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Senior Analyst – UK
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With a background in computational biology, Rueben Scriven joined Interact Analysis two years ago and leads the warehouse automation and on-highway commercial vehicle research areas. Rueben has spoken at some of the leading industry events and moderated several panel discussions on the topic of commercial vehicle electrification. He’s also appeared on CNBC to provide insight on the global electric bus market.

Our market researchers at Interact Analysis have produced a 10-year growth forecast for the medium and heavy duty electrified commercial vehicle sector. This includes trucks (including long-haul trucks) and buses. We predict that this sector will see steady growth up until the end of the decade, with production approaching 825,000 vehicles in 2030*, 7 times the figure in 2019. Healthy growth will be accompanied by technological advances, notably where powertrain and transmission architectures are concerned. In this insight, we take a look at the various technologies currently on offer, and their likely market share in the short to medium term. 

*Based on our differential subsidy scenario for China. To learn more about our two scenarios for China and how its new policy could lead to an additional 700,000 hybrid medium & heavy-duty commercial vehicles this decade, click here.  

Powertrain: Significant Advances, But Legacy Platforms Rule

We segment the market into 4 types of powertrain architectures utilised in medium and heavy commercial vehicles.

Central Drive

The Central Drive powertrain follows the format found in traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. It has been by far the most common powertrain in electrified commercial vehicle as, design-wise, it is simple and economic, being literally a case of taking out the combustion engine, dropping in an electric motor, and installing a battery. Other than that, the same components (such as the prop shaft, axles, and suspension) are used as in ICE vehicles. Compared with other configurations, central drive architectures provide lower up-front costs. Globally, they are predicted to occupy the largest part of the market in the next decade, but their market share will drop steadily from almost 90% in 2019 to just under 60% in 2030 as new technologies flex their muscles.

eAxle

The eAxle is a relatively new technology which is yet to be proven in commercial settings, but it is likely to be the primary technology used in the long term. The key feature of the eAxle is the fact that it is a single unit, housing electric motor, power electronics (an inverter to convert from DC to AC) and transmission, directly powering the vehicle’s axle. It enhances energy efficiency, enabling either an increase in vehicle range or a decrease in the size of the battery required. A major advantage is better use of space, as there is no need for a prop shaft. It can also mean a lower weight ratio and the elimination of the need for a longer wheelbase. The eAxle format is currently popular in passenger cars and light duty commercial vehicles, where chassis and batteries are made as one, but medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicles are likely to adopt this so-called “skateboard architecture” with time. For further information on eAxles, check out this link.

Electric Portal Axle

Electric portal axles are challenging more traditional central drive architectures in the electric bus market. In fact, electric portal axels are a subset of eAxels, but we categorise them separately due to the differences in the market dynamics. These wheel-mounted motors are easily integrated into the existing bus chassis and use standard components. The high-driving torque of one single axle, with synchronised motors attached to each wheel, is powerful enough to propel an articulated bus, either pushing from the rear of the vehicle, or pulling from the front. This novel system offers significant breakthroughs in city-bus design, given the space-saving nature of portal axles. There is no large motor in the rear of the bus, and no prop-shaft underneath allowing for additional space for passengers to utilize – an important consideration in this new era of social distancing. The battery can be housed in the roof of the vehicle, or indeed the motors can be powered by an external overhead source. Automotive-specialist ZF, has led the way with its AxTrax AVE.

Independent motors

Commercial vehicles housing an independent electric motor for each drive axle are creeping on to the market. The Tesla Semi long-haul truck uses this technology, for example. For a 6×4 truck configuration, it entails the rear four drive wheels each having an independent motor. For a ‘four-wheel configuration’, it means both the front and rear wheels having an independent motor.

Independent motors are claimed to have benefits for long haul applications – primarily by allowing the use of smaller motors by having more of them. Tesla claims their Semi has the lowest energy costs per mile, with a range of up to 500 miles, and full battery chargeability in 30 minutes. This technology also enables redundant steering capabilities using computer controlled torque vectoring from the wheels to avoid a potential collision, which is much more responsive than a human and a steering wheel.

Powertrains: Markets and Geography

We have already mentioned the ongoing hegemony of the central drive powertrain architecture on world markets up to 2030. Developing countries such as China and India are more likely to go with the central drive architecture because of the up-front cost savings for medium, heavy, and long-haul commercial vehicles.

Electric portal axles are forecast to maintain a share of between 10 and 15% of the market globally. Though our figures seem to suggest the share declines in the next 10 years, the electric portal axle will grow its market share in the electric bus market, notably in EMEA and North America. Instead, the decline in electric portal axles as a share of the total battery electric commercial vehicle market is a product of battery electric trucks outpacing battery electric buses.

And, though it is yet to be fully proven in commercial settings, eAxle market share is forecast to increase significantly over the time period, from a few percentage points in 2019, to over 30% in 2030; and its better space utilisation puts it at an advantage with competing technologies, especially as we see the development of more medium and heavy-duty vehicle platforms designed and optimised for battery electric powertrains.

Finally, independent motor architectures will acquire a fairly small share of the market up to 2030, taking up between 3 to 4% of the market by the end of the forecast period. Independent motor architecture will likely be limited to long haul applications which is forecast to make up a relatively small share of the medium and heavy-duty battery electric commercial vehicle market by 2030. Instead, we see hydrogen powered vehicles being better suited for long haul applications, while battery electric powered heavy-duty trucks will be better suited for distribution applications. Battery electric heavy-duty distribution trucks will primarily be using central drive and eAxle powertrain architectures, as opposed to independent motors.

Look out for an upcoming insight on EV transmissions. And, to continue the conversation about EV powertrains, get in touch with our lead EV analyst Rueben Scriven directly: rueben.scriven@interactanalysis.com

Posted by Rueben Scriven

Graduating from Durham University with a first-class degree in Biochemistry, Rueben is leveraging his background in science and computer modelling by joining our growing analyst team.