Cummins has developed an electric technology demonstration vehicle.  Photos: Jim Park

Cummins has developed an electric technology demonstration vehicle. Photos: Jim Park

COLUMBUS, IND. — For 98 years, Cummins has been powering trucks and buses around the globe, and the company said on Aug. 29 that it has every intention of being in that same position 98 years from now. Cummins executives stressed that they will continue to deliver the right powertrain for any marketplace anytime in the future, regardless of the energy source.

"Energy diversity is the key to the future, and a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer viable," said Jennifer Rumsey, vice president and chief technical officer. "At this point in time, we believe there is a place for a wide range of technologies from diesel and natural gas to electric.

"These technologies will evolve in the coming years," she continued, "and Cummins is capable and ready for this range of power technologies to meet our customers' needs today and in the future."

The message was clear; anyone who believes Cummins' best days are behind it had better think again. These are certainly good times for the engine maker, currently holding a 37% market share in the heavy-duty engine space where a heavy presence of captive engines can leave the independent engine maker at a pricing disadvantage.

Brett Merritt, executive director, EBU On-Highway Business, said the company commands nearly 80% of the North American medium-duty market and more than 90% of the school and transit bus markets.

"Cummins is a technology company, first and foremost," he said. "Whether you're talking about diesel combustion, emissions catalysis or controls integration, we have the technical expertise combined with market knowledge to deliver technical innovations in the future."

And to that end, the company is investing $700 million annually in research and development to stay on the leading edge of emerging technologies -- some of which involves marrying proven diesel technology with battery and electric technologies that meet regulatory requirements, societal demands, and customers' needs.  

Cummins is quite confident that diesel engines will be powering heavy trucks for many years to come, especially in the long-haul sector.

"Twenty years from now, we will still be using internal combustion engines running on conventional fuels or unconventional fuels," said Srikanth Padmanabhan, president of Cummins' Engine Business, noting that they may not be the engines that we are familiar with today. "By that time, all ICE will have some form of mild hybridization and/or accessory drives, but ICE will continue to be an important player in global transportation."

Padmanabhan said that whichever technologies may emerge in the next 15 to 20 years. it will be Cummins' responsibility to make sure customers get the right technology, not just a new technology for technology's sake,but something reliable and efficient that meets both the customers' and society's needs.

Energy Diversity

While electrification has seen very heavy exposure in the mainstream press in the past couple of years, Padmanabhan said Cummins has been working on this for over two decades.

"Electrification makes sense in some areas, but not all," he said. "We know from real data and real-life experience where it works, where it makes sense and why we should use it."

Cummins seems well placed to explore the potential for electrification because of its previous experience in power generation as well as engine design and development. Batteries supplemented with some form of high-efficiency, low-emission ICE seem best able to bridge the gap between 100-mile local trucks and 300-mile regional trucks.

The company is now developing a high-efficiency spark-ignited engine that it says can deliver diesel-like performance and durability across a range of liquid fuels, like ethanol, methanol, and gasoline, while meeting the most stringent emissions requirements.

Natural gas and diesel both figure prominently in this research.

Engineers and scientists are also investigating the viability of alternatives like bio-fuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen. And, with its partners, Cummins is looking at projects focused on Proton Exchange Membrane and Solid Oxide Fuel Cell technologies.

"Cummins is partnering with a few different fuel cell providers to develop that technology," said Rumsey. "We have been working for a number of years on those technologies."

Diesel Still Has a Future

Next spring, Cummins will introduce the 12-liter X12 engine, which will boast the highest power-to-weight ratio in the industry. It's targeted at vocational, regional and weight-sensitive bulk-haul applications. It’s 600lbs lighter than the closest 13L engine and 150 lbs lighter than the closest 11L engine.

The X12 engine will come to market in the spring of 2018.

The X12 engine will come to market in the spring of 2018.

The X12 is derived from the ISG first introduced in 2013 as a global engine platform. It made its first appearance a year later in a joint venture with the world’s largest independent engine maker, Beiqi Foton Motor Co. Ltd. of China. Foton now uses the ISG diesel in a new truck series developed with Daimler. Cummins said the engine in ISG trim already has more than a billion miles under its belt and is ready to take on North America.

While on a tour of the technical center, reporters were shown, but were not allowed to photograph, the next generation X15 engine, slated to launch in 2022. Cummins said it will be capable of meeting 2027 GHG rules five years ahead of the legislated requirement --and without using the feared waste heat recovery system. This 15 L engine will be 300 lbs lighter than the current X15, with the height of a 13 L engine, ensuring efficient installations in future ultra-aero trucks, both conventional and cabover.

And natural gas remains a viable alternative to diesel, in a way similar to electric vehicles. It's still best suited to shorter ranges and a return-to-base operationwith a fuel supply. Range is limited by the size of the fuel tanks, but it does work in many instances, and it can be used to power range-extended battery electric vehicles.  

Cummins revealed its latest Near Zero natural gas engines during the media event in Columbus. According to Cummins, end users will find the Near Zero natural gas engines are an equivalent performance option to diesel and, like the latest clean-diesels, these produce little to no emissions. Cummins said it managed a 90% reduction in NOx, getting output down to just 0.02 gm/bhp/hr.

A growing crowd of observers seems ready to pronounce diesel engines a marooned technology while electric systems seem poised to emerge as the power technology of choices. Cummins, however, would beg to differ.

Padmanabhan sees diesel as a safe bet for at least the next 20 years, and likely far beyond that. It's simply has no equal in terms of energy density, portability, and flexibility.

Used as a range extender with battery electric systems, diesels can be made to run at near-zero emissions levels because they operate at a steady state, with zero transient cycles to worry about. Diesels will emerge with varying degrees of hybridization and with various off-engine accessory drives that help to minimize parasitic losses.

And trucks as a whole will become more efficient, which will require less power to run at highway speeds, so smaller displacement engines could well find a home in heavy-duty long-haul applications, with much improved fuel efficiency.

"We succeeded during previous major disruption periods because Cummins is a technology company that embraces change, and capitalizes on that change with the right technology that matters in the marketplace and to our customers," said Padmanabhan. He doesn't see that changing anytime soon.

Related: Cummins Unveils Class 7 All-Electric Daycab Tractor

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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