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15th October 2020

In Conversation with... Cummins

We caught up with Amy Davis, President of Cummins’ New Power Segment, to talk about electrification and some of the risks and opportunities within the automotive industry.

Beginning her career at Cummins nearly 30 years ago, Amy has held various global roles throughout Cummins businesses and most recently served in Cummins Components business as the Vice President and General Manager of Cummins Filtration.

Amy has led various Cummins initiatives to support corporate responsibility, diversity and inclusion and is especially passionate about encouraging and growing female leaders in the workplace.


Cummins is well known for diesel and natural gas-powered products, but you’ve been shifting your focus to electrification in recent years. What are the main drivers behind vehicle electrification and how do you see the industry changing in the next 5 to 10 years?

Already a leader in advanced diesel and natural gas, Cummins is rapidly growing its capabilities and expertise in alternative power. Our New Power business segment focuses on designing and manufacturing battery and fuel cell electric powertrains and hydrogen solutions for its customers.

Recently we have witnessed widespread adoption of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in an effort to address climate change. Last year saw a series of milestone moments for the conversation around transportation, health and the environment, while electric car sales in Europe soared by 57 percent in Q1 2020.  

In the UK, the introduction of an Ultra-Low Emissions Zone and a major programme to advance EV adoption were implemented as part of the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation for the UK to target zero emissions by 2050. Internationally, analysis from the United Nations and World Health Organization, global street protests, and school walkouts over climate change prompted global action.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a whole new dynamic to the challenge - with a combination of supply chain disruptions, significant economic challenges, and regional emissions concerns. Daily global emissions fell by 17% at the peak of the pandemic “lockdown” measures - yet, returning to a new normal way of living may see a surge in social-oriented travel and consumers opting for private vehicles over public transport. This could, unfortunately, drive emissions even higher than before the crisis.

Fortunately, there is room for optimism post-crisis. Research and development will continue to tackle barriers like production cost and battery re-use; BEV sales have outpaced petrol and diesel vehicle sales during the pandemic, and Covid related stimulus measures focused on building back better and green recovery have been introduced globally. This means we can turn our focus to hard-to-decarbonize sectors like heavy-duty transport, construction and rail. Innovation in hydrogen and fuel cell technology has made this a viable solution for these energy-dense applications.

As we look ahead to this new normal, I strongly believe that a more holistic picture of clean mobility – incorporating industrial and commercial vehicles, as well as broader energy supply context – is needed.


What are the biggest risks and opportunities with these changes?

While passenger cars account for 55 percent of transport emissions, over a third (35 percent) come from medium duty vehicles, heavy goods vehicles and buses. Growing the share of passenger cars which run on alternative power generally demands educating and winning buy-in from consumers on a one-by-one basis. Commercial fleets, by contrast, can be transformed more cohesively, in large tranches at a time. With the demand for sustainability growing, there is a broad, valuable, and under-considered potential to diversify the country’s traffic towards low emission vehicles. 

At a high level, we must maintain momentum on four criteria to enable change: 

  1. Technological maturity must reach a point that low-emissions vehicles meet business needs as well as, or better than, ICE-powered offerings 
  2. The economic reality must be that the vehicles’ cost does not disrupt the broader business model 
  3. Regulatory surety must be in place to assure businesses that their decisions today will remain valid in the future 
  4. Infrastructural capacity must reach a point where the built environment allows for the vehicle’s capabilities to be fully exploited 

By developing the technology to the point where it’s ready to use, making it affordable enough to be economically viable, creating a policy environment where companies are confident in which solutions they should choose to roll out, and ensuring the built environment is ready to support the vehicles, only then will alternative sources of power finally move successfully into the mainstream. 


How is Cummins answering some of these risks or problems the industry is facing?

Cummins is committed to developing innovative solutions to meet our customer’s needs. In the electrified power space, we have partnerships and collaborations with on- and off-highway OEMs who have electric solutions for products ranging from bus to medium duty trucks, light commercial vehicles, excavators and drayage trucks. 

In the past year we have taken steps to build on our hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. We acquired Hydrogenics Corporation in September 2019, providing Cummins with both proton exchange membrane (PEM), alkaline fuel cells, and electrolyzers used to generate hydrogen. Cummins has also invested in LOOP Energy, signed a memo of understanding with Hyundai Motor Company and invested in the development of solid oxide fuel cells. Cummins now uses fuel cell and hydrogen technologies to power a variety of applications, including transit buses, semi-trucks, delivery trucks and passenger trains.

Cummins also advises at all levels of government on the importance of diversified power and clean mobility. Last summer Tony Satterthwaite, President and Chief Operating Officer of Cummins, testified on this subject to the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

Cummins is also part of several organisations and collaborative industry groups that are focused on advancing alternative power. For example, Cummins is a member of CharIN and our CEO Tom Linebarger sits on the board of the Hydrogen Council.


How will MIRA Technology Park support Cummins?

We have taken the lease for a building on site at MIRA Technology Park in order to support our Milton Keynes facility with the development of prototype batteries for on- and off-highway vehicles. The facility provides us with a great location for build work as well as post-test teardown of battery packs. The location gives us ready access to HORIBA MIRA’s testing and engineering capabilities, and MIRA has been heavily involved in our validation processes. We will continue to use MIRA’s services beyond the current lease of a building there.


And finally, any comments on the automotive industry as a whole?

In order to shift to a more holistic view of how we can best move goods and people, we need to broaden our understanding of how hydrogen is integrated into the energy transition, shoulder-to-shoulder with battery technology.

Both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will serve important roles in decarbonizing transportation and heavy industry. For many applications, BEVs are a clear best fit, but the relatively higher mass and lower power density of current battery technology means that, for vehicles which operate with the heaviest weights and longest ranges, storing the necessary power eats into functional vehicle capacity. When we think about trains, heavy goods vehicles, and drayage trucks – vehicles with extreme power requirements and centralised operations hubs – FCEV solutions are the most viable option.

In the long run, heavy-duty transport will lead in harnessing renewable energy through green hydrogen production. The next opportunity in the race will be translating passenger car progress into wider decarbonisation for commercial fleets – which are not only critical to society, but also part of a virtuous cycle of ideas and scale effects that in turn drive mainstream adoption.

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And in case you missed it, we also have a Q&A about vehicle autonomy with Jeff Warra from Intrepid Control Systems, read it here.