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Alternators for the Age of Electrification

Learn how Prestolite’s alternators can lower costs for fleets.

Episode 242: Technology on commercial trucks is rapidly changing. We are seeing many press releases about the electrification of trucks and are seeing electrical demands on these systems go up every year. To keep up with this demand, fleets need high-quality alternators built perfectly for their application.

Jonathan Smith is the Business Development Manager and Marketing Manager of Prestolite Electric.  

Jonathan Smith is the Business Development Manager and Marketing Manager of Prestolite Electric.  In this episode, learn how Prestolite’s alternators can lower costs for fleets.

Jonathan was a guest on the show back in Episode 81.

Guest Website: Prestolite.com

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Transcript of Episode:

Jamie Irvine:

You are listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine, and this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keeps trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost per mile.

Technology on commercial trucks is rapidly changing. We are seeing so many press releases about electrification, and when I think about commercial trucks, especially over, let’s say the last 10 years, the electrical system demands has just gone up and up and up and up. I think back to the trucks that we used to remanufacture pneumatic controls for and everything was mechanical.

Everything was just basically either mechanical or air, very little electrical. Now that has all changed, so I’m very happy to have my guest, Jonathan Smith, he’s the Business Development Manager and Marketing Manager of Prestolite Electric. And Jonathan is back on the show, a returning guest. Jonathan, welcome back to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Jonathan Smith:

Yeah, nice to be here.

Jamie Irvine:

Good to talk to you again. So we’re going to talk a little bit about the way that things have changed with commercial trucks. So just talk to us a little bit about the overarching trends with commercial trucks and then we’ll get into some specifics.

Jonathan Smith:

Okay. And what we’ve seen over the last few years, and kind of alluded to it in your introduction, was the ever increasing amperage loads on commercial vehicles, whether in the seventies it was going from an AM radio to an FM radio and a CB. Now we have navigation systems, ABS and Anti- Roll Systems, you know, have the telematics on vehicle troubleshooting where the vehicle is going down the road.

Jamie Irvine:

Your favorite podcast app.

Jonathan Smith:

Yeah. Yes, actually my favorite podcast app. But yeah, all those things, even though like each one, if you look at the amperage requirement for, those aren’t a lot, but you add ’em all up and it creates significantly more amperage demands on the vehicle. And then you couple that with the battery to HVAC systems. We’ve had no idling for a long time, but that’s just as we get into zero emissions and things like that, that’s only going to increase.

So the larger the alternator you have, the better performance you’re going to get out of your battery to HVAC system. And then voltage has gone up as well. We’re still North America, we’re 12 volt, but we’re seeing 24 volt, 36 volt. Those are going to increase as these demands increase and you step more toward either hybrid or E drive. There is talk of plugin hybrid, but I think the infrastructure for plugins is a little far away, but it’s out there. We’ll definitely see it in here’s my lifetime.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, and that’s the thing. When you think about commercial trucks, I think of just the number of computers on a given truck, if I remember correctly, there’s one ECM dedicated, I think just to the seat in, I think it’s the Volvo application. I don’t quote me on that, but I remember someone saying something along those lines. It was one of the major trucks. And they have a whole ECM just dedicated to controlling the seat. Things have gotten complicated. The electrical systems, there’s so much more demand. Is it just responding to new technology or is there any other underlying drivers when I think of as truck OEMs are trying to get more performance out of the vehicle as well?

Jonathan Smith:

Yes. Yeah. And like when you’re talking about higher voltages and stuff, the higher voltage requires less wire. You know, don’t have to have as big a wire as you do with the 12 volt. So that significantly increases the performance of the vehicle, the higher amperage loads, as you get more of these electrical loads on there, the higher amperage, make sure that everything runs at an optimal level. And I was going to get a little bit into that later, but as you don’t want things to run at low voltage. So you have a 12 volt system, you wanna make sure your batteries are 12 volts. So all that stuff runs optimally.

