Electric Heavy Duty Vehicles

In the current trend toward zero-emission, hydrocarbon-free forms of transportation, focus has primarily been on light passenger vehicles given the longer-haul nature of most heavy duty vehicle duty cycles as well as the high amounts of torque required for such heavy duty vehicles.  However, recent advancements in technology as well as higher customer demand for electrification is pushing some heavy duty vehicle manufacturers to explore hybrid and all-electric powertrain options.  One sector of the heavy duty vehicle market that is particularly attractive for hybrid or electric powertrains is delivery trucks and other in-town vehicles that have smaller torque requirements and typically include low mileage duty cycles, such as garbage trucks.  To this end, multiple companies, including Volvo and Daimler, have introduced all-electric heavy duty vehicles intended for short-range deliveries; Motiv Power Systems is building electric powertrains for garbage trucks.

There are many obstacles to widespread adoption of electric powertrains in heavy duty vehicles.  Unsurprisingly, cost is the most significant obstacle, with the price of batteries being the largest contributor to the cost of electric powertrains.  Other obstacles include vehicle range, electricity delivery, and scalability.  For example, an electric powertrain optimized for use in a small delivery truck may not be sufficient for use in a garbage truck, and each type of heavy duty vehicle may have unique powertrain requirements.

So what does this have to do with intellectual property?  Well, if you are looking to build a robust heavy duty vehicle patent portfolio, you would be remiss to overlook electric powertrain options.  If you are looking to expand your patent portfolio into this emerging field, one approach that you may want to consider is to focus on solutions to some of the common obstacles mentioned above that are currently faced in implementing electric powertrains in heavy duty vehicles.  A further approach may be to focus on potential benefits of electrification that are specific to heavy duty vehicles.

Beyond the cost of batteries themselves, there are multiple other contributors to the high cost of electric/hybrid powertains, and many solutions exist that may be beneficial to cover in your patent portfolio.  For example, one way to lower the cost of electric vehicles—and in particular heavy duty electric vehicles—may be to institute effective fleet management, such as vehicle tracking, battery recharge scheduling, and vehicle usage scheduling.  Because heavy duty vehicles are frequently operated as part of a fleet, minor improvements in vehicle range, energy costs, and other factors to each vehicle may add up over the long term.  If you have already developed fleet management systems for standard heavy duty vehicles, adjustments to the fleet management systems that are specific to electric vehicles may prove beneficial to cover. 

Low vehicle mileage range is a large drawback for many electric heavy duty vehicles.  To boost an electric vehicle’s range, one approach may include redesigning the chassis or other features of the vehicle to be more lightweight, thus improving vehicle efficiency.  Another way that vehicle range could be effectively increased is by distributed energy-generation networks that would allow battery recharging on the field.  For example, solar or wind charging stations could allow battery charging in remote locations that are isolated from the power grid.    

The road to electric heavy duty vehicle implementation may include many obstacles, but solutions abound for overcoming these obstacles.  These solutions are far-ranging and are not limited to the design of the powertrains themselves, opening up a wide scope of potential technologies that may prove beneficial to include in your patent portfolio.