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Truck Talk: Taking the high road edition

Letting go of a grievance; thermal imaging for autonomous trucks and 3 questions with Navistar's Gary Horvat

This week, Hyliion lets slide a slight; hydrogen fuel cells are everywhere, or it seems that way; and thermal imaging gets a look as a way to enhance autonomous trucking perception.

Yeah, he meant it

Like most conferences, in person or virtual, panel discussions prevailed at last week’s Advanced Clean Transportation Expo. One exchange that didn’t happen stood out.

Hyliion Holdings founder and CEO Thomas Healy was making his first of several appearances during the week, talking up his company’s natural gas-electric hybrid Hypertruck ERX that goes into pilot production before the end of the year.

Hyliion (NYSE: HYLN) has made several changes to make the ERX more competitive with pure-play battery-electric trucks (BETs), including adding a bigger battery for longer electric range. But the ERX — if it uses natural gas as a fuel for the electric generator — will still emit some carbon emissions.

Two seats away, Gary Horvat, Navistar vice president of eMobility, told the audience that nothing short of zero emissions is good enough to make a real difference in the battle against climate change.

Gary Horvat, Navistar vice president and head of NEXT eMobility (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

“The goal is to get to zero emissions for everything that we’re doing,” Horvat told me later, after Navistar’s press conference announcing the start of production for its eMV medium-duty battery-electric truck in Escobedo, Mexico. “And like I say, anything that doesn’t get to zero, by definition, is an interim solution.”

Healy didn’t respond to Horvat during the panel discussion. But he told me later that he considered mentioning that the ERX’s emissions profile, when fueled with renewable natural gas made from food waste and other organics, creates negative net-zero emissions.

I’ve asked Healy more than once whether a hybrid truck will be a long-term solution as BET and fuel cell adoption grows. He is confident of RNG as a fuel and cites growth statistics to support it. But a hydrogen fuel cell could power the ERX’s generator, and Hyliion is looking at it.

3 questions: Navistar’s Gary Horvat

Horvat, who oversees Navistar’s electrification and fuel cell programs at NEXT eMobility Solutions, answered a few other questions from FreightWaves:

FREIGHTWAVES: You spent most of your career in traditional automotive roles. How different is the eMobility space?

HORVAT: “At GM, I designed camshafts and cylinder heads back in the day. In a lot of ways, [electrification is] simpler than internal combustion — a lot fewer parts. It’s just more  understanding and respecting the electric power.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Navistar’s NEXT program seems to be about holding the customer’s hand to get them comfortable with electric trucks.

HORVAT: “We just don’t say, ‘Here’s a truck and get going.’ That’s why we start the training discussion saying, ‘Hey, this is the part you have to get done.’ And we want to make sure that we have training throughout for our dealers and our end users.”

FREIGHTWAVES: Navistar announced a fuel cell collaboration with GM and J.B. Hunt in January. What’s happening with that?

HORVAT: “We’re not at the end and we’re past the beginning. We’re in the middle. It’s on track and we’re just doing the day-to-day engineering and development right now. Nothing has really changed other than we’re farther down the path from when we made the announcement.”

Hydrogen and fuel cells break out

The number of releases on fuel cell programs grows weekly. The pace is such that deniers of a future hydrogen economy may need to hit the refresh button soon.

Hyzon Motors

The latest announcement came Thursday from Hyzon Motors, a nonbinding deal to provide up to 500 fuel cell trucks to Shanghai Hydrogen HongYun Automotive Co. Hyzon is to provide the first 100 of the 49-ton trucks by the end of this year with the remaining 400 by the end of 2022. 

It was a nice bracket to Hyzon ringing the bell to open NASDAQ trading on Thursday. Unlike the horrible 20% decline on its first day of public trading back on July 19, Hyzon (NASDAQ: HYZN) closed Thursday up 23.52% at $10.87.

Hyzon Motors CEO Craig Knight (Photo: Hyzon)

Closer to home, Southern California Gas Co., the nation’s largest gas distributor, is going to test a Hyzon fuel cell in one of its Class 3 utility trucks. This is significant because few fleets see fuel cells as a solution in start-stop, short routes that medium-duty vehicles cover. Hyzon CEO Craig Knight is fond of saying: “The fuel cell doesn’t care what you use it for.”

Eaton Corp.

Power management company Eaton is partnering with Ballard Fuel Cell Systems, and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), to develop heavy-duty truck fuel cell technology. 

Eaton (NYSE: ETN) is bringing its Twin Vortices Series (TVS) supercharger technology to the  program funded by a DOT grant. TVS provides fuel cell manufacturers with a precise amount of controlled air to increase power and efficiency. 

Most fuel cells use simple fans to create airflow. Those produce less pressure and are uncontrollable, according to Karl Sievertsen, vice president and chief technology officer of Eaton’s Vehicle Group.  

Hino Trucks

Toyota subsidiary Hino Trucks took less than 10 months from announcing it was working on a Class 8 fuel cell electric truck to showing a concept version at the ACT Expo. It is yet another example of Toyota’s dedication to fuel cells. 

The parent company has announced the production of heavy-duty truck fuel cell modules in Kentucky beginning in 2023. It’s a good bet Hino will be a customer for some of those modules.

Hino, which sells and services Class 4-8 trucks in the U.S., includes its fuel cell efforts as part of Project Z. “Toyota fuel cell” is prominent on the side of the Hino hood.

The Toyota fuel cell badge is prominent on the prototype Hino Class 8 fuel cell truck. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

The heat is on

Thermal imaging as a tool of autonomous truck perception could be a thing. Plus said this week it is collaborating with Teledyne FLIR LLC to explore the addition of thermal cameras to the sensor stack used with its Level 4 high-autonomy driving technology.

Thermal cameras have nearly two decades of use in passenger vehicles. Teledyne FLIR has been working with Tier 1 supplier Veoneer since 2003 and its thermal sensors have been installed as an option in more than 750,000 vehicles as a driver warning device. 

Recent testing of thermal sensors as part of the sensor stack for automatic emergency braking (AEB) demonstrated their ability to see through sun and headlight glare, most fog and darkness at distances four times farther than headlights. 

The Teledyne FLIR cameras cost about $200 today, a price that is expected to drop as they grow in popularity. The company said it is working with other autonomous car and truck software providers but declined to name them.      

Survey says

Analytics provider Fleet Advantage is out with results of its latest customer survey and it takes the pulse of fleet managers on their plans for electric trucks.

The majority of fleets continue to believe clean-diesel technology remains more viable for emissions reduction than a move to electric vehicles. Fifty-four percent of fleet respondents said they may consider a Class 8 BET for over-the-road use between five and 10 years from now. Just 3% of fleet executives are currently ordering electric trucks.

In its survey a year ago, Fleet Advantage reported that 30% of respondents said they did not see electric trucks in wide use for another 10 years. The positive vibe for autonomous trucks is growing even with a negatively phrased question. This year, 53% said they don’t see them in wide use for another 10 years compared to 62% last year.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Click here to get Truck Talk in your email on Fridays. Next edition is Friday, Sept. 24. 


Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.