So once you start having too many loads without enough alternator to cover those, then that starts taking drain outta your battery. And once that starts happening, you’re running at 10 volts, 11 volts. And those components really don’t like that. They don’t run well at that and they don’t last long with that. Even you’re starter when you start doing low voltage cranks on your starter over and over and over the life of that starter significantly decreases.

Jamie Irvine:

And then this is where total cost of operation becomes a real factor. Because if we start to run in an, let’s just say, not an optimal way, we start to have failures. Now we’re driving up our costs and it all started just with the extra load on the electrical system.

Jonathan Smith:

Absolutely a hundred percent, total cost of ownership, keeping that vehicle on the road. So some of the alternators that we’ll talk ’em out in a little bit upfront, they’re not the cheapest alternator, but your total cost of ownership, we’re offering a four year unlimited mileage warranty on these products that’s designed to keep you on the road trouble free for four years.

So you’re not worrying about that. So if you have a lesser alternator or one that doesn’t perform as well, you know, start changing out starters, a starter change out, that’s an hour of labor. How much is an hour of labor nowadays? A hundred dollars an hour, $150 an hour, you know, have three alternators put on over the four year period that this one would’ve lasted you. Again, there’s $500 in labor just on changing out all alternators. So really those things significantly increase over time where you know, spend the money upfront, you get the value out of it on the other side.

Jamie Irvine:

And just throw in there a pandemic and global geopolitical issues messing up the supply chain. And you might get caught where you then, one of the parts you need isn’t available and now your downtime goes through the roof. Okay, so we’re going to talk some more specific products when we get back from the break. We’ll be right back.

Commercial Break:

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Jamie Irvine:

We’re back from the break and before the break we were talking about the trends with commercial trucks. As we all know, there’s so many more electrical demands with each commercial truck and each year that they commode it seems to be more and more. So that means you’ve gotta adapt your approach to things like your alternators and your starters.

So Jonathan, what is your recommendation to someone who is saying, look, I need to spec the right alternator, the right starter for the system on my truck, and the demands it’s going to go through. First of all, let’s talk about how they would come to the correct part and then we’ll talk about some specific products that your company sells.

Jonathan Smith:

Okay? Yeah. And we have, when you’re ordering a new truck a lot, now when we’re first fit with Nav star, as you add electrical loads to your option sheet, they have, it sort of automatically increases the size of your old alternator, your requirement of your old alternator goes up as you’ve added things. And then we also have on the other side, we have a technical service bulletin that you could go through. So you had an older truck and you were either unsure of the performance of your old alternator.

I mean you’ve gone through more than you thought you should have, or you’ve added more electrical loads, you’ve added the telematics, they’ve added HVAC system. You’re not getting the performance out of that that you think you should. We have a tech service bulletin that’ll go through step by step on how to calculate your vehicle’s load.

And then we take that calculation, go to our power curve, you wanna make sure you’re covering all your loads at idle. So you know, have 150 amp load, 150, 160. That doesn’t sound like a ton, but that’s at idle, 250 amp alternator, 240 amp alternator probably doesn’t put out most of ’em put out 150 amps at idle.

So our 350 amp alternator puts out 200, 210 amps at idle. But that’s how you kind of calculate it. You wanna see what your vehicle load is and then you wanna compensate for the thermal degradation, you wanna leave a bill bit to go back to the batteries. So you’re 10% for thermal degradation because any alternator, I don’t care whose it is, once that alternator starts getting warm or any electrical motor that gets warm, it loses efficiency.

At 70 degrees, it puts out it’s 4,000 rpm, it’s putting out 250 amps, well at 125 degrees C, it’s putting out less than that at the same amperage and that it’s mine, yours, whoever makes those. But you wanna make sure that you can compensate for that temperature as well because the under hood temperatures have gone up as well as the apertures have gone up and they’ll continue to go up because as you get aerodynamics, you don’t want air coming into the motor, you want it going around, you want it going underneath.

