FREE BRIEF: Daimler is pulling the plug on its platooning programme

Daimler’s platooning trials show no business case for customers driving platoons with new, highly aerodynamic trucks, at least for U.S. long-distance applications, according to a press release the company released earlier this week. Daimler has been testing platooning technology for several years, especially in the US, where benefits would be expected to be the most substantial. When it first started testing platooning in the US, the company said growing customer interest in platooning was a big reason for its R&D commitment.

The platooning trials however showed that fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, are less than expected. These savings are even further diminished when the flow of the platoon is interrupted as the platoon gets disconnected and trucks must accelerate to reconnect.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Martin Daum, CEO of Daimler Trucks and Buses, said that while Daimler remains committed to developing autonomous trucks, the company will no longer prioritize platooning. “On paper and in the lab, it worked. But even in perfect conditions in the real world, we did not save fuel”, commented Daum. He added that platooning may make sense in the future, when a driver is no longer required in the following vehicles. The driverless technology however is still not at a stage where it is safe enough to become accepted by regulators, casting doubt on the viability of platooning technology. The auto manufacturer will remain committed to all partner trial projects that are still ongoing. In Europe, Daimler takes part in the Ensemble platooning project along with five other truck manufacturers, the goal of which is to implement and demonstrate multi-brand truck platooning on European roads over the next three years.

Daimler’s announcement comes as the UK prepares to launch its first on-road HGV platooning trial this spring using DAF trucks. The trial is set to begin in spring this year and will see the platoon incorporated into DHL Supply Chain’s day-to-day delivery operations with specially trained company drivers operating the platoon.

Platooning trials have been making headlines in the last couple of years, with several truck manufacturers as well as logistics providers assessing the functionality and commercial viability of the technology, with a view to move another step closer towards autonomous freight transport. The expectations have been high, with manufacturers claiming platooning brings significant fuel efficiency and the business case is solid. The latest announcement by Daimler however clouds prospects for adoption of platooning technology.

It will be interesting to see what the outcome of other platooning trials will turn out to be and whether other manufacturers will reverse course too. DB Schenker for instance is currently testing the technology in Germany in partnership with MAN. In October 2018 at the German Logistics Congress in Berlin, DB Schenker’s management asserted that platooning will be ready for commercial use in 2025. These optimistic statements were given prior to the first results of the trial, which are yet to be released.

Ultimately, the business case and commercial viability of platooning technology will probably depend on the nature of traffic. At present, the technology is mostly suitable for sparsely populated areas as dense traffic conditions diminish fuel savings. If, however, drivers are removed from controlling the vehicle, platooning will be the use case for completely autonomous vehicles, and potentially generate the costs savings it is expected to deliver.

Source: Transport Intelligence, January 10, 2019

Author: Viki Keckarovska


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