Apr 9, 2024

Navigating the Path to Electric Powertrain Adoption Through Effective Driver Support

The electric vehicle (EV) industry is rapidly expanding as more and more consumers look for station deployment or station location, sustainable and efficient modes of transportation. With governments around the world promoting the adoption of electric powertrains to reduce carbon emissions, the future demand for EVs is expected to continue to grow exponentially in the coming years.

However, despite the numerous benefits of EVs, such as lower costs of ownership, operating costs or maintenance costs and zero emissions, the transition to electric powertrains faces various challenges. One of the major hurdles is the lack of effective driver support, which can hinder the widespread adoption of EVs.

In order to successfully navigate the path to electric powertrain adoption, it is essential for automakers and policymakers to prioritize and invest in solutions that provide drivers with the necessary support and information.

In this article, we will explore the importance of effective driver support in promoting the adoption of electric powertrains and discuss strategies that can be implemented to overcome the barriers in this transition.

A Remarkable Transformation

As an avid enthusiast of diesel engines, I held certain reservations about my upcoming experience driving a Class 8 truck powered by an electric drivetrain. However, my perspective underwent a remarkable transformation during my visit to the esteemed Volvo Trucks headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Within the premises of this global hub, I was granted my inaugural opportunity to operate an electric truck. The vehicle in question was a European Forward Control-High Entry (FH) cabover, expertly maneuvered around the facility's customer test track.

Equipped with a remarkable 660 horsepower, three-motor powertrain integrated seamlessly with a standard Volvo 12-speed transmission, this truck astounded me from the moment I turned onto the track and applied the throttle.

The ascent towards highway speeds was executed with an astonishing silence and unwavering steadiness, utilizing gears 7, 10, and 12 to effortlessly deliver an unparalleled level of torque. The truck's acceleration possessed an elegance and swiftness that exceeded my wildest dreams when it came to Class 8 conventional vehicles.

My exploration of the Class 8 FH tractor extended beyond the circuit as I ventured onto a distinct route, where I halted on a steep incline and embarked on a heavily loaded uphill start. The gracefulness and potency exhibited during this endeavor, coupled with the tractor's ability to transition smoothly between gears even while conquering arduous slopes, unequivocally convinced me of the superiority of electric powertrains.

One of the Most Compelling Motivations

Following that experience, I hold the belief that electric vehicle users or the driver retention stands as one of the most compelling motivations for fleets to adopt battery-electric technology. The superior performance, serenity, and overall driving experience offered by these vehicles are at the essence of every design choice, resulting in a mutually beneficial outcome for both drivers and fleets.

In Brian Solomon's authoritative work, "The American Diesel Locomotive," it is stated that modern electronics revolutionized diesel-electric locomotives by harnessing alternating current, skillfully manipulated to vary its frequency. This innovation allows for the seamless and efficient operation of motors across a broad range of revolutions per minute (rpms), unlike the earlier direct current motors.

The enhanced torque produced by these new AC motors permits railroads to accomplish the same workload with fewer locomotives while conserving substantial amounts of fuel.

An Unprecedented Level of Torque

This very technology empowers electric truck powertrains to transport cargo with minimal electrical energy consumption, providing drivers with an unprecedented level of torque. As you may have already heard, these powertrains can even reverse their motors and recharge the batteries, thereby avoiding the wastage of inertia during stops.

Furthermore, the ability to instantaneously bring motors to a precisely controlled rpm allows for swift and seamless upshifts during acceleration, far surpassing the capabilities of diesel engines. In fact, Mack Trucks has developed a cutting-edge "two-speed, powershift transmission," as explained by Scott Barraclough, the senior product manager for e-mobility, making the transition to electric shifts even smoother.

Diesel technology has evolved from cumbersome machines that could only operate within a narrow rpm range, necessitating countless shifts during a trip, to more adaptable power plants that deliver sufficient torque rise to minimize driver exertion, even before automated gearboxes were introduced. The advent of electric powertrains will bring about a similar transformative revolution, as electric motors with comparable horsepower ratings generate significantly greater torque and can effectively deliver it to the wheels right from the start, even at zero rpms.

Look Ma, No Clutch!

Torque rise is a phenomenon that compensates for a decrease in rotational speed by increasing torque. This has led to a significant change in the requirements for generating diesel horsepower and acceleration, resulting in a practice known as downspeeding. Nowadays, a typical premium diesel engine might be rated at 500 horsepower and 1,850 pound-feet of torque.

However, advancements in electric powertrains have allowed for even more impressive figures. For instance, Mack's dual-motor LR Electric powertrain can provide a peak horsepower of 448 and an astonishing 4,051 pound-feet of torque.

Similarly, Volvo's two-motor electric powertrain delivers comparable numbers, with 455 horsepower and 4,051 pound-feet of torque. What sets these electric powertrains apart is the ability to maintain continuous full torque from 0 to 4,000 rpm, accompanied by a flat horsepower curve that maintains the 455 rating from 4,000 rpm up to over 10,000 rpm.

Detroit's powertrain exhibits a similar performance curve, with peak torque remaining until the motor rpm surpasses 4,000, and horsepower remaining constant up to 10,000 rpm.

Notable for their Ability

The efficiency of compact and powerful electric motors is notable for their ability to sustain higher rotational speeds compared to diesel engines. Consequently, axle ratios in electric drivetrains can amplify the torque to a much greater extent than in diesel drivetrains.

