Trends in road freight transport

Road freight transport is the number one means of moving consumer goods between cities: in 2017, trucks carried 63,3% of goods in North America. However, the sector is faced with some issues that need to be addressed, including scarcity of drivers, questions on road safety, empty mileage, low margins and reluctance to share data between trucking companies.

The context in which this industry evolves should also be taken into account: consumers have become more demanding diverse and individualized; growing cities and increased traffic are driving the demand for intermodal mobility; CO2 emissions reduction is a must; and our capacity to collect and process big data offers new ways to optimize.

Given all of this, how can we improve the intercity freight industry? Solutions might be found in new technologies and energy combinations, creative business models, truck platooning and even electrification. Here are some up-and-coming trends in road freight transport.

Technology can help. And regulations, too

Present global GDP growth trends indicate a potential increase in fossil fuel consumption of over 100% for 2040, with transport representing 50-60% of the world’s oil demand. The global demand for transport, which is directly linked to the economic growth of emerging countries such as India and China, is growing at a rate of 1-2% per year.

Freight transport accounts for 30% of transport CO2 emissions. Each year, combined-source air pollution costs France over €100 billion (approximately $117 billion USD), which results in health expenses of €70 billion (approximately $81 billion USD). With increasing demand for freight transport, a higher carbon footprint can be expected if truck manufacturers delay actions towards sustainable development. As Total’s Philippe China puts it: ”More than 50% of the energy combustion engines produce is lost in the atmosphere, mainly through exhaust gases and the cooling system.”

Regulations on the move

Total’s Agnès Dumesges and Philippe China, as well as Christophe Haviland of XPO LOGISTICS, hosted a working session on new technologies and energy combinations for sustainable road freight transport at the 2018 Movin’On Summit. According to them, since 2001, regulations have reduced the emission of particulates and NOx by more than 90% in Europe. Around the world, countries and cities are implementing more stringent regulations for passenger cars and light-duty vehicles, while regulations for heavy trucks have existed since 2015 in North America, China and Japan.

By presenting a legislative proposal in May 2018, the European Commission is also aiming to set new CO2 emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles in the European Union. In order to do so, they are considering a two-step target:

  1. 15% COreduction by 2025 instead of 2019 (indicative target, subject to review in 2022)
  2. 30%CO2  reduction by 2030 instead of 2019

Four main areas of improvement

By improving very specific aspects of road freight transport, tangible change is happening. The numbers speak for themselves:

  1. Vehicle efficiency — moving more weight with less energy:
  2. up to 13% improvement by reducing the weight and improving aerodynamics and rolling resistance
  3. up to 7% improvement when using platooning and predictive cruise control
  4. Powertrain efficiency — improving from tank to wheel by 2030:
  5. 10% improvement when implementing incremental powertrain evolutions, hybridization and waste heat recovery
  6. Alternative fuels — shifting to performance fuels, biofuels, natural gas for vehicles (NGV), electromobility:
  7. 70% less NOx emissions with NGVs (in compliance with the Euro 6 standard with simple post-processing)
  8. zero-emission exhaust with electric trucks
  9. at least 50% less CO2 emissions with 100% biofuels
  1. Logistics efficiency — boosting the emission savings:
  2. 30% CO2 savings with mega-trucks
  3. 50% CO2 savings with double-decker trucks

Just around the corner: clean freight power

Total and Clean Energy Fuels Corp. entered an agreement to drive the deployment of new heavy-duty trucks powered by natural gas. Daimler, Man and Renault Trucks are testing e-trucks for short- and mid-distances that could hit the European market as soon as 2020 with a battery range of 150-200 km.

Truck platooning will take you a long way

Equipped with a high-tech driving support system, trucks in platoons follow one another closely at a constant speed, which reduces fuel consumption. Being connected with one another, they all brake when the first one brakes, with no reaction time. And because they’re grouped closely they don’t take up as much space, making roads more efficient.

