Bosch is hardly an unfamiliar name to the heavy truck and off-highway industries—the supplier has been a major player in the diesel and hydraulics spaces for quite some time. But two years ago, the company decided it was time to create a division solely focused on those sectors to bring a broader range of its expertise from the automotive side to heavy-duty customers.
“Since we created the [new] division, the amount of activity particularly in the trucking side of the business really has exploded,” said Jason Roycht, vice president and regional business leader of the Commercial Vehicle and Off-Road division of Robert Bosch LLC. “It was good timing.”
Roycht is tasked to guide the company’s growth strategy in North America, with a focus on cross-divisional opportunities and new technology. Not surprisingly, electrification, automation and connectivity are the three main focus areas for Bosch’s ramped-up efforts.
“We have thousands of engineers doing automation work on passenger car. But we’ve just started that build-up over the past couple years for the trucking area,” he told Truck & Off-Highway Engineering. “A lot of the things can be carried over, but a lot can’t. We have different requirements and different problems that need to be solved.”
Bosch put “hundreds” of system engineers and application resources in place globally to help determine good business cases for these technologies in the commercial-vehicle and off-highway market.
“One of the big topics for all of these trends is eventually you need an upgrade of your E/E [electrical/electronic] architecture for these vehicles, which in some cases, particularly in off-highway, hasn’t changed dramatically in decades,” Roycht said. “And then when you start to talk about how you execute Level 4 or Level 5 automation and have all of the redundant systems in place and the additional computation power, you basically have to reset and redo your electrical architecture to be ready for the next decade or so.”
He stressed that it’s not a problem finding a market requirement for these technologies; the challenge lies in finding a viable business case. “A good example would be to integrate a highly-automated system on a skid steer or a bulldozer. It’s no trouble finding a need for it, but what is difficult is if we have to redesign a particular piece of hardware or do unique development on software. It just doesn’t become a viable business case if we have to spend tens of millions of dollars to develop something that is only applied to 10,000 pieces over a year.”
The cost-sensitive nature of the CV and OH markets drives this quest for viability. “Not many people are doing a total cost of ownership equation for their Tesla Model 3,” Roycht said. “But we’re certain they would for an electric truck.”
Roycht acknowledges that diesel technology is not going away anytime soon, but also believes that electrification is more than just a mechanism to comply with emissions requirements.
“We’re going to have a mixture of both powertrains for quite a while,” he said. “But there’s no doubt that electrification [will become] a viable powertrain from a cost-of-ownership perspective as costs come down in batteries and technology comes to market. As we see on the passenger-car side, I think we’ll be in transition for the next decade or so into other alternative powertrains.”
Bosch also recently showcased an eCity Truck with a scalable diesel hybrid system demonstrating integration of an electric axle (eAxle) into light commercial vehicles. The eAxle platform incorporates the motor, power electronics, and transmission in one unit, and can integrate 48-volt technology.
Another project, led by Bosch and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is dedicated to the development and demonstration of a commercially-viable, plug-in hybrid electric powertrain for medium-duty vehicles used in delivery applications.
“In the end, the market will decide. I think it will go to whatever the most cost-effective powertrain is,” Roycht said. “We’ve seen in the past CNG [compressed natural gas] come into play against diesel and that has a lot of fluidity based on fuel prices. When we go to electrification and renewables, it’s a little bit more stable to begin with.
“With electrified powertrains, it’s not just the operation cost of the fuel or the electricity—when you start to get into simpler systems, less maintenance, fewer parts to stock, fewer requirements for diagnostics from technicians—these things all come into play. It’s very tough to fight the electrification momentum.”
Trucks at forefront of Level 4 automation
Driver-assistance systems drove discussion of automation in the past couple of years—but the scope has expanded and the promise elevated. “The entire industry is sort of waking up that the value of bringing Level 4 automation into commercial trucking has a huge benefit, not only for safety, but also for solving issues with driver shortages,” Roycht said. “It’s not unrealistic to say that the trucking industry might start to lead when we talk about scenarios of Level 4 automation on interstate highways—the economics are making a lot of sense.”
Redundancy is key to such systems, as safety cannot be compromised.
“To properly do a Level 4 or Level 5 system, we need to ensure that under any possible condition of a component failure that the vehicle still has safe operation and can safely pull over to the side of the road, because you don’t have the driver as a backup,” Roycht explained.
Electric steering—which currently isn’t in widespread use in the trucking industry, he noted—becomes necessary in such a scenario.
“Then you need to go one step further and do failure-mode analysis and think about every possible condition that could go wrong, like a motor failure or a circuit disconnection. So you have to have redundant actuation, you have to have redundant signal paths,” he said, adding that the sensor suite is not exempt. “You need to have redundant sensing sometimes for conditions. Radars or lidars can see things that cameras can’t, but cameras can be a backup in certain cases.”
Companies new to the market, like Tesla, have a bit of an advantage in this regard, according to Roycht, because they don’t have to deal with a legacy architecture.
“These are not things that you can simply decide to install in the assembly plant as an option,” he said. “It’s not like one truck would have this and the next truck won’t; you need to have this in the DNA of the truck, in the electrical architecture. It’s a big shift.”