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Exploring Low Voltage Batteries for Heavy-Duty Trucks

The role of low voltage batteries and how they can help fleets avoid premature failure in commercial batteries.

Episode 301: In the old days, batteries for heavy-duty trucks had an easy job. They powered the starter to start the truck and they provided power for the interior lights, the radio, and maybe the clock on the dashboard. These days, batteries are tasked more than ever before. They power HVAC components, safety components, and the many computers inside a modern-day truck. If your batteries are dead, the 21st-century truck just won’t function, let alone start.

In this week’s episode, we’re speaking to Clarios, one of the leading battery manufacturers in the world. They’re pioneering low-voltage battery solutions for electric and ICE trucks. These 12-volt batteries can power features with a constant power draw, leaving the high-voltage batteries for starting the truck. Listen to the episode to find out more about low-voltage batteries and how you can avoid premature failure of your batteries.

Exploring Low Voltage Batteries for Heavy-Duty Trucks with Clarios


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Disclaimer: This content and description may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, The Heavy Duty Parts Report may receive a commission. 

Transcript of Episode

Jamie Irvine:

Welcome to another episode of The Heavy Duty Parts Report. This is Episode 301. As promised in the last two episodes, we talked about a new format, and today is the day that we air an episode with this new format. So first I want to start off by talking about a specific subject, something that my consultants and I are seeing in the industry.

It’s concerning. I think you need to know about it and it dovetails nicely into our featured guest. So our featured guest is going to talk a lot about changing technology on commercial trucks, specifically with their battery systems. Now let’s talk about technology for a minute.

For the last few years, I’ve been advocating that distributors and manufacturers of heavy-duty parts embrace technology that allows them to move from the traditional distribution model into a digital sales channel. Now, I have never said that we should abandon the best parts of the traditional model, but I do believe that there is room for improvement.

But there is a concerning trend that I’m seeing that I wanted to address because I think that it is very important that our industry thinks about adopting technology in a very specific way. So when you’re a heavy-duty parts manufacturer and you’re a distributor, you’re there to serve the end user, the owner operator, the fleet, the repair shop, the mobile technician.

And what I have seen from some companies is that when they start down the road of integrating new technology that has an impact or has the potential at least for positively impacting the buying experience for the end user customer, they oftentimes are making decisions that are good for them as the supplier, but not necessarily translating into an improvement in the buying experience for the customer.

And here’s the thing, if it doesn’t improve the buying experience for the end user, customer adoption is going to be low, right?

If it’s still easier to pick up the phone, make a phone call, wait and talk to someone on the parts counter, wait for the parts to be delivered, or go down to the parts counter and pick up the parts yourself. If that’s still an easier process, and that’s a process that gets the right part to you the fastest, you’re not going to log into and be worried about whether or not you’re getting the right part. Be worried about whether or not this part’s going to show up when it says it’s going to be.

You’re going to default back to your old behavior and you’re going to use the traditional distribution model. But if we use technology to actually improve the buying experience for the end user customer, as demographic inversion continues to impact and shape our business landscape, more and more of these experienced people who grew up working in the traditional distribution are going to retire.

And the people who replace them, especially the end user customers, are going to start demanding a different buying experience. They’re not going to have as many people to draw on. They’re going to be overworked, and they’re going to be looking for the easy button with a technology that they trust and that they can have confidence in.

If you’re in charge of a heavy-duty parts company and you’re thinking about transitioning or you’re in the process of transitioning, please ask yourself, is this what the customer needs and wants and is this going to make their experience better?

If the answer is no, no matter how much convenience it brings to you as the supplier, it’s the wrong choice. Now at the Heavy Duty Consulting Corporation, we work with dozens of companies and one of our core offerings is to help people make that digital transformation possible in their business. And we help people to build something that actually works for the end user customer.

So make sure you head over to heavydutyconsulting.com, check out our services. You’ll see where we list digital transformation. You can learn more about what we do there. I wanted to bring our podcast director, Diana Cudmore more into the conversation because she discovered a perfect example of what not to do. So Diana, welcome to The Heavy Duty Parts Report.

Diana Cudmore:

Thank you so much, Jamie, I appreciate it.

