Commercial Vehicles Go Electric

Proven high-voltage solutions offer commercial vehicles a springboard to full electrification

With the convergence of several powerful trends and the ever-present need to drive efficiency, the commercial vehicle (CV) market is set to make a bold leap straight to full electrification.

With fuel costs making up nearly 40% of operating costs, vehicle efficiency is undoubtedly the driving factor. Given high utilization and long service lives, investments in improved fuel economy can be a major competitive advantage. For example, in a typical Class 8 truck, a 20% improvement in fuel economy can save $14,000 to $25,000 per year, with payback possible within the first year.

CV electrification is also driven by a faster than expected fall in battery prices. As Bloomberg NEF (New Energy Finance) recently noted, in 2015 the battery made up more than 57% of the total cost of a midsize U.S. electric car. By 2019, that figure had dropped to 33%, and is expected to hit just 20% in 2025. Which means it makes little economic sense for OEMs to invest in hybrid or plug-in hybrid designs as a stepping stone when they can go straight to entirely battery-powered vehicles.

The third key factor at work is implementation of ever more rigorous environmental regulations. Until recently, these have prioritized the requirement to cut CO2 emissions, with countries that include the UK, Sweden and Norway already legally committed to carbon-neutral status by the middle of the century. China, meanwhile, has pledged that its CO2 emissions will peak no later than 2030. Furthermore, with transportation identified as one of the main sources of climate-changing gases, sector-specific regulation is also becoming more demanding. The EU is looking for CV OEMs to reduce overall emissions from their fleets by at least 15% by 2025, and 30% by 2030 (based on 2019 levels).

Cleaning up in the city

However, reducing CO2 is no longer the full story. The impact of poor air quality on public health has also climbed the political agenda, with vehicle emissions again identified as a major contributor to the problem. Across Europe, numerous municipal authorities have now either imposed restrictions on diesel vehicles entering city centers, or have advanced plans to do so. Indeed, according to recent research by Bloomberg, 24 European cities will have implemented bans on diesel road vehicles within the next decade. In Paris alone, that means some 3.3 million vehicles will be affected by 2030. At present, the focus is on older engine technologies. To take just one example, London’s mayor has recently introduced an Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) that will see some of the most heavily polluting CVs charged up to £100 ($125USD) every time they enter the city center. In China, July 2019 marked the starting point for implementation of some of the world’s toughest emission standards for new vehicles, the “China 6” requirements. Noise is also becoming an issue for urban authorities, with conventionally powered trucks again high on the list of targets for tighter regulation.

In some cities, we are already seeing full electrification of heavy-duty trucks that have relatively low daily mileages. Last-mile delivery trucks, off-road vehicles, and a multitude of agricultural, construction and industrial vehicles are also good candidates for swift electrification. Looking further ahead, long-haul trucks will ultimately follow the same path, once longer ranges become feasible and national charging networks that can accommodate the size and number of vehicles involved are widely deployed. 

Taking the risk out of electrification

Such a profound technological shift inevitably poses significant challenges for an industry characterized by a relatively conservative, low-risk approach to development.

It’s this pressing need for tried and tested, off-the-shelf solutions that explains why Aptiv’s long track record in both electrification and the CV domain is such a powerful proposition for OEMs. Back in the 1990s, Aptiv engineers were instrumental in putting the first fully electric vehicles on the road. More than two decades later, we remain at the forefront of high-voltage connector, terminal and cabling solutions, with an extensive product portfolio that supports up to 1000V/400A needed to support high-voltage electrification – whether that’s for a passenger car or a bus. After all, high-voltage cabling and connectors are by their very nature robust. And robust, proven technology is precisely what the CV industry needs.

The revolution starts with a holistic electrical architecture design

Getting to full electrification is more than the sum of its parts. OEMs need a partner that can be a full-service provider for electrification and complex electrical architecture – from the development of wiring harnesses and connection systems to manufacturing engineering and automation, logistical concepts, and delivery. Aptiv’s global engineering teams are committed to helping OEMs with the vital process of optimizing vehicle architecture as a whole. For the world’s leading EV startup, it’s a philosophy that delivered benefits that included the elimination of some 300 circuits in a single vehicle, with obvious advantages in terms of streamlining the electrical architecture. By utilizing the full range of metallurgies, connectors and wiring available to us, Aptiv can ensure that overall cost, mass and complexity are kept to a minimum. All of this will prove critical in extending battery range, saving space, and ensuring that zero-emission vehicles can offer the return on investment that remains essential to any fleet operator.

Throughout the mobility sector, electrification is now a fact of life. In the CV market, the regulatory demands that are driving change are only set to grow more stringent in the years ahead. Combined with the equally powerful market forces behind the continuing fall in battery prices, it means a direct shift to full electrification will generally be the preferred option. However, in meeting the significant challenges of zero-emission design and manufacture, OEMs will find in Aptiv a partner with a longstanding commitment to the unique requirements of the CV industry and the development of cleaner, greener mobility solutions. As a result, customers can draw on the support of fully proven, high-voltage electrical distribution systems, in-depth understanding of both electrification and the CV environment, and specialists who are ready and willing to optimize entire vehicle architectures in pursuit of outstanding cost efficiency, reliability and performance.