Truck platooning is a concept that has increasingly captured the imagination of governments, media, truck manufacturers and the road haulage industry over the last few years. How much closer is the concept to becoming reality on today’s roads?
What is “truck platooning”?
Truck platooning is a convoy of typically two to three semi-autonomous trucks, wirelessly-connected and all closely following one another. Acceleration, braking and steering across all trucks in the platoon is controlled by the lead vehicle. Each lorry is manned by a driver whose role is to manage the system and retake control in emergency or to drive the freight to its delivery destination, once the truck has split from the platoon. At present the practical emphasis is on semi-autonomous trucks for platooning including a driver although the media is discussing a future featuring driverless, autonomous trucks.
The benefits of platooning include:
- Significant fuel savings and a consequent reduction in C02 emissions
- Road safety. Braking reaction along the platoon is immediate
- Improved traffic flow. Platooning boosts traffic flow and reduces tailbacks
- The creation of new jobs and opportunities for further improvement in the logistics supply chain.
In 2015, Daimler was given a licence by the State of Nevada, USA to test its Freightliner Inspiration semi-autonomous trucks for platooning in the state. [source: CNN] In 2016, Daimler unveiled the Highway Pilot Connect, a truck platooning system that was approved for use in a limited area in Germany. It claimed that its platooning system offers up to 7% lower fuel consumption and correspondingly lower CO2 emissions, plus only half of the previously required traffic space. [source: TruckingInfo] 2016 also saw the Dutch EU Presidency develop the European Truck Platooning Challenge which aimed to address platooning issues at a European member state level. Among the highlights was the Challenge in which truck platoons from all the major European truck manufacturers drove successfully to Rotterdam from various cities across Europe.
Truck platooning in 2017
There have been many initiatives taking place this year. Nine states in the USA already have regulations that allow platooning and many more are expected to follow. [source: Trucks] Earlier in the year, Scania and Toyota announced that they will be trialling platooning on the public highways of Singapore. [source: automotivelogistics] In August 2017, the UK government announced that it will test a three semi-autonomous truck platoon on public roads in 2018. [source: Wired]
Truck platoons – a common sight on roads soon?
The most bullish supporters are in the USA. April Sanborn, the manager for Nevada’s autonomous vehicle programme says “I honestly see it [the deployment of autonomous-driving and platooning trucks] a lot quicker than 2025” [source: FleetOwner] Later in the article she added it will be “many years to come before we remove the driver.”
In Europe the outlook is different. French newspaper Le Monde believes that there are still many obstacles to overcome in Europe. It notes that it will be difficult for fleet managers to plan for platooning when it is legal in some European countries and not in others. Rules have to be harmonised. “The Dutch are ‘driving all out’ for platooning but in Belgium, the minimal distance between two vehicles is 50 metres. This renders platoons illegal.” Vincent Gaide at PwC questions how the transition between the platoons and the last mile transporter can be organised. The article also raises the spectre of the high likelihood of French truck drivers protesting against any government initiatives to introduce platooning.
Edmund King, president of the UK’s AA (Automobile Association) told The Guardian that “We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more entries and exits. Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America.” In the same article, Richard Burnett, Chief Executive of the Road Haulage Association cautiously welcomes the idea of truck platooning but warns that the current focus is too much on the technology behind platooning and not enough on safety. “Safety has to come first and it cannot be compromised.”
Challenges for platoons including trucks owned by different fleets will include “Who will benefit from the fuel savings?” Only the trucks behind the lead truck will. And, relating to that “How will the different fleets split the fuel savings?”
Flexible trailer capacity, trailers equipped with the latest technology – the keys to success
Whether or not the world is ready for platoons of semi-autonomous or autonomous trucks, there will always be demand for transporters to carry large volumes of products in their trailers. Having flexible trailer capacity with trailers that are equipped with the latest trailer technology are the keys to playing a successful part in the transport industry. Why not consider trailer rental or leasing from TIP Trailer Services? Ask TIP how you can benefit from our 50.000+ trailer fleet using this form.