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The Future of Heavy-Duty Powertrains


TIAX and Global Insight have released a study analyzing the likely changes in the powertrains of trucks, buses, and other large vehicles by 2020.

The study, The Future of Heavy-Duty Powertrains, was commissioned by a group of oil companies, engine and vehicle manufacturers, and component suppliers to investigate the impact of more stringent emissions regulations, increased traffic congestion, and a shortage of skilled drivers for large vehicles on the heavy-duty vehicle industry in North America, Europe, and Japan.

Heavy-duty powertrains will undergo a revolution over the next 15 years.  Not only will the technical advances be remarkable but the pace of change will be so rapid that some of the technologies that are currently being deployed will be obsolete by 2020.

—J.R Linna, Principal in the Automotive Unit at TIAX

Key findings of the report include:

  • Homogeneous Charge Compression Ignition (HCCI) will power nearly 40% heavy-duty vehicles by 2020. HCCI engines offer high efficiency and low emissions. Initially HCCI will be used in mixed-mode applications, incorporating conventional diesel combustion to supply more power when greater demand is placed on the engine.

    A full-mode HCCI engine that can meet all the demands placed on it by heavy-duty vehicles will eventually supersede the mixed-mode HCCI/Diesel technology. This finding is particularly significant in that some of the exhaust-gas treatment systems currently being developed and expected to reach the market in the next few years will start to become obsolete by 2020.

    (The majority of the engine efficiency projects that received $87.5 million in funding from the DOE involved HCCI combustion research. Earlier post.)

  • The report draws a distinction between driveline hybridization and power unit hybridization.

    The report asserts that by 2020, 20% of heavy-duty vehicles globally will incorporate either hybrid electric or hydraulic hybrid technology for driveline hybridization.

    The researchers also conclude that 25% of vehicles will use some form of power unit hybridization, where exhaust gas energy is converted to power auxiliary systems and provide some torque boost. (Earlier post on Thermoelectric Waste Heat Recovery.)

    The rapid deployment of hybrid technology in the heavy-duty vehicle industry can partly be attributed to the fact that commercial vehicle operators have regularly scheduled routes and can therefore accurately calculate how much money they will save on fuel and brake maintenance by investing in the more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles.

  • The demand for self-shifting transmission technology in heavy-duty vehicles will increase dramatically over the next 15 years. Because of increasing traffic congestion, concerns about the rising cost of fuel, and greater sensitivity to maintenance costs, a significant number of heavy-duty vehicles will feature self-shifting transmissions that maximize fuel efficiency. Additionally, the use of self-shifting transmissions will broaden the labor pool from which drivers can be recruited because trucks with automated or automatic transmissions are easier to drive.

An overview of the report is available here.

In projecting the market for future powertrain technology, the authors factored in factors such as the availability of crude oil, probable technical developments, predictions of emission control legislation, and the financial impact of new technologies on vehicle costs. 

Clearly, there are different scenarios under which different outcomes can and will occur, as well as a high degree of in the mixture and age of local fleets, fuel availability, regulations and so on.


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