So the under hood engine temperatures have gone up significantly as well. So all of our products that we have ’em at 125 degrees C even our 420 amp Idle Pro stream alternators rated at 125 degrees C.

Jamie Irvine:

Okay, let’s talk about Idle Pro because that’s a line that your company has brought out. It’s specifically for that user that needs that next level technology. So let’s talk a little bit about it. What is Idle Pro? What makes it perform the way it does?

Jonathan Smith:

We have our Idle Pro alternators. They are high amperage, dual internal fan alternators. They’re coated for corrosion resistance. We are first fit on Navistar with 160 amp version. And then on Thomas bus, Bluebird bus, we’re a 210 amp version. We also have a 240 amp version that has about 160 hundred 70 amp SU idol. The 210 and the 240 are covered by our Prestolite Power Promise warranty.

So on a brush unit we’re giving a three year unlimited mileage warranty. And then when you step up to brushless units, we have our Idle Pro extreme alternators and they’re 220 amp up to 420 amp brushless, high amp brushless units. They’re coated for corrosion resistance, they have the remote sense, the lamp driver, and we use bar wound staters so that they have significantly more outputted idle. So even the 220 amp has over 200 amps at idle.

Jamie Irvine:

So it sounds like a lot of engineering went into this Idle Pro line and it really comes down to matching the part to the application. So let’s talk a little bit about economic impact. You alluded to this before in our previous segment, but when you have something that has a higher purchase price, like the Idle Pro line, does it actually cost more?

Jonathan Smith:

No. I mean, and that’s the thing, you know, get to a 350 amp alternator. So you’ve gone out and you’ve bought your truck and then you put on a battery HVAC system and then we give you the bill or you get the bill for the 350 amp alternator like I do, I can get a 200 amp alternator for a third of that or half of that. So what are the things that are really important in the market today? Keeping your vehicle on the road and driver attention, right, because it’s hard to get drivers.

So you’ve cheaped out on the alternator, you put a 200 amp alternator on this battered HVAC system, your driver goes out, he drives eight hours down the road, he stops at night and this system is designed to give eight to 10 hours of creature comforts, battered HVAC. So if it’s cold or it’s hot,

Jamie Irvine:

He gets his chimmy chonga puts it in the microwave boom, no power.

Jonathan Smith:

Absolutely. Yeah. So instead he gets there instead of having eight to 10 hours and three hours in, he’s hot, he’s cold, his chimmy chonga is cold.

Jamie Irvine:

In the middle of emailing or Face Timing with his wife and the system goes down and his tablet that’s charging dies. I mean now the guy’s, he’s mad,

Jonathan Smith:

He’s mad. And the other thing we alluded to earlier was low voltage. So not you’ve got all these components that are low voltage, you’re not covering your loads as you go down the road because you didn’t put a big enough alternator on. So any of your sensors, electrical components, you have switches, sensors, all that stuff, your seat, the ECM that just controls your seat low voltage to that can burn out that component. So how many of those things do you go through when you saved X amount of dollars, you went for a third of the price alternator, but you’ve gone through significant electrical components.

One road stop, one breakdown on the side of the road for any one of these wipes out. The difference in money you saved on that one alternator before you even go and change that alternator and put the right one on. So total cost of ownership, put on our 350 amp Idle Pro extreme alternator and you get the battered H VC you need and you have four years of limited mileage warranty on that. All your electric components are covered, your batteries are cycling optimally. Paying out a little bit more on the front end really get you a lot of benefit on the other side.

Jamie Irvine:

I mean even if you were just to pick one of the more easily measured economic parts of this equation. So I spend three times as much buying the part, but it lasts for four years instead of two. Right? Well and all of a sudden that bill to have it changed and the labor and the additional downtime, proper decision around purchase price is now making you money two years out.

