New technologies will make trucking greener, safer and more cost effective, but it may take some time to get there.
That was the message from the keynote presentation at the Green Truck Summit at the Work Truck Show in Indianapolis Tuesday.
“Never before have we been inundated with so much information about new technologies in our industry,” said Kary Schaefer, general manager of marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America’s Freightliner Trucks and Detroit brands.
Expect three main areas of investment in the trucking industry, including active safety, connectivity and propulsion technology, Schaefer said.
The alternatives to diesel fuel as the main way to power trucks are growing, but there are still no silver bullets ready to step in and replace internal combustion engines in all applications.
“They each have their place in the market,” she said. “Battery electric vehicles are going to work great in certain applications in work trucks, potentially in some on-highway tractors. Natural gas has its place for near-zero emissions areas of the country for customers who have invested in the fuel source and infrastructure. But we know that these will need to be combined with diesel for a very, very long time.”
Alternatives will be used where they make the most sense, for emissions or regulatory needs or business sense, Schaefer told Trucks.com.
“When you look at the fuel efficiency improvements over time, there’s a case to be made for a payback to replace equipment,” she said. “That could speed up the turnover of fleet equipment in the future. I think in the work truck industry the average life cycle of an asset is about 15 years, and a lot changes in equipment in 15 years.”
One of those changes is the electrification of the tractor-trailer, with Tesla and Daimler as two of the most high-profile examples. The buzz surrounding this technology can change standard return on investment considerations.
When it comes to buying electric commercial vehicles right now “people are either purchasing for press or image or they want to learn and evaluate or they need it for their business,” Schaefer said. “I think we’re still in the early stages of commercialization in our industry… there still is a long way to go for the business case to pan out for heavy trucks.”
Still, there’s no doubt that electricity will be used to power cars and trucks, she said. That’s why Daimler, which also owns the Mercedes-Benz car brand, is investing in the technology.
The company has invested a billion dollars in its Accumotive battery company and its electric trucks include the eCanter, the Urban eActros, the Vision One and the HD eActros Gen II models.
“You can expect that much of this technology will make its way to North America and into our product portfolio at Freightliner,” she said.
New powertrain options will come to market with new safety and connection technologies that will have a big impact on the industry, Schaefer said.
An internal study at Conway found that adding safety features dramatically reduced the frequency of crashes. In a study that included 1 million miles, having driving lane departure warning systems installed, for example, reduced the number of crashes by 26 percent. Unsafe speed warnings reduced incidents by 41 percent and rear-end collision avoidance technologies reduced crashes by 71 percent. A report from AAA last fall found that if all large trucks had advanced safety technologies installed, 63,000 crashes could be prevented in the U.S. each year.
With increased connectivity, fleet operators can study hard braking events to determine where there are high occurrences of crashes and adjust routes for traffic flow. Taking information from these systems and sending it to the back office gives fleets a powerful tool to coach drivers on now to improve their safety.
“Connectivity provides the holy grail of information for our fleets,” Schaefer said.