As head of commercial vehicle powertrains solutions for global advanced technology supplier Robert Bosch LLC, Ron Ritz needs to predict where the market is headed.
Since moving into the commercial vehicle and off-road space in January, Ritz has witnessed how much of Bosch’s passenger car expertise is flowing into heavy trucks. In 22 years with Bosch, he’s worked in Asia and twice in Europe, though not in the truck business. He declines to handicap which region leads in truck electrification.
“My impression is things are on quite a pace here in North America,” Ritz said. “Whether or not one [region] is ahead of another, basically follows a technology path of when the time is right.”
Political moods, environmental pressures and fuel prices all play a role.
Because it is unknowable how much of the heavy truck industry will swing to electrification, Ritz relies on “scenario planning” to make projections.
Ritz discussed his perspective of trucking’s electrified future with Trucks.com. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
When will the trucking industry really start to see large change to electric?
If I could answer that, I would just retire now and charge a lot of money for that information. I look at a lot of forecasts for electrification, and I can tell you they are all over the map. We know it is coming and it will come in some sort of hockey stick; 2025 becomes a little bit interesting; 2030 is very interesting. And beyond that, who knows.
Medium- and heavy-duty trucks powered by batteries and fuel cells could be 50 percent of the market beyond 2030. Or they could be 15 percent. Regardless of where the market settles, truck makers are asking for fuel-saving and less-polluting alternatives.
How much of your work on medium- and heavy-duty electric powertrains comes from passenger cars?
Much of the technology comes out of passenger cars. Of course, we need to size them up. Electrification can come even faster and earlier in commercial vehicles because it’s a much more defined use case. The drive cycle in vocational vehicles fits much better to electrification.
What is the potential for electric semis given that total cost of ownership drives purchasing decisions?
If you just do a calculation looking at the cost to charge a battery-electric vehicle versus fueling with diesel, it could be a borderline decision. But when you look at the maintenance cost of a battery-electric vehicle, it becomes really significant. Even in the medium-duty space, the maintenance savings could significantly outweigh the fuel savings. Therefore, fleets and manufacturers are doing the calculations themselves. It’s a no-brainer to go in this direction.
We work in scenarios. We have Stage 2 Greenhouse Gas and low-NOx regulations coming. Some companies want to electrify their fleet for a green image. But in the end, the lion’s share driving this is total cost of ownership.
What lessons is Bosch gaining from being on the inside of the Nikola fuel cell truck program?
The cooperation we have with them is invaluable. We find alignment on project steps quickly and comfortably. We have staff every day in their facility co-developing the truck together with them. We have a constant flow of associates back and forth between here and Salt Lake City. We’re even preparing some of our associates to take up residence in Phoenix, where [Nikola is] moving.
What other partnerships make sense?
We have discussions and projects in one way, shape or form with nearly everybody. If you look at (original equipment manufacturers), the significant value they bring is the internal combustion engine. If this goes to a supplier, they lose this. So, they are keen to try to bring some of the electrified powertrain in house.
Axle manufacturers might want to get in the game. Integrating an e-machine into an axle is a pretty obvious solution. We’re interested to see where Bosch could play a role in that. We would be remiss if we weren’t at least having some discussions with those guys.
What business opportunities does the Bosch eAxle electric-drive system present?
You can’t go a day without reading another news story about the next tie-up, the next launch of something, the next demonstration of something electrified in the commercial vehicle space.
In Class 8, we do not yet have an off-the-shelf eAxle. We have a Class 8 e-machine, our SMG280 electric motor. With our partner Nikola, we are developing the eAxle. Basically, it’s two of these 210-K electric motors combined into one housing. But we’ve not yet taken the steps to aggressively market this into other Class 8 semi-truck customers.
What’s the fuel saving potential of your medium-duty hybrid powertrain research?
In every simulation we’ve run across every drive cycle, we’re clearly meeting our targets of 50 percent less fuel consumption. I think it has good commercial viability. The intention was to have a package any freight operator would look at and see a payback period within three years.
What interim steps would industry embrace as a cost benefit?
We continue to improve the efficiency of the internal-combustion engine. Whether engine measures themselves or exhaust gas after-treatment, the diesel engine will not go away. This is a big country with long-haul routes, and internal-combustion engines will have a fixed volume for a long time.