Jamie Irvine:

So you were listening in backstage as I laid out my argument for why we need to be focused on the end user customers buying experience. You brought forward to me a example of what not to do. Can you give us a little bit of background on that?

Diana Cudmore:

Yeah, absolutely. So Jamie, you had mentioned that there was a certain distributor, we’re not going to name them, who is investing in technology that’s going to make their world easier, but they’re completely ignoring the end user, just as you said. That’s absolutely a shortsighted move. Another part of that trend that we’re seeing is the cost of these e-commerce solutions, digital transformation solutions.

I mean, it’s common to see these digital e-commerce solutions possibly charging like half a million dollars to make this transition. And whether it’s actually worth that amount is up for debate, let’s say. But I read a really interesting article about the birth of the, so-called software as a service. So Salesforce has been in the news recently.

They’re having some bumpy times as are all of us. When Salesforce was founded in 1999, they kind of invented this whole software as a service idea where instead of paying for a software, implementing it and having no further cost to the maker of the software, now you’re paying a monthly fee. And when it comes to manufacturers in our industry, that monthly fee could be upwards of $50,000. Honestly, it’s outrageous.

However, when you see that big number looming over you, we know that the cost of software has absolutely ballooned. And that number can be scary, especially in economic times like this. But we need to remember that the ROI on that investment is going to be way bigger as long as you choose the solution that fits your company. That is the kind of long-term thinking that we need. What do you think, Jamie?

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, as long as you pick the solution that fits your company and that empowers you to improve the buying experience for the end user customer.

Diana Cudmore:

Yeah, absolutely. And as you said, Jamie, we help people set up these digital sales channels over at the Heavy Duty Consulting Corporation. Now this is a perfect alignment with our featured guest because Clarios has definitely invested in making their end user customers at the center of all of the things that they do, right?

Jamie Irvine:

That’s right. Diana, my conversation with Clarios was one that was centered on technology and making sure the end user customer has exactly what they need. We’re going to hear from our sponsors and take a quick break. We’ll be right back.

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We’re back from the break. Before the break, Diana and I were talking to you about technology, about the importance of making sure the end user customer has exactly what they need to make their buying experience better.

That’s when technology is at its best and that’s what heavy-duty companies should be focused on. And our featured guest, Clarios is one such company that is putting a great deal of focus on making sure that end users of the trucking industry, owner operators, fleets, repair technicians, mobile technicians, they have the information they need to make a great buying decision and to adjust the batteries that they spec for the vocations of the trucks that they either operate or repairing.

Let’s get started by listening in to Federico from Clarios, talk about a little bit of an overview of their products, but also about the current situation of batteries. Right now we’re at AAPEX in Las Vegas, AAPEX ’23, and I’m at the Clarios booth, and I was really happy to come and have a conversation with Clarios today because in trucking, the technology on equipment is rapidly changing.

This is having an impact on the electrical systems and the charging systems, and so Clarios is the perfect person to come talk to a great company because they understand these systems. So I’m really looking forward to having my conversation with this man right here. So this is Federico Morales Zimmerman. He’s the Group Vice President and General Manager of Original Equipment, also involved heavily in R&D at Clarios and Clarios is one of the largest manufacturers of batteries for nearly every type of vehicle.

They understand these systems for heavy-duty, but they also are involved in all of the electrical systems and batteries for automotive, medium-duty and heavy-duty. So Federico, with all of that said, welcome to The Heavy Duty Parts Report.

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Jamie Irvine:

Glad to have you here. So let’s talk about some of the significant changes that we’ve seen over the last few years. As we were prepping for this conversation I was mentioning that 25 years ago when everything was mechanical, it was a completely different world. So give us an overview of really what’s driving the need for a change in batteries and electrical systems in general for commercial trucks.

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Thank you. Thank you very much. I think for commercial trucks specifically, we see a couple of fundamental changes in the industry, not only from the technology perspective but also from a sustainability and circularity perspective. And I think this is where we as Clarios play a key role in how do we design the best value low voltage applications for the truck.

The truck now is becoming more digitalized, becoming more safer, becoming more functionality around autonomous, and those are key enablers that are changing the architecture in the truck. And to be able to design the best low voltage solutions for this, you have to be able to understand the systems of the architecture. It’s not any more simple placing a black box order for a battery.

