The Chicago Auto Show normally serves as a hot bed for pickup trucks that appeal to both the commercial and personal buyer and 2017 was no exception.
Plenty of automakers showed upmarket versions or limited editions of their most popular light trucks. What was missing was the type of major advances in self-driving technology that are showing up in passenger sedans.
Yet automakers say that self-driving technology is coming to all light vehicles, including pickup trucks.
During one presentation Thursday, Dan Amman, president of General Motors, showed a time-lapse video of a Chevrolet Bolt EV driving through the busy streets of San Francisco for 23 minutes without assistance from the driver.
What will a future like that mean for trucks?
Trucks.com posed that question to six auto executives at the 2017 Chicago Auto Show to learn their vision for the future. The following is a condensed version of their remarks.
Jim Morrison, head of Ram brand, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North America:
It’s important to watch the evolution and to be part of it. [That will be important] on the commercial side of things, with our ProMaster and ProMaster City vans that have regular routes and delivery. Certainly we’re paying attention to see what our customers are asking for and seeing how autonomy can blend into what their real everyday uses are for pickup trucks and our commercial vehicles. It’s certainly got potential and the whole autonomy piece of it is evolving quickly.
Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.:
The latest safety equipment [on the 2018 Tundra] is a good example of that. It’s the beginning of putting some of the advancements that are going to be in autonomous vehicles into mainstream vehicles. That’s another tangible benefit as people wait for autonomous vehicles. They’re going to be able to enjoy some of the benefits of those vehicles earlier as parts of features that get added into the Camrys and the Corollas and the RAV4s of the world today.
You’ll see that phased in over time. Advancements get added into mainstream vehicles before there’s an autonomous vehicle that’s ready for prime time. Toyota’s working on all kinds of [features] that enable mobility even beyond just the passenger car or passenger truck.
Rob Rosenbach, F-150 consumer marketing manager, Ford Motor Co.:
It’s about the adaptability. It’s about delivering the right technology and feature for that truck buyer. If you look at the adaptive cruise control on the 2018 F-150, we [first] started with cruise control that we’ve seen in the marketplace for a number of years and then got a chance to adapt cruise control to now take it to the level of reading other vehicles. The next level in 2018 brings that stop-and-go [capability to cruise control.] We’re careful not to portray that as autonomous driving. By all means we still require driver input, but it makes the driving experience better. It gives you less wear on the driver itself. It’s really more of a driver assistance technology.
Sandor Piszar, marketing director for Chevrolet’s truck division:
You’re seeing autonomous being developed now with cars like the Bolt EV – is there room for that in the truck universe? I think absolutely. But trucks are a little bit different. People use them for work, they use them for recreation.
It will be interesting to see how we adapt autonomous driving technology to those needs. You don’t want to necessarily give up the ability to drive yourself. For example, the [Chevrolet Colorado] ZR2. Part of owning a ZR2 is the fun of driving off-road and navigating obstacles and having those skills to do technical rock crawling and trail driving. You don’t necessarily want the truck doing that for you – what fun is that? But when you get back on the highway, having the ability to kick back and be productive on your device and get work done while the truck does the driving, I foresee that there’s going to be a mix of capability requirements.
Rich Miller, Nissan’s North American director of product planning for trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles:
It’s very clear: our company is focused on being the leader in autonomous drive in the future. Our CEO has been very clear on it, and that means all of our vehicles. So, of course trucks are going to be in on that. We’re working on it right now and there’s steps to go to autonomous driving and you’ll see the technology roll out in other products first as those customers are more early adopters. But trucks will be right there with it. [Titan] is the halo truck, this is the hero truck. You’re going to see that being applied around this truck. Autonomous is a key driver for this company. You’ll see it all the way up and down the model lineup.
Dan Ammann, president of General Motors
The early days of [autonomous driving] are much more about the urban environment and the vehicles that are deployed there. So, we think that the truck business carries on as it is for quite some time.
While opinions may differ about the pace of adoption of autonomous driving and in what types of vehicles it will be rolled out first, it clearly is a priority for the automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Egil Juliussen, an analyst at IHS Markit.
“Their prime directive is basically to lower the amount of people that are killed in traffic accidents. The self-driving and driverless cars are by far the best technology out there to accomplish that,” Juliussen told Trucks.com.