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Diesel And Battery Electric Powertrains: What’s The Difference?

Views: 0     Author: by Cummins Inc., Global Power Technology Leader     Publish Time: 2024-02-18      Origin: Cummins News


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Diesel and battery electric powertrains: What’s the difference?

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As we enter the energy transition in the transportation industry, alternative power continues to emerge, many grounded on the technologies, designs and innovations of our existing power sources like diesel engines. Battery electric powertrains are increasingly popular, due to their zero emissions status, low upkeep costs and simplified maintenance, but not everyone is ready to switch to electric powertrains or advanced diesel powertrains.

Discover the differences between diesel powertrains and battery electric powertrains, and how both help us in our journey to reduce emissions.


The powertrain refers to a set of parts that work together to provide the power to move a vehicle.

Diesel powertrains use a diesel engine to power the vehicle. Diesel fuel is injected into the engine, which creates thermal energy through combustion and generates the power to move the vehicle. A diesel powertrain includes the transmission, drive shafts, differentials and axles that work together to move the vehicle.

In electric vehicles, the components of a powertrain are a bit different, but the basic idea is the same. Instead of an engine, there is an electric motor. Instead of a fuel tank, there is a battery.

The motor uses energy from the battery to spin the wheels. The powertrain includes power electronics, like an inverter, to control the speed and the power of the electric motor and a vehicle controller to align all the main and auxiliary power components based on energy needs and consumption. Depending on a customer’s application and needs, the powertrain can include either a single or multi-speed transmission.

Like how a diesel vehicle goes to a diesel station when it’s time to refuel, an electric vehicle would go to a charging station. There are different levels of charging stations available to meet the demands of electric commercial vehicles. The adoption of higher-power charging stations in the future will reduce the charge time to be similar to how long it takes to refill a diesel tank.

When we compare diesel engines and battery electric powertrains, they have their strengths and challenges. Electric vehicles lead the way in sustainability as they don’t emit carbon emissions when in operation. On the other hand, while diesel engines still emit emissions, diesel technology has improved. Today’s clean diesel engines emit 90% less emissions than the engines produced before the year 2000. Additionally, all Cummins’ automotive and industrial engines are compatible with B5 biodiesel. Cummins’ on-highway engine models from 2007 on (to today) are B20 compatible.


Each powertrain type offers key advantages and benefits to customers. Electric powertrains are best suited for urban city transportation where drivers experience stop-and-go traffic more frequently. Each time an electric vehicle stops, energy is generated by the electric motor and fed back into the onboard energy storage system to be used for the next acceleration. Electric powertrains require limited maintenance as they do not have as many parts – no fuel filters, aftertreatment systems or additives.

There are also key advantages to diesel engines. Diesel engines are some of the most fuel and energy-efficient options in the market. They are a great option for long-distance travel, as diesel vehicles can travel 20% to 25% farther on a single gallon of fuel compared to similarly sized gasoline vehicles. In addition to their long-distance capabilities, diesel engines have a long lifespan, built tough to handle high compression and hard work. They deliver strong acceleration, towing and hauling potential.

For customers looking to reduce their emissions today, since 2007, all Cummins engines have been approved to use blends up to B20.

Ultimately, there are many factors to consider when choosing if a diesel or battery electric powertrain is right for a customer – whether it meets their day-to-day needs, emissions targets or business goals all within their budget.


As technologies evolve and infrastructure improves, these considerations may change, further tipping the scales in favor of electric vehicles.


Battery electric buses already represent the future of public transportation. The West Grand School District (WGSD) in Colorado added Blue Bird Type-D All-American electric bus to its fleet in March 2020. The bus features an Accelera™ by Cummins PowerDrive 7000 system. The Orange Unified School District (OUSD) in California currently operates with 15 Accelera-powered Blue Bird electric buses and has applied for funding for an additional 16.

Using only electricity for power. The electric buses remove carbon tailpipe emissions from the equations, significantly improving local air quality, lowering noise pollution and improving the driver and passenger experience.

Both WGSD and OUSD report that their communities and students enjoy the quiet, clean ride and appreciate that there are no exhaust smells when using electric buses.


The trucking industry is increasingly adopting electric powertrain systems for medium and heavy-duty applications. Battery electric trucks significantly reduce operating costs due to lower fuel and maintenance expenses, and with zero tailpipe emissions, they contribute to cleaner air quality and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

If you’re interested in learning more about battery electric power solutions, don’t forget to explore Accelera™ by Cummins battery systems and solutions.


Having been working for over a hundred years, diesel engines are deeply integrated into our daily lives, powering many industries, businesses and communities.


Trucking: The trucking industry relies heavily on diesel engines, from dump trucks, pickup trucks and utility vehicles to box and flatbed trucks.

First Responders: Diesel engines are reliable and durable, making them an optimal option for first responders. First responders don’t need to be concerned about whether or not their engine will start in the event of an emergency call.

Defense: Military companies depend on the durability of diesel engines on the battlefield. See how Cummins Inc. powers the U.S. Army with opposed-piston technology that boosts power and heat rejection capabilities.


Agriculture: Diesel engines help farmers ensure that food moves from their fields to our tables. Cummins has powered agriculture for over 100 years with over 1 million Cummins engines currently running for the world’s farmers.

Construction: Time is money. Advanced diesel engines like the Cummins X12 and X15 increase load capabilities and use less fuel.

Mining: Advanced diesel engines like the QSK60 offer more uptime and productivity while lowering emissions, keeping mines operating and moving toward a more sustainable future. Cummins has also approved the use of unblended hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90% when considering the whole lifecycle.

If you’re interested in diesel, you can learn more about how diesel engines are helping us today.

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