Text: Maj-Britt Peters
For urban transport systems—such as last-mile logistics, distribution vehicles, and city buses—electrification is the future. It is quiet, clean, and sustainable. Volkswagen Truck & Bus is also betting on this cutting-edge future technology. With the joint battery project, the Commercial Vehicles business area is taking a big step toward putting electric commercial vehicles on the road.
It is a pilot project in two respects: it lays the foundation both for this cutting-edge future technology and for R&D work within the Group. Ultimately, collaborating with engineers from MAN and Scania on a common battery pack system has turned competitors into colleagues.
MAN and Scania: a pool of synergies
Lisa Döbler and Jakob Öman are two of these newly minted colleagues. They worked together in a cross-brand team to develop a common battery storage pack for hybrid and fully electric buses and trucks. It was based on a Volkswagen passenger car battery with lithium-ion cells. “Components like human-machine interfaces from cars have already been installed in the driver cabs of trucks,” says Öman, team leader for testing and validation of energy storage packs at Scania. “But taking over drive components, that was new.” First the engineers needed to define their specifications for the batteries. In order to adapt the components to meet the needs of heavy-load applications, they developed the housing, architecture, and cooling from scratch.
“The system works like a kit,” explains Döbler, a test engineer at MAN. “If we know how far the electric vehicle needs to drive, we can determine how many battery packs we need to install.” As such, the hardware is always the same, but the number of packs and the software vary depending on the customer’s use case. For example, the battery system at Scania is initially being installed in a hybrid bus. By contrast, MAN is testing the battery in commercial vehicles in daily-use applications together with the Council for Sustainable Logistics.
Lead engineering as an innovation driver
The engineers had regular meetings to share and discuss the technical specifications and test results. “Direct, fast dialogue is extremely important for our everyday work, especially when developing new components,” says Döbler. So sharing among colleagues quickly grew beyond brand boundaries.
“A fast and direct way of communicating is extremely important for our everyday work – especially for the development of new components.”Lisa Döbler, MAN
But the collaboration also had its pitfalls: the biggest challenge was aligning the brands’ different needs and requirements and finding common technical solutions. “The advantage with this project is that electrification was still relatively in its infancy at MAN and Scania,” explains Öman. “Both brands needed to build up their expertise first, so they were more flexible about change than they might have been with a combustion engine.”
The engineers increased their knowledge of cells, modules, and battery systems in a teamwork setting and gained new knowledge about life span, cost, range, and safety. “At MAN we focus heavily on process documentation. We had to get to know each other and our different ways of working and learn to cooperate,” says Döbler. “Generally speaking, it was difficult to give up control at the beginning,” recalls Öman. “Scania is used to doing everything independently.” But the engineers emphasize that every way of working has its advantages—you just need to strike the right balance. “We got very close to the optimal solution for both sides in this project,” says Öman. Döbler nods in agreement.
The rules of the collaboration game are defined
The brands have gained important experience with this project that paves the way for lead engineering, in which each brand takes responsibility for a joint development project. “The joint battery pack project set the guiding principles for the entire Group. Now we know how to build our expertise and support each other with development,” says Döbler. The potential for collaboration is huge: by reusing technologies across the brands, they avoid duplicating their efforts and take advantage of synergies. Öman adds: “We learned to trust each other. Now a brand can take the lead for individual technologies and each of the other brands can be certain that their requirements will be taken into account.”