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Self-driving commercial vehicles are the future — but how, is up to us

14 March 2024 #TNB News

Today, I joined more than 400 delegates at SMMT Connected 2024 in London for a front seat at the future of automotive. It’s been a landmark event with experts from across industry discussing how the latest innovations and developments that shape the use of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), delivering economic, societal and environmental benefits. Returning after a hiatus of five years, the event brought together senior domestic and international representatives from automotive and government, tech and infrastructure — and it’s testament to SMMT flagship events like Connected that senior government officials use it as a platform to for new announcements.

Among the speakers today was Rt Hon Mark Harper MP, Secretary of State for Transport, who discussed how the UK is open to tech innovation, that government is at the wheel with the automotive sector and the CV transition, that public support for CAVs is positive, and how automation can bring significant safety benefits to UK roads. But that can’t be taken for granted. With a general election expected this year, it’s crucial the Secretary’s enthusiasm for CAVs is translated into policy action. Otherwise we risk slowing the speed of our innovation and risking our competitiveness. With SMMT today calling for the Automated Vehicles Bill to get swift legislative approval — requiring more vocal backing from parliamentarians on all sides of the House — it’s also positive that we also had Bill Esterson MP, Shadow Minister for Transport, confirming support for the CAV transition.

While a lot of focus has been placed on self-driving cars, it’s actually in the commercial vehicle sector leading the way. The event’s vehicle display included the automated bus from the CAVForth project — the first automated bus route on public roads in the UK, carrying up to 10,000 passengers weekly on a 14-mile route from Fife to Edinburgh. Also present was the Oxa Ford Ranger, showcasing latest CAV software and representing one of the many partnerships between vehicle and technology innovators that we can expect in the years ahead.

In the auditorium, CAV rollout with CV was also a key topic,  with representatives from Scania and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles discussing the key issues around introducing automated technology, lessons learned from trails and changing public perception. As with CAVForth in Scotland, attendees have also heard about other real-world examples of commercial deployment of CAVs globally, such as a self-driving heavy duty vehicle transporting quarry granite on rough terrain, which is an ideal scenario for such technology. 

Such a range of insight makes SMMT events unmissable for any business looking to stay ahead in the automotive sector – and a more detailed review of Connected will feature in next week’s newsletter.

Looking ahead to our next flagship conference,the SMMT International Automotive Summit takes place in London on Tuesday 25 June, with SMMT members eligible for a complimentary ticket. For information about registration, exhibition and partnership packages, contact

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