The dynamics of global trade are changing rapidly. Truck freight shipments are expected to double from 2018 to 2045. Last-mile delivery will increase by 15% in the next four years alone. And customers demand fast delivery, with 68% of consumers saying delivery times influence their purchasing decisions.
“This overwhelming demand is going to have more commercial vehicles on the road than ever before, and it comes at a time when our industry is set to transform in many ways,” said John O’Leary, President and CEO of Daimler Truck. North. America, during a breakfast keynote at the American Trucking Associations Technology & Maintenance Council Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida on March 8.
“Any one of these three goals alone represents a significant overhaul in the design of our equipment, as well as our manufacturing operations and your service operations. Each of these three goals requires technological innovation that, on its own, would historically have taken decades to accomplish. Instead, we plan to do all three at once, and on a tight timeline, while leaving it up to industry to keep an ever-increasing number of trucks on the road.
O’Leary spent most of his talk talking about three ways DTNA and other OEs and vendors are addressing these issues: connectivity, range and electrification.
“Each of them looks like something out of a sci-fi movie,” he said. “Each has ramifications for our industry,” O’Leary said.
As a former CFO and self-proclaimed “numbers man,” O’Leary admitted, “I tend to shudder at the capital investment it will take to accomplish the transformation of our industry.
At the same time, he said, “I know these technologies have to be practical. None of us want to see science projects down the road. But the exponential rate of growth and the number of customers asking for them, he said: “I can say that we will achieve this trio of objectives. We must. Freight request arrives.
Highlighting DTNA’s decade of offering its own Detroit Connect system, O’Leary said the trucking industry already provides operational data to the nation. “And the truck’s data pipeline continues to grow.”
The shift to 4G and eventually 5G wireless communications exponentially increases connection speed, he said. 4G is 14 to 15 times faster than 3G – and 5G increases the speed of this data pipeline by 100 times. “This level of connectivity is not a game changer,” he said. Some of the benefits include advanced security systems.
“Innovation must deliver tangible benefits to our customers, and we know it does just that. Last year, Bosch analyzed the data and found that injuries from large truck crashes were reduced by up to 23% and fatalities were reduced by up to 19%.
“Imagine a situation where a driver suffers a medical incident while driving and cruise control is engaged,” he said. The vehicle, after sensing no driver input, may disengage cruise control and slowly bring the truck to a controlled stop. “It’s not science fiction,” he said. “It’s a technology available now for new trucks.”
In these stand-alone SAE Level 2 safety systems, O’Leary said, “you can start to see the fundamentals of SAE Level 4 technology.”
As defined by the SAE, Level 4 provides a high degree of automation which, under specific circumstances, allows a driver to completely relinquish control of the truck.
“Imagine a future where the increased demand for freight transport, compounded by the growing shortage of drivers, is addressed by technology that enables drivers to drive further…and more efficiently than ever before,” he said. .
However, he stressed that for Daimler, the self-driving truck schedule “will be driven exclusively by safety,” noting that it “requires us to fundamentally reinvent trucks” so that they have redundancy in nearly every system.
As with self-driving trucks, O’Leary said, electrifying the global fleet won’t happen overnight.
“While we believe very much in the technology, we envision not a light-switch moment, but a very long ramp-up period where diesel continues to meet the bulk of industry needs.”
DTNA’s ambition is to produce “exclusively CO2 neutral products in the United States by 2039”. It starts with the mid-duty battery-electric eM2 entering production later this year, with the eCascadia to follow in early 2023.
And because the company believes it will take a combination of solutions to make this zero-carbon transition, at the end of this decade it will introduce a hydrogen truck to its portfolio. “The technology is well suited to serve the longer haul segment…until battery technology improves by orders of magnitude.”
DTNA also realizes that it takes more than just selling an electric truck for this to happen. DTNA offers electric truck adoption consulting services, not only for its customers but also for buyers of other brands of electric trucks, in setting up charging facilities.
And beyond fleet charging facilities, he pointed out, the company recently announced an agreement with Blackrock and Next Era Energy to work on a national charging network.
O’Leary stressed that while electric and self-driving trucks won’t be ubiquitous overnight, it’s time to start preparing. It’ll be upon you before you know it, as the pace of change in trucking continues to accelerate.
“This industry isn’t going to slow down, and I wouldn’t want to be a part of it if it did.”
In his 32 years in the industry, O’Leary said, he’s seen a lot. “I’ve seen an industry that never really cared about fuel economy embrace it. And safety… nobody wanted to be in danger,” but truck fleets have become much more proactive about safety than ever before.
He saw Caterpillar leave the engine business. He saw automated manual transmissions (“who in their right mind would want one?”) dominate the market.
“As an industry, we’ve grown a lot,” he said. “We now have a higher and steeper mountain to climb, but we can do it and we will do it together. It won’t be easy, inexpensive or without occasional difficulties,” he said, but we can do it.
Watch for the Q&A for our one-on-one interview with TMC’s John O’Leary.