Tracing its heritage to the Timken Detroit Axle in 1909, the now 110-year-old Meritor (NYSE: MTOR) is charging forward, literally and figuratively, as it positions itself as a leading supplier focused on developing solutions for today, and for tomorrow.
Pedro Garcia, director of product management, Advanced Technologies, for Meritor, told FreightWaves the company famous for its Run with the Bull slogan is shifting from its drivetrain roots to a provider of integrated powertrain products through its Blue Horizon electrification strategy.
“With electrification, everything is becoming more integrated and connected, so the closer you are to the power source [the better the systems work],” he said at the North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta on Oct. 30.
“When we look at electrification, we look at the truck and it is changing [so] Meritor is changing,” Garcia added, noting that integration of systems is key to a successful electrification strategy.
In 2017, Meritor announced a strategic alliance with TransPower. That investment introduced full electric trucking solutions to Meritor’s portfolio as a push to electrify drive systems began. In 2018, the emergence of Blue Horizon, a new Meritor technology brand focused on e-mobility and electrification, fast-forwarded the push.
The first product under that brand was the 14Xe electric axle. At the show in Atlanta, Meritor announced two new eAxle models — the 12Xe and the 17Xe. The 12Xe leverages many of the same components but is packaged in a smaller housing, and gearing has been optimized for medium-duty applications. The 17Xe is designed for heavy-duty applications using 6×2 and 4×2 configurations.
The axles have been “future-proofed,” Garcia said, so while their design suits emerging electric vehicle applications in the medium-duty space of today, they can be easily scaled for the heavier vehicles of tomorrow.
“Within the product itself, we’ve managed to optimize the system to ensure it performs as it’s intended,” he said.
The introduction of eAxles is part of a phased rollout of Blue Horizon products as markets dictate demand, Garcia said.
“What we are seeing is three phases of electrification,” he explained. “Phase one are the innovators. It started in early 2016 and will run into probably 2020 when they are demonstrating” the technologies in real-world applications.
Phase two is best represented by Meritor’s involvement in a South American electric vehicle project. That effort, led by Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus (VWCO), is a collection of suppliers working to bring 11-ton e-Delivery trucks to market in Brazil. All those trucks will be powered by Meritor’s 12Xe drive axle, starting in 2020. Initial vehicles will feature the standard 12X axle, with the 12Xe added once it is commercially available.
Through the e-Consortium, VWCO plans to deliver 1,600 e-Delivery trucks to Brazilian beverage company Cervejaria Ambev, representing one-third of its fleet, by 2023.
The e-Consortium comprises Meritor, Bosch, CATL, Moura, Semcon, Siemens and Eletra.
The axles exemplify the opportunity Blue Horizon has to secure Meritor’s place in the next 100 years of commercial trucking. Within the brand are eAxle electric drivetrains, eSuspensions and eCorner, which enables vehicle kneeling and accessibility in buses.
The third phase is the “mature phase,” Garcia said, in which electrified products and vehicles will become more commonplace. This is likely coming within five years, he noted.
The Blue Horizon brand will ultimately focus on three areas: electrification, connectivity and efficiency. On connectivity, Garcia said, Meritor will move beyond the powertrain using more sensors and data collectors, but all future products will align with Meritor’s portfolio of products.
“[The company will produce products] with enablers that allow fleets to go beyond where they are today,” Garcia said.
“The movements we’ve taken so far are of integration; what you are going to see is more integration with sub-systems,” he added, pointing to a potential single package of inverter with powertrain controls as an example.
The TransPower investment will help in these areas. “You will see more integration and turnkey solutions,” Garcia said. “That’s the area where we will start working outside the axle.”
While conventional products are not going away, the chance to incorporate more of an electrified future into the company is leading to a renaissance that it hopes will position it for another 110 years.