When it comes to heavier-duty electric powertrains, they generally offer two main transmission ratios. An upshift typically occurs in the mid-20s, although the exact shift point may vary depending on the load and grade.

Tend to Perform Best

Despite the fact that diesel engines tend to perform best with a minimum of 10-12 forward speeds, the layouts of electric powertrains possess subtleties that ensure exceptional performance. Although having only two speeds may seem insufficient, Volvo has developed a unique transmission system that optimizes torque and horsepower inputs while utilizing conventional shift collars and pneumatic actuators.

The gearbox employs two split main drive ratios, with one motor driving through a countershaft in first gear and the other driving through the main shaft. The faster motor operates at a ratio of 9.26:1, while the slower motor operates at a ratio of 3.67:1.

In second gear, both motors drive the mainshaft, but the power is still split, enabling one motor to rotate about 1,000 rpm faster than the other, with the transmission ratio for the slower motor being 3.52:1. Axle ratios for straight trucks are set at 3.91:1, while tractors have ratios of 4.56:1.

The Detroit system also demonstrates the use of gearing through its overall ratios. According to Kevin Otzenberger, an e-mobility product marketing senior analyst, the two overall ratios for tractors are 46:1 in first gear and 16:1 in second gear.

A Diverse Range

Mainstream manufacturers offer a diverse range of drive component configurations, although much of the mechanical aspects remain familiar. Volvo employs a system where two motors and a transmission are integrated into a unit that is mounted beneath the cab, between the rails.

This setup utilizes a standard tandem axle drive with two driveshafts. On the other hand, Mack utilizes two electric powertrains. In the LR model, two motors are incorporated into a single unit that includes a purpose-built EV transmission, allowing for seamless shifting while under power.

A standard tandem axle drive arrangement is then employed. However, Mack's Medium-Duty Electric, often utilized by trash haulers, features a direct drive from a single motor to the rear axle, providing 260 horsepower and 1,850 pound-feet of torque.

Detroit Diesel employs e-axles, which combine a motor, transmission, and a modified standard axle and differential gearing into a single unit. These e-axles are connected to the power source via wiring, eliminating the need for driveshafts.

Higher Overall Ratios

As a result, higher overall ratios are achieved. The Detroit system offers both single- and dual-motor axles, with horsepower outputs of 195 and 395, respectively.

In the case of a tandem axle tractor, one dual-motor axle is combined with a single-motor axle, resulting in a total horsepower of 590. Torque output figures at the wheels for the single and dual motor configurations are 11,500 and 23,000 pound-feet, respectively, as stated by Otzenberger from Detroit Diesel.

In addition to their technical advantages, plug-in electric vehicle adoption also provide a significant reduction in noise and vibration. Otzenberger mentioned that drivers often comment on how they primarily hear the sound of tires at highway speeds or the slight rattling of tools in the glovebox.

Some drivers have even expressed a willingness to postpone retirement in order to continue driving electric trucks.

Volvo's Moore added that drivers find it easier to communicate with dispatchers and are more aware of nearby sirens or car horns. Mack's Barraclough simply stated, "I can confidently affirm that electric vehicles are noticeably quieter in the cab compared to their diesel counterparts, and this is one of the first aspects that operators notice."

The Esteemed Global Leader

Parul Chadha, the esteemed global leader in product management and strategy for ePowertrain at Accelera, highlights the remarkable advantages of electric vehicles in terms of noise reduction, vibration control, and harmonic balance. These benefits are readily discernible to drivers during idle and low-speed driving within urban areas.

Chadha emphasizes that during highway drives, the primary source of noise in the driver's cabin stems from factors such as tire rolling resistance and aerodynamic efficiency, rather than the electric motor itself. This insight underscores the minimal acoustic impact of electric vehicles.

Supporting this assertion, Scott Newhouse, the chief engineer at Peterbilt Motors Co., provides precise decibel measurements to illustrate the stark contrast between traditional engines and electric powertrains. At a speed of 55 mph, a Peterbilt 579 equipped with an X15 engine registers a noise level of 78 dBa. Conversely, the same model powered by a battery-electric vehicle with the Meritor e-axle records a significantly lower measurement of 70 dBa, representing a notable departure from conventional noise levels.

Beyond Noise Reduction

The advantages of electric powertrains extend beyond noise reduction. They also offer rapid acceleration, creating a more serene environment within the driver's cabin. Furthermore, regenerative braking systems, which activate when the driver releases the throttle, provide additional control and adjustment capabilities. Additionally, the convenience of simply plugging in the truck for recharging, as opposed to waiting for traditional refueling, further enhances the appeal of electric trucks.

Given these transformative attributes, it is evident that electric trucks possess the potential not only to reduce a fleet's carbon footprint but also to alleviate the persistent challenges associated with driver turnover, thus revolutionizing the industry.

In Conclusion

The path to widespread adoption of electric powertrains requires a multifaceted approach that includes both technological advancements and effective driver support. By prioritizing the needs and concerns of drivers, we can create a more seamless transition to electric vehicles and help pave the way towards a more sustainable future.

Through continued collaboration and innovation, we can make significant progress in this journey and ultimately achieve a greener, more efficient transportation system. The future of electric powertrains is bright, and with the right support, we can make it a reality for all.

If you want to stay updated with a wide range of trends, actionable insights, and innovative solutions in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

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