A trucking industry startup that makes hybrid drive components for big rigs has gained a stronger foothold in the race to drive down the fuel consumption of thirsty diesel engines.
Truck hybridization specialist Hyliion Inc. acquired the battery unit of Gentherm Inc., giving the company a complete in-house battery systems operation – from cell packaging to pack cooling systems and management software.
Hyliion already was using Gentherm as thermal management systems supplier for its Class 8 hybrid axel system, the 6x4HE. Acquiring the company’s Irvine, Calif.-based battery operation and its management team “is a huge strategic opportunity for us,” Thomas Healy, Hyliion’s founder and chief executive, told Trucks.com.
“The market thrives on low prices” said Antti Lindstrom, trucking industry analyst with IHS Markit. Purchasing the Gentherm unit will enable Hyliion to better control costs and keep prices lower and also “opens up a broader market for them,” Lindstrom said.
Hyliion does plan to broaden its offerings to provide hybrid axle systems for other classes of trucks, Healy said.
Value of the acquisition wasn’t disclosed.
Gentherm, formerly Amerigon, is a publicly traded, Michigan-based company that provides thermal and climate control management systems to a variety of industries. It developed the first thermoelectrically heated and cooled seat system for automobiles and later added thermal management systems for hybrid and electric vehicles to its offerings.
Privately owned Hyliion, based in Austin, Texas, started in 2015 with an aim to provide a hybrid electric option for the long-haul trucking industry, a segment in which traditional battery-based all-electric systems don’t work because of their range limits and long recharging times, Healy said.
Hyliion’s electric drive axel system, which can be used on tractors to give them propulsion capabilities when climbing grades, augments a diesel truck’s internal combustion engine, reducing fuel consumption and emissions.
The company also makes an electric auxiliary power unit and claims that the two systems together can cut fuel consumption by up to 27 percent.
A Hyliion hybrid-electric axel is slated to be installed in an updated version of the “Starship” long-haul truck sponsored by Shell Oil and AirfFlow Truck Co.
The specially designed, Class 8 diesel tractor-trailer combo achieved overall fuel economy of 8.94 mpg hauling just under 40 tons of cargo on a 2,300-mile cross-country trip from San Diego, Calif., to Jacksonville, Fla.
That could jump to as much as 11.3 mpg using the Hyliion axle and electric APU system, according to the company’s efficiency claims.
By adding the Gentherm battery unit to its in-house capabilities, Hyliion can devote more resources to improving its battery system, “a critical component of any hybrid system,” Healy said.
The company purchases its lithium-ion cells from Toshiba, a major global producer of battery cells for automotive use. It now will be able to do internally everything else that’s battery-related from pack design and production to power controls and thermal management.
There’s also a logistics benefit to the acquisition. Hyliion has just begun production after several years of research and development. “Brining the battery organization inside means there’s one less hurdle in the supply chain,” Healy said.
Having its own thermal systems management unit also will be an income-producer for Hyliion.
In addition to using the technology for its own hybrid system, the company plans to market it for other, non-competitive applications, such as hybrid-electric construction equipment, Healy said.