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Wrightspeed partners with AxleTech on heavy-duty electric drive


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Green Car Congress  /  May 10, 2017

Wrightspeed Inc., a developer and manufacturer of heavy-duty range-extended electric vehicle (REV) powertrains (earlier post), has partnered with AxleTech International (formerly Rockwell International), a leading manufacturer of heavy-duty specialty drivetrain systems. The partnership integrates decades of axle engineering experience into Wrightspeed’s electrification technology to meet growing demand from the company’s customers and partners, including Mack Trucks and New Zealand Bus (NZB).

Wrightspeed’s Route REV powertrain system, featuring regenerative braking and a range-extending turbine generator, the Fulcrum, enable heavy-duty electric vehicles to operate as efficiently as possible. Recently recognized as a 2016 World Economic Forum Technology Pioneer, Wrightspeed will now leverage AxleTech’s expertise in engineering and manufacturing to accelerate commercial deployment of its multimodal REV Route powertrain.

Wrightspeed’s GTD (Geared Traction Drive) pairs with a custom axle from AxleTech International, designed to accommodate Wrightspeed’s super duty final drive gear. The custom axle-outfitted GTD unit is featured in the Mack Trucks booth at the WasteExpo conference in Nevada this week.

Wrightspeed is rapidly expands its supply chain team, bringing on experts with experience at Tesla Motors, Ford, Cummins, and others to meet strong demand for new powertrain technology. Wrightspeed is scaling its operations to meet international interest, including from the largest operator of urban bus services in New Zealand, NZB, as well as continuing its work with Sonoma County recycling leader, The Ratto Group.

AxleTech International, based in Troy, Michigan, is a manufacturer and supplier of heavy-duty and specialty vehicle drivetrain systems and components to original equipment manufacturers and the aftermarket for commercial and defense customers around the world. The company has manufacturing, distribution, and engineering facilities in Troy, Michigan; Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Saint-Étienne, France; Osasco, Brazil; and Pune, India.

Related reading - https://www.bigmacktrucks.com/topic/45567-waste-concept-mack-tests-out-wrightspeed-electric-powertrain/#comment-335858


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Another reinvention for AxleTech

Lindsay Chappell, Automotive News  /  February 19, 2018

Turnaround chief steers company into electricfication niche

Three years ago, Mary Petrovich got a call from an executive at defense contractor General Dynamics asking if she would take over the struggling Detroit-area commercial vehicle supplier AxleTech International.

Petrovich knew all about AxleTech because she had run the company and reinvented it. Twice.

Petrovich had led the fast- growing company's sale to General Dynamics seven years earlier, in 2008. But in 2015, AxleTech was in trouble.

"There was some hesitation," admits Petrovich, a Harvard MBA who once ran Dura Automotive's billion-dollar global driver control business. "Only because I wanted to make sure I had it in me to do this a third time."

Her idea of turning a company around? "Seven days a week, 80 hours a week until you succeed," she says.

"But I felt like it was my baby and I was responsible for it," she says. "I knew that, no matter how ugly it looked to other people, there were still possibilities to make it great. It took us three years to dig them out, but we've done it and we're ready to go. Again."

Petrovich was on Automotive News' list of 100 Leading Women in the North America Auto Industry in 2000 when she was at Dura.

Today, Petrovich, 55, is leading a team to take AxleTech into a new transportation role. AxleTech, a supplier of low-volume axles, brakes and aftermarket parts for heavy-duty commercial and defense vehicles, is positioning itself to supply electric drivetrains for vehicles other than cars.

It is a vision — shared by an increasing number in the auto industry — that just as electrification is taking hold of passenger vehicles, it is also a viable strategy for commercial vehicles.

That means electrified delivery trucks, Class 8 trucks, garbage trucks, utility vehicles, military vehicles, buses, construction vehicles, airport shuttles — anything that moves on wheels, other than cars.

But even cars cause a twinkle in the eye of the hard-charging Detroit executive.

"Since this business started 100 years ago, the focus has been on heavy trucks and off-road," she told Automotive News. "But to be honest, the work we're doing now in electric vehicles, in areas like motors — they touch both the truck world and the car world. Some of the innovations we're providing on the heavy truck side have not been implemented on the car side.