It’s a process that includes deep understanding, deep collaboration with a truck manufacturer to find the best solution for them.

Diana Cudmore:

So that was great. Now Jamie, I know that you were around in the old days, so how about you tell me what was battery tech like maybe coming from the sixties up to the nineties?

Jamie Irvine:

Okay, so let’s just be clear here. I didn’t start my career in heavy-duty till 1998, so I wasn’t there selling heavy-duty parts back in the sixties. If you grew up, let’s say like I did as a kid in the eighties, or if you’re older than that, and even you Diana, probably the early vehicles when you were a child that your family had, they were very mechanical.

So think of that station wagon that we all drove around in as kids with our families and think about how the windows there was manual roll up and roll down the clock actually wasn’t even digital, it was an actual clock that had hands on it. The radio was not a complicated device, it was an a-track, a tape player. Then maybe in the nineties it was a CD player. But again, we’re talking about very, very basic inside of the cab controls.

And when you think about those older vehicles, they were basic, they were mechanical. The load on the battery was really only ever needed when you were going to start the vehicle, maybe if you were going to listen to the radio with the vehicle off, that was about the only time you would ever draw battery power.

So when you think about how everything was manual in those vehicles, it was no different in commercial trucks. In fact, they had less comfort than automotive back then. So with old trucks, there was really just four batteries.

They were called group 30 ones, and they were starting batteries. They were just there to start the vehicle. And again, maybe if you had the truck off and you were operating your CB radio or you were operating the radio to listen to music or something, that would be about the only time you would ever need to use battery power in those older vehicles. But of course everything has changed now.

Diana Cudmore:

Right exactly. Now I’m 29 right now, but believe it or not, I am old enough to remember why we call it rolling down the windows, but nowadays I think of my personal vehicle and everything is electric. And I’m sure that that’s carried over to heavy-duty as well.

Jamie Irvine:

Oh, absolutely. In fact, I would say even more so especially if you’re in the long haul business, you have a sleeper cab and you’ve got creature comforts built into that vehicle, right? You’ve got a microwave, maybe you’ve got a PlayStation four or five, you’ve want to control the climate in the vehicle while you’re sleeping. And then in addition to that, there are so many more electronic components in the cab of that truck.

So everything is electronic. You’ve got big display screens, you’ve got electric windows, you’ve got specific ECMs just dedicated to controlling the seat of the vehicle for the driver.

It is crazy how much these vehicles have changed and have been modernized and how much electronics are now used. And you think of also telematics and just the list goes on and on and on. Even the way that the vehicle shifts gears. In the old days when everything was mechanical, it was all done by cable. Now it’s all done by electric signals.

And so just the entire commercial vehicles, all of those trucks now, especially the long haul ones, but even the vocational trucks have such a higher demand for power for electricity. And if that vehicle isn’t on, if that truck’s not running and the alternator isn’t generating electricity, then you’re drawing down your batteries like never before.

Diana Cudmore:

Wow. So I could understand how this sort of older system of batteries just isn’t really working. So what are battery manufacturers maybe like Clarios doing to kind update this system so that we’re not always waking up to a dead battery in the morning?

Jamie Irvine:

So here’s the problem. The load on batteries is growing almost like year over year, right? It’s getting more and more and more. And in many ways we’re still thinking about it like that bank of four batteries that are just there as starting batteries.

And that’s where you can get into trouble because as the trucks are advancing in technology, the specs for the batteries are changing. And when you go to change your batteries, sometimes the old school thinking about batteries goes into play and people just end up installing like four group 31 batteries and they’re not designed for the new needs.

So it’s even worse with sleeper cabs, like I mentioned, vocational trucks, it’s bad enough. But with sleeper cabs and long haul, you’ve got all of these things like running your AC and you can have all of these different components that are electronic, create a parasitic draw on the battery, which results in batteries being depleted faster, they’re having to be depleted and then charged back up again, depleted, then charged.

And they’re not really designed for that if you’re installing those kind of starting batteries only. And so then they fail prematurely. And so a couple things can happen. One, you can get stuck out on the road with some dead batteries and that creates a mechanical call and having to have someone come out and get some new batteries and install them, and that’s downtime.

