Meritor plans to begin production in mid-2021 of its Blue Horizon-branded 14Xe ePowertrain for medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. The company has supply agreements in place with several electric truck builders, who will receive shipments of the Blue Horizon powertrains from Meritor’s Asheville and Forest City, N.C., manufacturing facilities beginning later this year.
Based on Meritor's 14Xe drive axle, the Blue Horizon powertrain integrates an electric motor and a multi-speed transmission into the differential housing, eliminating the need for conventional driveshafts.
"We've taken the 14X from a basic drive axle, which received power from the powertrain and translated it to the ground, to now actually powering the truck," said T.J. Reed, Meritor's vice president of global electrification. "The axle is now the powertrain. We have taken the architecture of our highest-selling axle, the 14X, and integrated a power-dense motor and a multi-speed transmission and nested it into the carrier so that it fits within the existing suspension profile."
Meritor officials say several advantages accrue from this arrangement, including the ability to remotely power each axle as power demands change in a tandem-axle configuration, a wheelbase that could be up to 30 inches shorter than a conventional arrangement, increased room between frame rails for additional battery capacity (which extends the range of the vehicle), and weight savings of up to 800 pounds.
Fully Scalable Electric Powertrain
Reed says the 14Xe is fully scalable, from an 80,000-pound gross vehicle weight 6x4 down to a single-axle Class 5 step van. The axle housing can be dressed with existing wheel ends and brakes, and packaged within currently available envelopes. The axle housing can also be upgraded for heavier applications with bigger brakes or larger wheel-ends.
Meritor has other plans for the integrated powertrain concept, including a 17Xe variant with a 430-kW motor for European 4x2 tractors, sometime in the 2025 time frame. Scaling down, in 2023, Meritor will offer a 200-kW motor in a 12Xe axle with a multi-speed transmission for the step van market.
Launching with the 14Xe in the second half of this year will allow Meritor to cover between 60% and 70% of the market from Class 5 to Class 8 trucks, with the 17Xe covering heavy duty applications and the 12Xe covering lighter duty applications, Reed says.
Covering New Ground with Electrification
Electrification isn't new to Meritor; it had some experience with electric drive systems going back to the 1990s in Europe. However, the company now is involved in not only the axles and transmissions, but also in motors and power electronics – in essence the entire powertrain of an electric vehicle.
"As this market develops, and with the new regulatory requirements coming in, sustainability targets and the reduction in battery costs, we're making the shift to [electrification]," Reed said. "We're in a position now to accelerate that."
Much of the company’s expertise for power electronics and controls comes from Transpower, which Meritor acquired in 2018. In 2011, Transpower began developing full battery electric content, or a "full kit" for the heavy-duty market with a focus on the school bus, refuse, terminal-tractor and drayage markets.
"We not only wanted to get capability in the control side, but also to put our 14Xe drive system into the market and into some early programs," Reed said. "We leveraged a lot of brand activity here in California, through partners like the California Air Resources Board and AQMD (South Coast Air Quality Management District), but also other OEM partners."
Meritor has supplied eight 14Xe axles to Daimler for the medium-duty Freightliner eM2s in its Innovation Fleet.
The company also has a production contract with Kalmar to supply terminal tractors, and will supply 38 terminal tractors later this year to Mexican manufacturer Dina to operate in the Port of Oakland and the Port of Long Beach, California. Those tractors are equipped with a remote drive system developed by Transpower.
In January 2020, Meritor was awarded a heavy-duty program contract by Kenworth and Peterbilt. Under the contract, Meritor will provide tandem 14Xe axles and a full battery-electric kit for Kenworth and Peterbilt heavy-duty applications, as well as Peterbilt's Model 520EV refuse truck.
"We're now getting involved in other areas of the vehicle than we have ever had to in the past," Reed said. "I'm talking about electric motors and transmissions and the integration of all these things into a single system. Not to mention the controls."
New Supply Agreements
Meritor recently announced supply agreements with Autocar, Lion Electric Trucks and Volta Trucks (a British electric commercial vehicle startup.)
Meritor now has a five-year supply agreement to provide its Blue Horizon 14Xe integrated ePowertrains for Autocar refuse vehicles. Production is set to begin in 2022.
“Meritor has been a longtime partner to Autocar, providing us with proven and trusted technologies for our vehicles, and we look forward to expanding our partnership, so that we can bring zero-emission solutions to market,” said James Johnston, president of Autocar.
The Lion Electric agreement gives Meritor a three-year deal to supply the Canadian truck maker with 14Xe powertrains for the company's Class 8 electric tractors. Production is scheduled for mid-2021.
The 14Xe all-electric powertrains will be produced in Asheville and Forest City, North Carolina.
The three-year contract with Volta Electric includes installation of the 14Xe on the Volta Zero, a full-electric 16-tonne commercial vehicle designed specifically for inner-city parcel and freight distribution. The truck was introduced in September 2020 and is anticipated to go into production in 2022 in the UK.