The current state of truck platooning for fuel efficiency

June 13, 2018
Operating trucks in platoons could increase productivity in fleets.

Platooning takes advantage of new technologies such as advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to enable two or more trucks to travel close together, one behind the other, to improve fuel economy, increase safety and reduce driver fatigue, thereby extending range and productivity.

In May, industry experts came together at Michelin’s sustainable mobility event, Movin’ On, in Montreal, Quebec. During the conference, a panel discussed platooning heavy duty vehicles, reasons it is not yet a standard practice, the path to implementation and the future of platooning.

The panel consisted of Michael Roeth, executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE); Christian Bergstrand, program manager for Scania, a Swedish manufacturer of commercial vehicles; Bernard Jacob, deputy scientific director at the French Institute of Science and Technology for Transport (IFSSTTAR); Bill Brentar, vice president of maintenance and engineering at UPS; and Shad Laws, director of advanced development at Peloton, a connected and automated vehicle technology company.

Platooning today

Platooning is possible today with currently available technology, namely adaptive cruise control (ACC). ACC uses sensors on the truck to monitor the vehicle it is following and maintain a set distance from that vehicle. If the vehicle in front speeds up, the truck following it will speed up as well. If the vehicle in front slows down or brakes, so will the following truck.

Using ACC, any following trucks need to maintain a safe distance so that they will have time to brake and avoid colliding with the truck in front of them in an event that requires the front truck to slow rapidly, such as emergency braking. Using ACC with safe following distances, tests have shown that, in a two-truck platoon, the rear truck gains 10 percent efficiency while the front truck gains 4 percent, the panel said.

Platooning tomorrow

As vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication becomes available, however, platooning will be made even more effective. When the vehicles in a platoon can communicate with one another, they will all be able to react at exactly the same time. In this situation, if the lead truck performs an emergency braking maneuver, the truck (or trucks) following it will all brake at virtually the exact same time, eliminating the risk of collision. This will allow the trucks to travel much closer together when in a platoon, further increasing the efficiency gained.

Today, a driver is still required in each vehicle in a platoon. The driver must be in the driver’s seat with his or her hands on the steering while, and must be alert. However, as V2V technologies advance, reliance on the driver may decrease, the panel said. During the transitional period, it is likely that drivers in following vehicles will not be required to be in the driver’s seat. Then, a driver will not be required in following vehicles at all, only in the lead vehicle. Eventually, it is possible that drivers will only be required on local roads; once the trucks are on the interstate, they will drive themselves, even forming platoons while under way. It should be noted, however, that this level of autonomy is still a long way off, according to most experts.

Restrictions

Though basic platooning is possible today, it is only legal to do so in 17 U.S. states, according to the panel. As ADAS technology has advanced, government policy has not kept up. This will likely change as the technology is proven by successful use and demonstration of its safety.

Another factor preventing the implementation of platooning is driver resistance to ADAS. While many managers see ADAS as a benefit to improve efficiency and safety within their fleets, many drivers are opposed to what they see as a removal of control and, eventually, obsolescence. If today’s driver shortages continue to increase, however, and fewer drivers are needed as the technology advances, there could be a sort of balance reached.

Conclusion

There are further considerations to keep in mind when thinking about the future of platooning, the panel said. Will fleets and drivers embrace these new technologies and use them to their advantage? Will the public accept the sight of trucks traveling in tight strings on the interstates? Will fleets go as far as platooning with competitors to gain efficiency? These are questions that no one will know the answer to until platooning is a common reality nationwide. For now, fleets can stay ahead by spec’ing new trucks with ADAS features, platooning where legal and staying informed about the next steps forward.

About the Author

David Brierley | Editor | Fleet Maintenance

David Brierley is the editor of Fleet Maintenance magazine.

Brierley’s education and career have been based in the publishing industry. He is an award-winning writer and comes from a background in automotive, trucking, and heavy equipment. Brierley joined the Endeavor Business Media vehicle repair group in 2017 as managing editor for Fleet Maintenance, PTEN, and Professional Distributor magazines, as well as VehicleServicePros.com. In his current role, he writes for and oversees production of Fleet Maintenance magazine. He has worked in the publishing industry since 2011.

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