You can also have where certain components in the truck just aren’t working at full capacity and that can cause all kinds of other problems as well. It’s not a good situation, and so you need to update the way you look at batteries when you’re working on these modern trucks.

Diana Cudmore:

Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Let’s hear from Federico. He explaining this concept of rather than high voltage, low voltage batteries and how they can assist in this issue. So let’s hear from Federico.

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Low voltage will I think become even more important to the future, and it’s because of safety relevant features of trucks. When it comes to safety, there’s nothing you can compromise and in the voltage architecture, it’s going to become more evident and more embedded into the systems to support safety critical functions.

Also, from the overall system perspective, if you look ahead specifically in the truck world, going more into a service oriented provider, we can bring more solutions, meaning being able to predict the health of the battery, for instance, it’s a key word right now.

We are right now running a couple of fleet where we are trying to utilize our knowledge around chemistries, around electronics, around software to be able to protect the health of the battery and with that to reduce significant downtime for truck operators and fleet operators.

Diana Cudmore:

So Federico mentioned that they’re working on predicting the health of batteries. How is that even possible? Because it seems like your batteries are totally fine until one day you wake up, it’s cold in your truck and they’re not fine, they’re dead. So how are they changing the situation from knowing that a battery is dead when it’s too late to actually being able to predict that in the future?

Jamie Irvine:

So batteries consist of metal plates basically sitting in an acid mixture. It’s where you create that chemical reaction that allows the battery to hold the charge and as they discharge and recharge, those plates can corrode.

I also mentioned that when you are working in environments where there’s a lot of vibration, road vibration, those plates over time can break as well, which then that creates the battery to slowly lose its ability to hold a charge. Eventually, as these plates get fragile and they break, like I said, they can’t hold the charge anymore.

So if you have, let’s say 10 plates in a battery and one breaks, your battery starts to reduce by a percentage, maybe 10%, and then another one breaks another one, another one, another one, eventually the battery just can’t hold a charge anymore. And that’s not the only reason these plates breaking. That’s said the only reason that that happens.

But that’s one of the reasons as batteries though, if they’re not designed to completely discharge and recharge on a regular basis, it’s just kind of like driving a vehicle in first gear on the highway. You could do it for a while, but it’s not designed to do that. So eventually something’s going to break.

At any rate, over time batteries lose their ability to hold charge. And so what companies are doing now is they’re saying, look, based on the usage of this battery, we can then with algorithms predict when that battery is likely to fail. So you have to think about the situation with starting batteries. They’re designed to put out a lot of charge to start the battery for a very short period of time.

The alternator charges them back up again and they stay at basically full for long periods of time. If you then have that battery, that’s a starting battery and you’re using it inappropriately by drawing down all of the battery charge to zero and then having to charge it back up again, and you’re doing that over and over again because running these hotel features, that’s just going to cause the battery to fail prematurely.

So it’s really now the way we look at it now is you have to match the right kind of battery for the application to meet the demands of the truck and the vocation of how that truck is being used.

Diana Cudmore:

Right. That makes perfect sense. So let’s see what Federico has to say about this

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

When it comes again to the system understanding correct, and I think the functionality that you need on those battery solutions. I think again, it’s not anymore about placing a blank order for a battery. You have to really understand what’s required on the architecture side of the vehicle not to provide the most costly solution. I would say the most value added solution for the customers.

Jamie Irvine:

Yeah, value added. So we’re talking about the difference between just looking at the purchase price and actually matching what you’re buying to your specific need. So how would you recommend, if you’re a fleet and you’re looking at a maintenance and repair program, how should they go about deciding which battery they choose for different vocations?

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

I think this is a question that we get a lot from our customers, depends on the usage of your truck, depends on which fleets are you operating, which ranges are you having in mind, and also also the weather conditions played a significant goal into it. So if you can be able to simulate this in a way that you can simulate the entire architecture of it, I think this is where we can provide the biggest value to the customers.

