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A top executive at engine manufacturer Cummins Inc. believes current high fuel prices could compel fleets to take a longer term look at hydrogen and electric-powered vehicles, and sees opportunity for each one in commercial transportation.
“I think we’re all faced with the growing cost pressure of both diesel and gasoline — it’s a reality, and for many of our customers it’s about their business bottom line,” said Jennifer Rumsey, president and chief operating officer of the Indianapolis-based company, during an appearance on Transport Topics’ Newsmakers program. “There may be a place where this will drive a shift, where customers will consider alternative fuels and different fuels.”
Rumsey said Cummins sees hydrogen-fueled trucks as suited to longhaul trucking, while EVs are more tailored to regional and final-mile delivery routes. But she noted that a broad transition will take time, and will come with cost and engineering challenges.
“The reality is there is really a lot of work for these new alternative fuel vehicles to be viable,” she said. “In many cases, even with higher diesel and gasoline prices, they are really too expensive.”
Longer term, she believes Cummins can find a path to make these and other alternatives cost-effective. But there also needs to be fueling support.
“Infrastructure needs to be built out to support these fuels,” Rumsey said. “We believe incentives and regulations that bring costs down, advance new technology and build out an infrastructure [to give] customers the confidence that these new technologies can meet their needs [are] really critical.”
Cummins at a trade show in May unveiled a 15-liter hydrogen-powered engine that it aims to place into production by 2027, alongside a 6.7-liter unit. Going forward, the company plans to design engines that can be equipped to use a variety of fuels, a move to expand customer choice when considering alternative fuel sources.
“These are examples of some next-generation engine platforms that we are developing that we are calling fuel-agnostic platforms,” Rumsey said. “In order to have a range of solutions to meet these customers needs at different points at time — as they work to decarbonize and our industry works to decarbonize — we think different fuels will be needed.”
She added, “The fuel agnostic engine platform is designed to have a common base platform below the head gasket and a unique one above the head gasket based on the fuel. It will work with a range of fuel including hydrogen, but also diesel, natural gas. We have many customers interested in renewable natural gas as a way to decarbonize their fleets, and others interested in the mid-range fuels, including propane and gasoline.”
Rumsey added that Cummins’ $3.7 billion cash purchase of Meritor was a signal to the heavy equipment industry that it will be a major player in the move toward electrification, battery-electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks. The deal, announced in February, has been approved by Meritor’s shareholders and is expected to close by the end of the year.
“We’re super excited about the upcoming acquisition of Meritor,” she said. “It’s a part of positioning Cummins in electrification, and repositioning the company for the future. When combined, Meritor and Cummins together are really positioned to provide broad powertrain solutions to our customers.”
And those customers demand capable equipment, she noted.
“They have varied needs and operate sometimes in harsh environments, with high power and long life expectations,” she said. “Our customers count on these products for their livelihood.”
Rumsey added, “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to lead the way in our industries in this decarbonization journey, and it starts today. We are really at a tipping point. When I look at our industry in just ten years, we’ll be in a real period of transition.
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