"So I wouldn't see it as a stretch that little AxleTech could have technology that could creep over into passenger cars."

"Little AxleTech," as she calls it — with 2017 sales of about $250 million — has been something of a Detroit stray cat for the past two decades. And apparently only Petrovich knows how to make it purr.

AxleTech is the original industrial operation once known as Rockwell International. AxleTech still operates the century-old factory in Oshkosh, Wis., built by the industrialist Col. Willard Rockwell in 1919.

But since the early 2000s, the company has had trouble being "owned."

In 2002, Rockwell's descendant company, Meritor Automotive, determined that AxleTech didn't fit with its core operations and put it on the market. The unit was acquired by a private equity firm, and Mary Petrovich was recruited as its first CEO.

"When we took over this business in 2002, most people thought it was going to die pretty quickly," she says. "It had everything going against it. We were very aggressive in getting out of that."

Enter Carlyle

But that ownership arrangement was short-lived, and in 2005 AxleTech was sold again to the Carlyle Group, a Washington asset-management firm with $178 billion in assets.

Under Carlyle, Petrovich repositioned AxleTech again — this time to enter the robust market for military vehicles, supplying drivetrains to Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles used in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under Carlyle, business surged, rising from about $200 million in 2005 to $500 million in 2008.

Petrovich also stoked AxleTech's aftermarket business for the first time. In five years, Aftermarket Vice President Bill Gryzenia grew sales from $10 million a year to $200 million annually by 2010.

In 2008, with the military market humming loudly, Carlyle sold AxleTech again — this time to General Dynamics. Petrovich and Gryzenia left in 2010 for other pursuits.

But sales peaked in 2011 at about $560 million. In 2015, with defense contracts dwindling and General Dynamics no longer keen on operating a small niche business such as AxleTech, the call went out to Petrovich to take the company back off of its hands.

Carlyle and Petrovich agreed. She would serve Carlyle as AxleTech's executive chairman and take an ownership stake. She rehired Gryzenia — who had become Dana Corp.'s vice president of aftermarket — to return as AxleTech's CEO.

"We got another opportunity to use a clean sheet of paper," Gryzenia says. "We asked, 'How can we redefine this company? How can we put it back on a rapid growth path again?'

"And three years in, we're doing it — through electric commercial vehicles."

The auto industry's focus has been on electric passenger vehicles, he points out, while electrifying commercial trucks is an obvious play. Electrification offers truck owners and fleet operators a faster payback on investments, since fuel costs are a central part of commercial vehicle purchase equations.

But AxleTech's management is far from alone in its enthusiasm for the idea. Tesla plans to develop an electric semitruck and startup contender Nikola proposes the same idea.

Diesel engine maker Cummins late last month acquired the British battery systems business of Johnson Matthey to develop new battery materials to enter the commercial heavy-duty EV segment.

Last week, Dana CEO James Kamsickas told analysts on the company's earnings call that Dana sees potential for an electrified commercial vehicle market. The company is marketing an e-axle to the electric bus segment. But Kamsickas said the technology reaches beyond buses.

"There's not one end market that we're not in some form of conversation, product development, launch, you name it," he told the analysts. "That could be mining, construction, forklifts, glass material handling — every single one of them."


Petrovich believes AxleTech has a head start because her team has been preparing for the market since returning to the helm three years ago. AxleTech has expanded its global manufacturing footprint, opening a plant in India and in China, and has increased its engineering head count by about 70 percent. Space in the U.S. company once used to produce component forgings is now used for engineering offices. According to Gryzenia, the company has filed for more patents in the past 12 months than in the previous 10 years.

AxleTech's engineers have co-developed a drivetrain for an electric bus with zero-emission bus maker Proterra that is scheduled to go into production in the third or fourth quarter.

Petrovich expects to double company revenue within 24 months.

"That's the story — to be there on the commercial vehicle side of electrification," she says. "We're working with major programs across utility space — garbage trucks, military vehicles. In the next 2 to 15 years, everything is going electric."

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