After nearly four decades at the company, Amy Boerger, vice president and general manager of Cummins North American On-Highway business, is retiring. For 39 years, Boerger has been a fixture at Cummins, pioneering many advancements in the trucking industry.
Starting as an engineer, Boerger helped elevate Cummins’ reputation as a leading company in diesel engines, and later with alternative fuel solutions to meet the environmentally cleaner and “greener” future coming at the trucking industry. She was also influential in opening doors to new opportunities for women and distinguished herself as an effective, successful and high-profile leader in a field where men historically outnumbered women.
In the wake of her retirement announcement, HDT sat down with Boerger and her replacement, Jose Samperio, to talk about Cummins’ current and future on-highway business and technologies.
Samperio will assume the role of executive director and general manager – North America On-Highway upon Boerger’s retirement in March. He brings nearly 20 years of Cummins experience across engineering, service, strategy and sales. His Cummins career began at the Jamestown Engine Plant as a product engineer, a service engineer and in distribution service shop operations. For the last two years he has been executive director – sales for the On-Highway Business in North and South America.
The following interview is lightly edited for clarity and style.
HDT: Congratulations on almost 40 years at Cummins! You certainly saw a lot of changes during your tenure with the company.
Boerger: Yes. It’s been a remarkable transformation. When I started as an engineer at our L10 manufacturing plant, that was just about the limit of our product offerings. We had no medium-duty engines. We played almost exclusively in the North American market. And since then, we’ve become a global company. And the breadth and depth of our product line today is really remarkable.
HDT: Cummins is undergoing an incredible transformation away from being purely a diesel engine manufacturer to a highly diversified automotive/truck supplier. How much did truck makers’ “vertical integration” movement in the early 2000s influence and drive that decision and effort?
Boerger: We had already begun to diversify before the vertical integration trend began. Trucking back then was a highly cyclical market, and we didn’t want to rely on a singular, cyclical market to sell our engines and products in. We knew change was coming — and it wasn’t just governmental regulations driving those changes. So we understood that to make Cummins grow and become stronger, we were going to have to push into new regions and new markets, with new products. One great example of that was our early commitment to natural gas engines. Our success there led us to think about broadening our product portfolio even further. And that continues today. Jose, for example, has developed a strategic team at Cummins to work with fuel providers about new clean powertrain options and act as a mediator to talk to fleets about their current and future needs. So, this is an ongoing transformation and process.
Samperio: On the most basic level, an on-highway fleet customer or an owner-operator is simply trying to move goods from Point A to Point B, and we supply the power that moves those goods. What we are telling our customers today is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be diesel fuel or an internal combustion engine that moves those goods. We see Cummins today as a company that is really fuel agnostic. And we believe that we have alternative powertrain options that as just as reliable as diesel fuel. It’s a culture that goes back more than 80 years at Cummins. We want to deliver modern, cutting-edge technology that moves goods as efficiently and productively as possible.
HDT: It’s interesting that process has led Cummins to become a new kind of Tier I automotive supplier. It could be argued that Cummins today is as much a “technology company” as it is an automotive supplier.
Boerger: I think that Cummins today is definitely a stronger and more capable company. Forging new partnerships and acquiring complementary companies when it makes sense has been a big part of that. We had to decide to let a little bit of our “secret sauce” engine formula loose, for example, in our partnership with Eaton to develop a fully integrated automated transmission that works seamlessly with our diesel engines. And now, with our acquisition of Meritor, we’re on a similar path, integrating their products with our own to guarantee seamless performance for our customers.
Samperio: This has really been a continuous journey for Cummins for many years now. Think back 20 years ago when Cummins was bringing its first turbochargers to market. Not long after that, we began to get into developing our own fuel systems. And all of these things we do are because they are critical for performance at the fleet level. Eaton and Meritor are just two recent examples of this philosophy. But the concept of performance and emission control has been a mainstay at Cummins for a very long time.
Boerger: I think that all Cummins has gone through over the last 20 years has led us to develop an extremely broad product portfolio that can meet every customer need out there today. There’s a lot of change coming to trucking, and we want to give our customers options that will let them do the work they need to.
HDT: One example: You made headlines last year with the announcement that Cummins is exploring the possibility of using hydrogen as a fuel in an otherwise conventional internal combustion engine design. Can you talk about little about that technology?
Boerger: With hydrogen, we see an opportunity here for fleets to move into a zero-emissions future in an environment they are very familiar with. And we were early to hydrogen as a possible future fuel. Our investment in Hydrogenics is an example of that vision. We realized early on that you can make hydrogen from any number of different sources. And we needed to understand that process in order to help our customers transition to hydrogen when the time came.
Samperio: The beauty of an ICE powered by hydrogen is that we’re really only changing one thing at a time for our customers — the fuel they burn in the engine. Obviously, there are aspects of their business that change because of that one thing. The supply chain and infrastructure, for example. But, overall, the powertrain is very similar to diesel ICEs. And we’ll be able to manufacture hydrogen engines in the same plant we build the X15 diesel engine today. So it’s simpler from both Cummins’ perspective and the customers’ perspective.
Additionally, our customers don’t have to invest in changing the layouts of their shops and service bays. And their technicians are very familiar with ICE technology. In terms of handling, we believe hydrogen will be very similar to natural gas. So, again, we believe hydrogen can be a way for fleets to move to zero-emissions powertrains by changing just a few things about their operations, rather than everything.
Boerger: I think the analogy is that hydrogen is going to be closer to how we use natural gas today. We can burn it as either a liquid or gaseous fuel. But we think it’s more likely it will burn in a gaseous form, as compressed hydrogen. And we do think the performance, in terms of range and power and cost of the fuel, will be about the same as natural gas is today.
HDT: Amy, you mentioned “options” as a driving force behind Cummins’ research, development and product portfolio. Why do you feel that’s so important for Cummins’ future?
Boerger: We want Cummins to be known as a progressive, innovative company. And we believe that’s important given the multiple technologies being introduced into trucking today.
Samperio: Different options are important when we talk to our fleet customers. We encourage our customers to not just jump at a technology that appears to be best for their needs. We want to change the conversation and try to understand how they operate and what they’re trying to accomplish. Once we understand those things, it’s a lot easier for Cummins to narrow the options down and really fine-tune a solution that meets all of their needs.