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More efficiency and electrification in commercial vehicles

More Efficiency and Electrification in Truck & Van

Min Reading Time
Dr. Jochen Witzig is head of the Truck & Van Driveline Technology Product Line at ZF. In this interview, he explains the technical changes as well as the current developments in conventional and electric powertrains.
Frank Thoma, January 22, 2021
Frank Thoma has been corporate editor at ZF since 2011. With a degree in journalism, he has been planning, writing and editing articles for all of the company’s internal, external media.

What are the major technical challenges in truck and van driveline technology?
Of course, we are also concerned with the electrification of mobility in commercial vehicles. It will come faster than even expected a few months ago. Electrification is affecting inner-city delivery traffic as well as long-distance transport. In addition, our products are becoming increasingly connected – in other words, digitalized. For example, we are working on solutions that collect information about the condition of our components and systems. This can generate added value, both for fleet operators and for us. Another major issue for us is meeting the increasingly stringent CO2 regulatory requirements in the EU and the rest of the world with ever more efficient conventional drivelines.
Dr. Jochen Witzig is head of the Truck & Van Driveline Technology Product Line at ZF in the present time of technological change.

What is the market like for commercial vehicle transmissions today?
In general, there is a worldwide trend away from manual transmissions in commercial vehicle transmissions. For this reason, we are no longer developing this transmission class, but are only supporting current series production with our application development. There is an increasing demand for automated transmissions such as TraXon for heavy trucks as well as for automatic transmissions for light and medium commercial vehicles...

... which explains the development of the PowerLine automatic transmission, which series production has just started?
Correct. The environment also benefits from the technology change to automatic transmissions through a noticeable reduction in CO2 emissions. Depending on the application, PowerLine can ultimately reduce fuel consumption up to 12 percent. That's an incredible amount. PowerLine is technically a close relative of the proven 8-speed automatic transmission for passenger cars.

Can PowerLine be combined with an e-machine and hybridized in this way?
Yes, we took that into account during development. On the one hand, we are building on the hybridized 8HP, and on the other hand we have to consider specific commercial vehicle applications. Both mild hybrid and full hybrid are possible, but we have not yet decided which direction to take.

That sounds like a product that is ideal for building the bridge to an all-electric future. What has the customer reaction to PowerLine been like?
In view of the efficiency gain, it's very good, interest is high. We already have several orders in house for it. Series production started in Friedrichshafen in October 2020. From small beginnings, the ramp-up should lead to a mid-five-digit number of units by 2026. Because environmental legislation in Europe, North and South America, and Asia is permanently focused on CO2 reduction, PowerLine has what it takes to become a real "global gearbox." That's why we will also be manufacturing it for the American market at our U.S. plant in Gray Court, South Carolina, from 2023 onwards.

Let's move on to electric drive solutions for commercial vehicles. How is the Product Line Truck & Van Driveline Technology positioned there?
We are just as fully committed to electromobility as we are to conventional driveline technology. At the ZF Experience Days, we presented our two electric central drives in test vehicles to both the media and to our customers: CeTrax and CeTrax lite. With CeTrax lite, we offer a driveline especially suited for light-duty distribution trucks. In 2019, we built a demonstration vehicle in Japan in the form of a light distribution truck with CeTrax lite.

What was the reaction of customers to the vehicle?
The result was so convincing that we will start series production of CeTrax lite with a Japanese customer as early as 2022.

Is the electric axle drive ZF offers for buses of interest for trucks, too?
Absolutely. In parallel with the central drives already mentioned, we are also developing a modular system for medium and heavy trucks up to 44 tons. In this way, we want to offer our customers the optimum solution for their particular application and strategy.