Driving the European Electric Commercial Vehicle Market Forward

From public transportation to package delivery, the electric commercial vehicle (CV) market is rapidly expanding across the globe, driven by carbon emissions reduction goals and the explosive rise of e-commerce. Some reports project the number of electric CVs produced worldwide in 2030 will exceed 1.8 million, exponentially greater than the 125,000+ produced in 2017.

But it’s not just increasing numbers. Performance metrics are rising too. At first, manufacturers would typically use off-the-shelf parts, including bearings, to quickly introduce product to the market. Now, after several years of real-world road testing, they’re focusing especially on power density and fuel efficiency refinements. Such emphases can help produce lighter vehicles with more room for batteries — and increased distances per charge.  This makes Timken, renowned for its expertise in friction management and power transmission, an ideal partner to help steer the industry.

“We have a large and impressive product portfolio. But perhaps even greater are our analysis capabilities. That’s why manufacturers collaborate with us.”

Alberto Cesi
Strategic Account Manager

“Delivering solutions that improve efficiency is where we really shine,” says Alberto Cesi, an Italy-based strategic account manager and Timken veteran with extensive automotive experience. “We’ve been doing just that for the electric CV market, customizing bearing dimensions and performance characteristics to accommodate the new powertrain designs.”

Case in point: Timken played a key role in supporting a new, all-electric iteration of a popular light-duty commercial utility vehicle, which boasts a 200-kilometer range in city conditions.

“This model retains its layout but replaces the internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric motor, and the transmission with a transfer box,” says Cesi. “We were involved from the very beginning, as the drivetrain layout was being designed, and were selected to provide tapered roller bearings for the transfer box.”

Under the Hood

The challenges Timken helped address are not uncommon to the broader, burgeoning electric CV market.

Max Lettl, a Timken application engineer who worked on the project, explains: “Electric motors turn faster than ICEs, so operating temperatures within the housing can get very high. And thinner lubricants are preferred in electric vehicles since less friction correlates to less electricity consumption, but this can add strain on bearings.”

Lettl worked in tandem with the customer through several design modifications and conducted studies for precise bearing requirements at their locations on the intermediate and output shafts.

“There appeared to be a lack of stiffness within the application. It was bending too much at one bearing position,” he says. “So, we integrated the stiffness matrix of the housing to replicate the exact environment to observe how the bearing behaves under load.”

With the full backing of Timken’s capacities in prediction modeling, rheology and tribology, Lettl came up with a solution: a tapered roller bearing (TRB) assembly developed with enhanced surface quality and internal geometry to minimize friction — and more rollers to enable greater axial and radial load capacity.

The final product: a high-performance powertrain for a zero-emission light utility vehicle ideally suited to the urban missions for which its gas-powered predecessors are known, from package and food delivery to passenger transport and specialized business services.

Down the Road

Timken is currently working on additional projects in the growing electric CV market, while expanding a product portfolio that builds on existing power dense, fuel-efficient (PDFE) tapered roller bearing technology. Because bearings and axles are typically smaller in EVs, Timken created an electric line of these TRBs to offer a smaller alternative to ball bearings, so manufacturers can downsize shafts and housings to build more power-dense gearboxes.

“We have a large and impressive product portfolio,” says Cesi. “But perhaps even greater are our analysis capabilities. That’s why manufacturers collaborate with us.”

Learn more about Timken’s rheology lab and the science behind designing bearings that maximize powertrain efficiency.