Jamie Irvine:

And when you take the time to do that, then you can very quickly see, well, if I buy the incorrect battery and inject it into my fleet, it’s going to, yeah, maybe it’s cheaper to buy, but it’s going to cost an awful lot on the backend where you’re going to have all kinds of issues. What kinds of issues do you see come up when someone’s not matched the battery now to the vocation?

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Well, for the truck operator, it comes to the downtime solution, correct? You want to avoid downtime, costly downtime solutions, but not a specify, not using the right battery solution in your truck. You will run into issues. You want to run into downtime, you want to run into significant repair cost as well because you don’t have a mismatch of battery systems in your truck, which is going to be at the end of it more costly.

Jamie Irvine:

So maybe break down for me the specific types of things that happen that lead to the downtime. Are we just talking about a battery that loses its charge more quickly? Are we talking about systems failures within the truck? What are we talking about when we say that it contributes to downtime?

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Well, the truck nowadays are becoming more and more complex. The power loads in the truck, the battery is not only to start the engine when you are basically sitting on the parking lot, you have a system you have to operate, you have certain devices in the truck that you are operating.

So this I think where the battery systems come into play and by not utilizing the right setup, you will run into significant downtime. You will run into significant health issues of the battery and use multi batteries solutions. You’ll also be start damaging other batteries that could be holding a longer life.

Jamie Irvine:

Right? So it’s a completely different world if you’re on the part side of the business. You need to really learn and work with manufacturers and suppliers like Clarios is to be able to understand how to help customers diagnose problems, how to make the right recommendations.

Diana Cudmore:

So Federico is mentioning how we’re matching the battery type to the vocation, just like you said, Jamie. So I want to learn a little bit more what are the different types of batteries and how are they different from each other? And then how can you use that information to match it to the type of vocation or duty cycle? Can you tell me about that, Jamie?

Jamie Irvine:

So admittedly, I’m not as up to speed on this subject as I used to be because I’m not selling these products regularly and a lot has changed since I stopped selling parts. When I was selling parts, like I said, there was always a good better, best, but it was still always starting batteries. So you had your cheap kind of economic, we would call them the good battery, but they were cheap and you were replacing them every year.

Then there was AGM batteries. Like I say, they wrapped the plates in that fiberglass based glass mat that protects it from vibration. And those batteries were, they were 30, 40% more money, but they lasted longer. So if you could get a year and a half or two years out of those, your purchase price was higher, but your total cost was lower.

Then there was some premium batteries that were really starting to come out at that time, and those batteries had different chemical compositions and they were starting to get into this concept of if you’re going to be drawing those batteries down and having to recharge them continuously, they had the right chemistry to handle that.

And that’s where we are now. There’s now this idea of low voltage in the sense of that these batteries are specifically designed to handle being drawn down and recharged, but they also are integrated into a system where they are trying to reduce the amount of voltage draw on the battery as much as possible.

And if you can kind of think about it in terms, if you’re not a technician and you’re like, what are you talking about? Well, think about it in terms of your washer dryer at home or your appliances at home.

At one point they used up a lot of resources and now they have all these smart devices and they have all these high efficiency devices. So if you think of your washing machine or your dishwasher, it’s no longer using as much water. It’s no longer using as much electricity. It’s high efficiency.

And so we’re moving towards the need for that very rapidly, not even moving towards it. We are there now where these new trucks, they require these more efficient, low voltage components are built into the entire system and then there’s a battery that matches those needs. And so I think just gone are the days of just being able to throw in a group 31, a bank of four and call it good. That’s just not the right way of approaching it anymore.

So you’ve got to really work with your suppliers to talk about the specific needs of your application, your vocation, and make sure that you’re matching that correctly to get the optimal performance, but also to reduce your total cost of operation because otherwise you will be replacing batteries prematurely, but you can also create other issues in the system.

If there’s insufficient power to those systems, then they might start to falter as well, and you can just kind of create a whole series of problems and that’s just like money out of your pocket all day long. So we want to avoid that by making sure you match your application, your vocation and your needs for energy and power to the batteries that you’re using.

Diana Cudmore:

And a manufacturer like Clarios I’m sure would be able to help you do just that.

Jamie Irvine:

What kind of support do you give to your customers to empower their parts people to learn this?

