Cummins Inc.’s evolution as a company was reiterated with Tuesday’s unveiling of an electric-powered concept truck cab.

Executives from the Columbus-based company put the wraps on a morning press event by removing a large black tarp covering its prototype semi cab in a courtyard of its Cummins Technical Center on McKinley Avenue with hundreds of employees, media members and public officials present.

The electric-powered truck represents the latest example of additional markets the global diesel engine and power systems maker is pursuing — specifically using electrification and digital technologies.

While the company discussed these new avenues during a teleconference with the media in June, Tuesday’s event served to formally emphasize that direction while also showcasing efforts to meet customers’ current needs.

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Cummins allowed 35 media members access to some restricted areas within its Columbus research and development center to see:

Work being performed on gasoline engines and alternative-fuel products

Its next-generation, heavy-duty diesel engine in development

A commercial vehicle with an electric powertrain — the truck unveiled at the end

“We’re going to start to see some other technologies play an important role, and Cummins is prepared to innovate and lead as that shift occurs,” Cummins Chief Technical Officer Jennifer Rumsey said.

Company leaders emphasized that Cummins — Bartholomew County’s largest employer, which employs about 7,500 in southern Indiana — is a technology company and has a history of innovating and meeting customer needs in various markets, be it the diesel engine from founder Clessie Cummins nearly 100 years ago to electrification now.

Cummins is making it clear to its customers and employees that the company will evolve and offer the right products at the right time, and provide dependable innovation, Rumsey said.

And it won’t be as just a provider of engines, but as a company offering broader power solutions, Rumsey said. The electric concept truck is just one example, she said.

The electric truck produces zero emissions and can travel 100 miles on a single charge, said Julie Furber, executive director of Electrification Business development.

Cummins expects to reduce charging time from the hour it takes today to 20 minutes by 2020, she said.

Competitive field

Cummins’ electric truck unveiling comes about a month before an electric competitor plans to roll out its electric semi. Tesla Inc. plans to unveil an electric semi with a range of 200 to 300 miles on a single charge in September, Reuters reported last week.

That would represent Tesla’s entry into the commercial freight market, moving beyond luxury cars, Reuters reported.

While some media have compared Cummins’ electric truck as competition with Tesla in the electrification market, a Cummins spokesperson said that description isn’t accurate.

“We’ve been working on this for more than a decade. But we’re pleased with what we showcased and look forward to serving our customers with the best technologies available for their businesses,” spokeswoman Katie Zarich said.

Cummins previously announced it would offer a fully electric powertrain — the main components that generate power, such as the engine, transmission and drive shafts — by 2019, and an extended-range powertrain — electrified but with an engine to power the battery — by 2020, with an initial focus on the bus market, Furber said.

“Electrified power is becoming economically viable is some of our markets,” Furber said.

The urban bus market is a prime example, because cities want reductions in noise and pollution, Furber said.

Providing digital connectivity and diagnostics benefits truck fleets because it helps address problems in real time and can identify future problems that can be addressed before they occur, said Srikanth Padmanabhan, president of the Engine Business.

However, digital connectivity and diagnostics also have a place in urban transportation, including school buses, because those markets deal with the safety and lives of children, Padmanabhan said.

More developments

Electrification and digital technologies aren’t the only new projects for Cummins. Its spark-ignited engine program is another, with an example displayed during the tour.

Diesel engines don’t require a spark to start the combustion process, said Wayne Eckerle, head of research and technology at the Cummins Technical Center.

Gas engines and alternative fuels such as natural gas do require a spark-ignition to start the combustion process, however, and those options are becoming more important, he said.

“Our philosophy is that it (the spark-ignited) can be a dual engine,” Eckerle said, used for both gasoline and alternative fuels.

Eckerle also suggested that gas prices will stay low because of electrification.

While Cummins is entering new markets, it is remaining committed to core customers such as those in the heavy-duty truck market.

Cummins launched its 15-liter X15 platform this year, and 42,000 engines have been sold since January, said Jim Nebergall, X15 program leader.

“We believe diesel is the most economical solution for long-haul trucks for the next 20 years,” Nebergall said.

To provide its heavy-duty customers with a range of options, Cummins will launch its X12 platform — a slightly smaller engine — in March 2018. Also, the next-generation X15 is expected to be in production in 2022. Examples of both were on display during the tour.

The next-generation X15 will meet 2027 greenhouse gas standards, be 300 pounds lighter than the previous X15 and be the size of a current 13-liter engine, said Clint Garrett, product manager for 15-liter engines.

“We have to provide our customers solutions for today — diesel — and bring in new products in markets in a phased way,” Rumsey said.

Pull Quote

“We’re going to start to see some other technologies play an important role, and Cummins is prepared to innovate and lead as that shift occurs.”

— Jennifer Rumsey, chief technical officer, Cummins Inc.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.