Expanding Horizons For Meritor

By Mike Brezonick22 January 2021

Meritor’s Blue Horizon powertrain components highlight company’s move into electrification technology.

By Roberta Prandi

The Blue Horizon brand by Meritor encompasses a range of electric drivetrain solutions and in particular a family of e-axles for on-highway applications. The systems, designed for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, consist of an axle incorporating an integrated eCarrier – an electric motor integrated into the axle carrier – with a two- or three-speed transmission gearbox.

Meritor’s first e-axle system was the 14Xe — which was named the Electric or Hybrid Application/Component of the Year and Achievement of the Year at the 2020 Diesel Progress Summit & Awards – and it will be followed by the 12Xe and 17Xe e-axles.

“We have seen great performance results from the 14Xe in test vehicles and from customers and we expect this first size to be available to the market next year,” said T.J. Reed, vice president Electrification at Meritor. “The expansion with two new platforms follows the same concept our company implemented for its conventional axles, covering the whole 8.0- to 44-ton vehicle range.”

TARGETING EUROPE AND THE U.S.

Reed added that the two new e-powertrains are past concept phase and in the finalizing of design and supplier selection. “We are carrying out in-house testing and we expect to have field testing with multiple customers by 2023,” he said. “The bigger 17Xe targets the segment of heavy-duty trucks, namely classes 4x2 and 6x2 on the European market. The smaller 12Xe unit is meant for pickup and delivery applications, that is Classes from 5 to 7 in the U.S.A., but also city and local buses.”

Reed said that the new 12Xe axle will use the same concept and architecture as the 14Xe but will be scaled toward the 8.0- to 12-ton medium-duty vehicle range. “One of the requirements for this segment is a low profile and more ground clearance, so we are using a smaller ring gear,” he said. “For the e-motor and transmission the architecture remains the same, with up to 200 kW power rating and two- or three-speed transmission option.

The expansion of Meritor’s Blue Horizon product range includes the new 12Xe (below) and 17Xe axles, which will be used primarily on medium- and heavy-duty trucks.

“With the 17Xe, we top the scale to the 26- to 44-ton vehicle range, a very important segment in Europe. It will manage up to 420 kW continuous power and will have the same structure as its brothers but in a different package, being a much bigger axle.”

Meritor said its Blue Horizon products have been developed with modularity in mind, with customers able to find specific solutions through the available combination of gearing, electric motors, wheel ends, brakes, suspensions and transmissions. “The Blue Horizon range offers much flexibility while using proven components,” Reed said. “Our aim is to provide customers with familiarity and variety.”

E-AXLE CHALLENGES

Reed said developing e-axles based on conventional units brings some challenges. One of them is reducing gear noise, a key requirement in electric vehicles which tend to be much quieter than engine-driven vehicles. Another

important area is brake energy recovery, a fundamental feature of electric powertrains.

“Each customer has a different strategy on how much brake energy is recuperated and stored in the battery and Meritor will work on specific solutions,” Reed said. “Brake energy recuperation will be a standard feature across our e-axle portfolio.”

Meritor also explored the multiple modes in which power can be delivered to an e-axle – from hybrids to hydrogen/fuel cells powertrains – and worked to ensure its Blue Horizon components would be compatible with any e-power solution. “In the long run, we expect mileage range and charging time to make the difference on the choices for each application,” said Reed. “In intercity traffic for example, vehicles tend to travel fixed routes and have time to be recharged at night, so in these applications mileage range won’t be much of an issue in the choice of powertrain. For some other segments, the regulatory impact will make a difference.”

What is certain, according to Reed, is that a vehicle architecture utilizing e-axles offers a number of advantages in comparison with other electrification options, including component costs and integration complexity, as e-axles do not require major changes to a conventional design in a wide range of applications. So far, Reed commented, feedback from customers on such solutions has been positive.

READY FOR OFF-HIGHWAY

While the major and most immediate target for Meritor’s 14Xe is commercial vehicles, the addition of the other sizes will allow to stretch the application into new markets. “Off-highway components are already in Meritor’s portfolio, featuring more robust housings to withstand heavy-duty operation and the often adverse environmental conditions,” he said. “So we expect the transition from on-highway to off-highway won’t be a major challenge for our e-axles as well.”

Beyond on-highway vehicles, Meritor’s Blue Horizon products will also be applied to off-highway applications, such as this medium e-axle for forklift trucks and port terminal tractors.

Beyond the e-axles, Meritor has continued to expand its electrification capabilities. In 2019, Meritor acquired California-based Transportation Power (Transpower), a specialist in the development of battery-electric concepts for commercial vehicles. “Transpower brought to the Meritor’s product mix knowledge and capabilities in electric solutions, including software development for the systems’ control,” said Reed. “Transpower works a lot with governmental agencies as for example port authorities and one of their main markets is terminal tractors with customers such as Kalmar, and Paccar with heavy-duty applications.”

According to Reed, Blue Horizon components will be first manufactured in the U.S., then production will be scaled up in Europe. As the market matures, South America is likely to follow in a later step and here the investment in a new production plant will be pivotal, Reed said. The construction of the new plant in Roseira announced earlier this year, will add production capacity joining two existing Brazilian plants, in Osasco and Resende.

HIGH INTEREST

In Brazil, Meritor also announced its participation to the e-Consortium initiative by Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus (VWCO) to collaborate in the development of electric commercial vehicles for that market. The first step will be the launch of VWCO 11-ton e-delivery truck equipped with Meritor’s 12X drive axle with e-optimized gearing.

T.J. Reed

Despite the turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Reed said that the interest in e-components is not slowing down. Meritor’s investments in this field have not slowed down either, but rather actually increased with projects underway that are expected to reach start of production next year.

“We believe that, strategically, vehicle electrification is the right place to invest,” he said. “The technology has reached a critical time in the product development cycle. Battery costs came down and is continuing with this trend, component and control technology has matured, infrastructure investments are happening in various areas, although they will need a global government support. We are looking here at a long-term perspective, but all indicators are quite promising.”

www.meritor.com/technology

This story first appeared in the January issue of Diesel Progress. For a free subscription click here.

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