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Yeah, I think, again, I think we are moving right now from a model. Let’s say we were looking from a purely component side to more system thinking and more service thinking for the end customer. I think on the battery side, predicting the health of the battery is going to become very, very important because you can avoid, again, significant downtimes with that.

So we have the chemistry understanding of the battery combined with electronics understanding, and with that, we can simulate and adopt certain algorithm to predict the health of the battery. So this is an area where we are stepping up, going more into the service side of the business where I think we can create more value for the customers.

Jamie Irvine:

So is this going to be a situation where in the future you’ll be able to have a fleet who will be able to look at their battery systems across their fleet and they’ll be able to say, you know what, before that truck goes out, we need to address an issue because they won’t make it back before that battery fails.

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

Got it. Exactly. This preventive maintenance thinking before the battery fails, you’re already changing the battery or checking the battery to make sure it’s correct.

Jamie Irvine:

Fantastic. Fantastic. So for people who’d like to learn more about Clarios and all of the products that they offer, go to clarios.com. Links are in the show notes. Thank you so much for taking some time. I know it’s busy at a trade show, but it’s great to talk to you and learn. I really appreciate that.

Federico Morales-Zimmerman:

A pleasure talk to you. Thank you so much. Thank you.

Jamie Irvine:

That was my conversation with Clarios at AAPEX ’23. I really enjoyed that conversation. Once again, highlighting the importance of making sure your customers have the information they need to make the best possible buying decision and making sure that we are focused on that buying experience for customers. So a big thank you to everyone at Clarios for joining us at AAPEX ’23 and being our featured guest today.

Before we’re done today’s episode, we want to introduce another brand new segment for the first time. This segment is called, That’s Not Heavy Duty. Welcome back to the show, Diana. Talk to us a little bit about what we discovered from this shop in Edmonton, just down the street from where I live.

Diana Cudmore:

So this shop unfortunately tried to take some shortcuts and that led to a very painful fine of $108,000.

Jamie Irvine:

231 infractions, I believe was the count.

Diana Cudmore:

So how does that even happen?

Jamie Irvine:

Well, I think there is a very, very small group of people in the industry that are just straight up criminals. They’re crooks and they’re just trying to cut every corner possible, but that is not the norm. I think that it is quite possible that the more common scenario is just that slowly over time, the business owner and the technicians make decisions that are, they’re small little corners that they cut here and there, and it just slowly builds over time. And then you can see a positive feedback loop happening.

So we cut a corner here, we start to cut a corner there, we get away with it, but then we kind of have a reputation of being a shop that cuts corners. So then we only attract customers who want us to cut corners, and it just kind of spirals out of control, and then all of a sudden, bam, you get hit with these kinds of fines and all of these infractions. So I think that’s the more common scenario. It’s just something that happens slowly over time.

There’s a bible proverb or principle where it says, if you’re faithful in small things, you’ll be faithful in large. So normally speaking, these shops don’t just start on day one doing stuff that’s totally illegal. It starts off with just them taking a little shortcut there and a little shortcut here, and all of a sudden it becomes part of the culture of the company and it spirals out of control. It’s not heavy-duty. It’s not the heavy-duty way.

Diana Cudmore:

It’s not. It’s not. And if you’re saving a couple bucks by taking a shortcut over and over again, 231 times in a row, any savings that you might have gotten, it catches up to you, doesn’t it? This $108,000 fine.

This is just one little shop, that fine is going to really hurt. But let’s take it as a lesson to all of the heavy-duty people out there and all of the shops that are operating in a true heavy- duty way that we all need to do the right thing even when no one is looking.

Jamie Irvine:

Especially when no one is looking. Thank you, Diana, so much for our first edition of That’s Not Heavy Duty, and thank you to all of you for listening to this week’s episode, Episode 301 with our new format. We hope you enjoyed it.

We want to hear your feedback. Go over to heavydutypartsreport.com. Make sure you follow the show. Click the button to follow us, and you’ll get one weekly email from us so you never miss out on any content. If you love listening on the podcast player of your choice, hit that follow button.

Give us a review on iTunes if you’re an Apple user. And if you like watching the video version, make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel. Thank you so much for your ongoing support. And as always, Be Heavy Duty.

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