Fuel savings for both the front and follow truck

Heavy trucks could very well be the poster child for automation. According to experts from UC Berkeley, UMTRI, IFSTTAR and the ITF, automated trucks could help save 40-60% of current trucking costs if you count the price of the driver’s cabin, the range extension gained, as well as the reduced inventory and storage costs.

NACFE’s Michael Roeth claims that by platooning at a following distance of 50 or 60 feet, the rear truck reduces its fuel consumption by 10%, while the front truck can save 4 to 5%, for total fuel reductions of 7%. For UPS’s Bill Brentar, platooning is an obvious choice: “Even at 4%, it’s still a winner — you don’t have to be at 10% to make this thing win.” 

Shad Laws from Peloton Tech highlights the safety advantages of assisted and automated driving systems: “We can shrink reaction time from 1.5 seconds to 30 milliseconds. When the lead driver hits the brakes, the follow truck’s brakes come on at the same time.”

“The real aim here is fuel savings and improved safety, not decreased labour costs.” – Shad Laws, Peloton Tech

Three conditions for profitable platooning

Silo platooning, where each individual carrier has its own platooning solution, would not reap sufficient rewards to make it worthwhile to implement. A pooling of resources is required with:

1.   Dynamic, on-the-fly solutions allowing large vehicles to platoon while en route to their destinations

2.   Solutions that are safe, interoperable, acceptable and standardized or compatible

3.   Widespread adoption of these solutions by different truck manufacturers and shipping companies

As Scania’s Christian Bergstrand puts it: “Platooning requires openness between partners and OEMs.”

The road ahead

By 2020, experts project the trucking industry to implement 2-3 same-brand, level 2 of automation trucks platooning at a 1% rate of adoption. By 2025, we should see three or more multi-brand, automated level 4 trucks platooning at a 50% adoption rate, with standardized platooning communication. That’s a steep adoption rate. And apart from technology, a few areas need to change in order for platooning and automation levels 4 and 5 to happen.

Regulation: Just like aviation, truck platooning and automation need strong regulations with respect to segregated roads, ethical questions about passenger cars, data security and communication protocols.

Insurance: Platoons will share data in order to drive together, but incidents involving multi-brand platoons will cause fault detection problems for insurance companies. An entirely shared data platform across the industry may be part of the answer; insurance companies may also have to change their business models altogether.

Social acceptance: A long line of trucks is intimidating enough as it is, so what will driver attitudes be when you know nobody is at the wheel? Truck driving is also a profession. What will happen to experienced drivers when Level 5 is reached? As the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institutes’ John Woodrooffe puts it, “We should be driving trucks that refuse to crash so that social perceptions of autonomous heavy trucks improve.”

“At the end of the day, everybody has to remember that this is about reducing fuel consumption, reducing emissions and making people safer.” — Bill Brentar, UPS

And what about new business models?

Here are some ideas on how the current industry model could use new tech, data and new business models in the future:

1. Freight technology solution provider

Third-party solution providers are leveraging new technologies such as RFID tracking, hybrid powertrains and predictive maintenance, which make intercity transport more efficient.

2. Digital freight brokerage

Using a digital broker application and algorithm-based pricing models will match freight supply with demand, enabling customers to find available freight capacity at competitive prices.

3. Fourth party logistics (4PL)

Unlike digital brokers, 4PL companies manage the entire supply chain. Because they own assets such as warehouses and truck fleets, customers can outsource all logistics.

4. Collaboration

The sharing economy and the goal of zero-emissions requires collaboration on a new scale: transport companies may own the towing vehicle only, with trailers and semi-trailers becoming part of common-usage equipment available at different sites.

This article is based on working sessions held by Total (new technologies and energy combinations), Scania (platooning), Dr. S. Shladover, J. Woodrooffe, B. Jacob and J. Viegas (platooning and automation), and G. Queinnec, R. Cornubert, P. Miret and J. Kemnitz (new business models) at Movin’On Summit 2017 and 2018.

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