Trucking Trends

Tracking trends affecting trucking’s future

Two industry experts share their perspectives on how the commercial truck is being reshaped by technology and political policies.

Tim Proctor shows two NYC snapshots side by side to illustrate how fast automobiles replaced horses as the major means of transportation at the start fo the 20th century. (Photo by Sean Kilcarr for Fleet Owner)

BONITA SPRINGS, FL. More change has occurred in the last 20 years than at any time in human history, according to Scott Perry, chief technology and procurement officer for Ryder System Inc., and that lightning-fast pace is being acutely felt in the trucking industry right now, especially in terms of connectivity, the ongoing development of alternative fuels, and the deployment of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology.

“It’s going to be an exciting ride over the next five to 10 years in this industry,” Perry explained during a presentation here at the 2017 Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) annual meeting.

“At no point ever in our industry’s history have we had this level of connectivity in trucks,” he said. “Our assets are now beginning to talk to each other and to infrastructure. We are developing not just connected vehicles but connected cities and [freight] networks.”

Tim Proctor, executive director of product management & market innovation at Cummins Inc., stressed that those factors are just some of what’s making this “a period of unprecedented disruption and a period of transformational change” within the trucking industry that could ultimately “redefine” the commercial vehicle powertrain for the future.

Standing: Tim Proctor. Seated: Scott Perry.

However, Proctor also noted that while this time period might feel “unprecedented” in terms of the pace of change, similar time periods have occurred in the motorized vehicle space since the dawn of the industrial era.

For example, he pointed to two pictures from New York City – one from 1900 and one from 1913 – that showed how rapidly transportation shifted from one based largely on horses to one based almost entirely on automobiles in just 13 years.

“We know these periods of change have been happening throughout the industrial age,” Proctor emphasized. “What we don’t know is what the ‘tipping point’ is; the point at which we move from today’s technology to that of tomorrow.”

From those perspectives, each laid on near-term and future trends that will impact trucking. Ryder’s Perry went first pointing to what he feels will be major factors affecting the industry:

  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) rules are unlikely to be changed or rolled back simply due to the amount of investment that’s been made by OEMs to comply with them.
  • He noted that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates the GHG rules will add $12,300 to the cost of a Class 8 tractor, $1,090 to a trailer, and $2,680 to a vocational truck.
  • Yet Perry stressed that more than half of that Class 8 tractor upcharge EPA put together is actually to spec a fully-automatic or automated mechanical transmission (AMT). With so many fleets spec’ing them now for driver retention and fuel savings, the cost is dropping and thus so will the cost of GHG compliance.

    Ryder’s Scott Perry.
  • Compliance is crucial for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is already working with the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to design an enforcement protocol for GHG compliance. “They are being taught to do a walk-around to see if aerodynamic devices, low rolling resistance tires, and other initial specs listed on the door sticker are still present. This is one of the things you need to be prepared for,” Perry said.
  • On another tack, he noted that the wider adoption of AMTs is “laying the foundation” for autonomous trucks. “It’s hard to have one” without an AMT or fully-automatic gearbox, Perry added.
  • Long-haul highway operation “is more easily achieved” than city driving with autonomous trucks, so he expects that’s where the development focus from here on out will be.
  • Yet the lack of a national standard for autonomous truck operation is a big problem as navigating 48 different sets of state rules would hinder operating efficiency.
  • Uber’s aspirations in the freight market in terms of deploying self-driving trucks and new freight management systems is creating a lot of disruption. Perry noted that Uber’s deployment of “robot taxis” in Pittsburgh provides insight into how they will factor having no driver into their rate structure.
  • The growth of Amazon and e-commerce is creating “a significant shift” in retail delivery patterns and is a sign of what’s to come from a trucking operations perspective. “This is completely changing the dynamics,” Perry explained. “We’re moving from networks designed for bulk TL and LTL delivery to ones for ‘piece count’ or individual delivery. That’s creating a lot of anxiety but also a lot of opportunity.”
  • United Parcel Service’s experimentation with deliveries via airborne drones is another factor as Perry said it’s one way to handle more “individualized” package delivery demand at a low cost – noting that UPS said it only costs 3 cents per mile for short-range drone delivery. “UPS said it can save $50 million by deploying this [drone] technology,” Perry added.
  • Finally, new food safety transport rules are shifting the regulatory focus to asset management. “We’re beginning to see an opening up of asset data in order to comply with such oversight,” he noted.

Cummins’ Proctor focused on how ongoing research into alternative propulsion technologies such as electricity, natural gas, and others, might reshape truck powertrains in the future:

  • In the linehaul segment, the diesel engine will remain the dominate powertrain for the foreseeable future simply because it offers “really high thermal efficiency” of 42% with the best range, the best fuel density, and the fastest refuel time.

    Cummins’ Tim Proctor.
  • For example, filling two diesel fuel tanks on a Class 8 truck takes about one minute, yet the equivalent time for natural gas is about 10 minutes, while for an electric batter system it would be two hours.
  • It gets more complicated in the pickup and delivery (P&D) segment, however, as many urban locales are “non-attainment areas” where vehicle emissions are a big factor. “So alternative solutions are more compelling in this space,” Proctor said.
  • He believes the development trends for electric propulsion will become more compelling in the P&D sector over the next 10 to 15 years.
  • One reason for that is while a diesel-powered truck’s carbon dioxide (CO2) footprint per mile does not change over its lifetime that of an electric vehicle (EV) does as the electric grid which provides the power to recharge the EV’s battery continues to get cleaner. “The compelling factor for EVs will be the ‘well to wheel’ analysis of its power supply,” Proctor added.

Proctor closed his remarks by noting that “regulatory pressures” really only drive improvements to existing architectures. By contrast, the “real” innovations in transportation will come from OEMs and start-up companies.

“When you think about ‘revolutionary technology’ look no farther than Steve Jobs, Apple, and the iPod,” he said. “He not only showed a real understanding of the customer’s issues but then went and solved it in a completely new way.”

In terms of a freight example, Proctor pointed to his work on the new Cummins X15 and X12 family of engines.

“Engines are what the regulators measure so we spent a lot of R&D [research and development] money to improve them,” he explained.

Yet Cummins spent a fraction of that money – “an order of magnitude less,” in Proctor’s words – developing its ADEPT electronic engine control system that is directly helping boost the fuel economy of its new X15 line by 4.5% to 6% versus the older models.

“You are getting more fuel savings with an order of magnitude less spending,” he explained. “That’s where the real innovation is happening and where the disruption will be coming from.”

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