Features & Interviews

How smart will your fleet be in the future?

30 October 2014 #Features & Interviews

A staggering 27% of European truck fleets recently surveyed made no use of telemetry whatsoever with another 16% making very restricted use of what is now widely-accepted technology. These were among the most surprising findings of research conducted on behalf of Goodyear and compiled in a white paper entitled Mobility of the future: smart fleets and the future of road transportation launched at a conference in Brussels on 14 October.

The remaining 57% of the 576 fleet managers questioned do rely on telemetry however, with 25% of them viewing it as vital. The managers are based in nine different countries, including the UK.

Greater harmonisation of standards would help further adoption by fleets, the white paper contends. So would more support from insurers; only 16% of fleets have been offered lower insurance premiums based on their use of telemetry.

Not surprisingly, 40% of respondents told researchers that the cost of fuel was their foremost concern. As a consequence, 92% measure overall fuel consumption, 76% invest in driver training to improve their mpg figures and 72% set self-imposed fuel consumption targets.

Another worry is the recruitment and training of drivers where  25% of the managers said that this was either their biggest or second-biggest concern. The Goodyear report advocates government initiatives to encourage young people without jobs to consider a career as a truck driver.

Among the mixture of industry executives, hauliers and senior European civil servants speaking at the Goodyear-organised conference was Ben Kraaijenhagen, Vice President of Foresight and Environment at MAN. He believes that training as a truck driver still makes sense because, in his view, driverless trucks are unlikely to appear on Europe’s highways any time soon.

“There will always be a driver onboard,” he insists.

Drivers may not necessarily spend all their time on the road sitting behind the wheel, however. Equipped with something rather like an airliner’s autopilot, trucks will be able to drive themselves on long stretches of motorway or through roadworks while drivers busy themselves texting customers or ringing head office.

“A truck driver will become more like the captain of a ship who continually monitors all its functions but is not required to be at the wheel,” says Joachim Fehrenkotter, Managing Director of German transport company Spedition Fehrenkotter.

That of course presupposes that legislators will allow it.

Nigel Base, Commercial Vehicle Development Manager at SMMT is quoted as saying in the report, “There is a lot of discussion about the potential of vehicle-to-vehicle communications, vehicle-to-infrastructure communications and platooning, where a group of vehicles automatically follow a lead vehicle.

“Throw in automated braking, cruise control, lane assist and so on and you can see that technology is marching ahead at a pace,” he continues. “The issue is that legislation can lag behind.”

While 11% of managers interviewed by Goodyear’s researchers cite the impact of regulations as one of the sector’s top two challenges, 68% would like to see fully-harmonised rules for the road freight industry across the EU.

Of interviewees, 51% are in favour of longer, heavier vehicles and the white paper supports proposals that the European Commission should assess the safety and environmental impact of trucks up to 25m long and grossing at up to 70 tonnes by 2016. The report’s view is that current rules governing weights and dimensions are out-of-date.

The report also argues in favour of allowing trucks that are heavier than the generally permitted limit for cross-border traffic within the EU to cross the border between countries where they are already in use on domestic work.

Some 27% of managers believe that truck manufacturers should have greater freedom to design trucks that are more aerodynamic. Fleets could do more to cut fuel consumption within the existing rules however, with only 28% investing in aerodynamic equipment – which is only effective on intercity runs tackled at a steady speed – and just 20% investing in tyre pressure monitoring systems.

Failure to maintain the correct tyre pressures has implications for mpg as well as safety and the report would like to see such systems made compulsory on trucks. At least 30% of fleets examine the labels that now come with tyres, giving details of fuel efficiency as well as safety and noise levels.

A mere 4% of fleets interrogated believe there is no more scope for improvement in fuel efficiency. On the other hand, 68% think they can still achieve efficiency savings of up to 10%.

One way of tackling fuel costs and reducing road transport’s carbon footprint could be a wider switch to liquefied natural gas (LNG) to power heavy trucks, suggested Joao Aguiar Machado, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport at the European Commission.

“We’re seeing increased interest in LNG among hauliers and the EU’s Council of Ministers is supporting the development of an alternative fuels infrastructure which will result in a network of LNG stations across Europe,” Machado says. “Telematics systems will be used to enable drivers to find the location of the nearest.”

In future a truck’s power source is likely to depend heavily on the use to which it is being put. In urban areas that could mean a diesel-electric hybrid such as MAN’s Metropolis research vehicle which first appeared at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Hanover in 2012.

Operate it on battery power and it produces zero emissions. “What is more, it can get down to below 65 decibels,” says Kraaijenhagen.

That type of truck will increasingly be fitted with an assortment of systems – Blind Spot Assist, for example – to help drivers cope with congested urban streets, he says, adding that multi-use containers mean the more uses to which it can be put, the more likely that empty running can be minimised.

“I’m thinking about something that can be used to transport steel and tulips at the same time,” he smiles.


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