yards.

2) Easier Engineering – As trucks get more Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), and more X-by-Wire, it becomes easier to engineer from an EV base than to re-design a legacy internal combustion engine design (e.g. 24v? 48v? etc.). Designing a solid, scalable Electric Drive platform is the essential first step – an electric traction motor doesn’t care where the electrons come from - as you can then add a range extender engine, Fuel Cell, or additional batteries depending on application or cost factors.

3) Reliability/Ruggedness – The number one performance parameter for trucks. As has been pointed out by numerous sources, there are just 3 main components in an electric vehicle (battery, inverter, motor). An Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle has thousands of parts that tend to break. Electric trucks will simply be more reliable, easier to fix, and run longer without maintenance. Even though hard data is scarce right now, the basic logic is pretty clear. Solid-state components, no oil, and far fewer moving parts simply must result in greater reliability and maintainability. Power and torque will be superior to ICEs. Once past prototype stage, EVs will easily beat ICEs for uptime.

4) Regulatory/Emissions – In urban areas and ports especially, it is likely there will be regulated ZE zones in the near future. Even without ZE zones, there will be tighter and tighter ICE emissions restrictions, meaning the cost and complexity of ICE emissions control systems will skyrocket. EVs make zero emissions with no additional unreliable after-treatment equipment. REEVs may end up used only for long-haul operations.

5) Regulatory/Mandates – Norway and Germany have already hinted at banning ICE cars. It is entirely reasonable for governments to begin seeing ICEs as irresponsible when fully Zero-Emission options are cost competitive. Trucks will be even bigger targets – a diesel truck will seem bizarrely out of place when a high percentage of cars are EVs. In the relatively near future, full ZE will be mandated in urban and high-density areas.

6) Cost – People like Tony Seba and now even McKinsey and Bloomberg New Energy Finance have been clear – battery prices will continue to drop, and somewhere about 2025, it will simply be CHEAPER to own an electric vehicle. Bloomberg said: “Continuing reductions in battery prices will bring the total cost of ownership of EVs below that for conventional-fuel vehicles by 2025, even with low oil prices.” (TCO – another key for trucks). These dynamics are especially relevant for trucks, many of which drive significantly more miles per year than light-duty cars. Higher initial costs will be quickly offset through lower costs for fuel and maintenance. Any OEMs developing a thoughtful and relevant future driveline plan must include dramatic battery cost drops, combined with increasing ICE after-treatment costs, both of which point toward electrification.

So regardless of regulation, the free market will push things toward connected/automated and electric drive. Regulation may come before or after, but either way, the future - within 10 years - is electric drive for trucks.