If it fails a third time, well now you’re into actually really driving down lower total cost of operation. And then there’s all of those other components. How much does it cost when if you’re not running a fleet in the way that you should and there’s constant breakdowns and you’re losing drivers because of it, what is the cost of hiring and training a driver? It’s in the thousands. So sometimes it’s a little bit of a leap for people to say, yeah, well what I choose on spec for alternators isn’t going to affect driver retention.

I mean, how are you correlating those two? Maybe it’s not a direct correlation, but it’s certainly part of the equation. And so a percentage of the cost of retention and hiring and training would have to be allocated to the total decisions you make as a fleet on parts.

And when I was selling parts, Jonathan, and maybe you can speak to this because you do a lot of work with fleets and training and things like that through your distribution network, but when I was selling parts, I kind of found that if the fleet had a culture around lower total cost of operation, they bought higher quality parts and that seemed to infiltrate every aspect of the way they did business. Conversely, if not, it has negative implications across the board on the way they run their business. Is that what you’ve seen as well?

Jonathan Smith:

I’ve seen that and I’ve seen even simpler. If I’ve gone to a fleet and I’ve gone to a fleet with an outside guy and we walk in the door and I’m tripping over cores here and I’m skin to my pant leg on brake drum that’s greasy and I come out.

Jamie Irvine:

You get that one dot of axle grease and then all of a sudden it’s like all over your shirt. You’re like, how did that happen?

Jonathan Smith:

Yeah, I mean head to toe. Yeah.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, it’s in your hair.

Jonathan Smith:

Hair I have left. But yeah, it’s those kind of things. Simple things, a clean, I can walk in and if I know somebody’s going to say, Hey, I’m having a problem, I can walk in there and know if they’re having problems or not. Simplest thing on the vehicle is keep your batteries clean. That keeps the discharge down on the batteries because if the batteries are discharging, the truck’s gotta work harder to keep those charged during the day. So yeah, that starts with keeping things clean, keeping your vehicles clean, and then looking at beyond the cost of the part here as what it’s going to get you all the way across.

Jamie Irvine:

Hey Jonathan, can you think of any occasion where a fleet made this change with the Idle Pro product line and then they got some significant improvements? Because I know you’re been selling this now for a little over a year or a couple years now. Can you think of any specific stories where fleets were successful? Because I think sometimes we can talk about the idea, but then if we show them an example, it helps people to kind of conceptualize it.

Jonathan Smith:

We had a significant national fleet that we’ve been working with because on these all alternators, you just don’t go to DTNA and say, Hey put this in your option book. We have to go through a five season task in order to get the alternator qualified to even in DTNA. I mean they’re very strict as far as what they’ll allow you to put on. Even a big fleet says, Hey, I wanna put this alternator on my truck. Well until it passes the five season test, we’re not going to do it. And I don’t care how many trucks you wanna order.

So we had a large fleet that we had some not as much success with, and probably 25 years ago we went back in there with this alternator and they put it on versus the competitor’s product and performance at idle, performance over the road with the coating and the high temperature rating. We were not only allowed us to pass our five season tests, but they’re going to be specking our alternator on those vehicles as opposed to the competitor’s product.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. The five season. So that’s literally, it has to be, what, 15 months? I was just thinking you might be able to get lucky on one season, maybe on two, but not on all four plus an extra winter like the performance in the lab versus the performance in the field. And that’s where it’s gotta pass the mustard.

It’s gotta be something that operates in real world conditions across that, like you say, that large range of temperature, all of those conditions, and you have to be able to repeat that success season after season. So that’s cool. I didn’t know that. They actually called it a five season test.

Jonathan Smith:

Yeah. We’re very well versed in the five season test.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, you’ve gotten your PhD in that. You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. We’ve been speaking with Jonathan Smith, the Business Development and Marketing Manager at Prestolite Electric. To learn more about Prestolite, go to prestolite.com. Links will be in the show notes. Jonathan, thank you so much for coming back on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I love talking all things electrical with you.

Jonathan Smith:

Yeah, no, thanks a lot for having me on. I really appreciate it. Always a pleasure.

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