The commercial truck market is changing–rapidly. Features like autonomous driving capabilities, electrification, and virtually-connected vehicles are making their way through the industry as more innovative technologies infiltrate the automotive sector as a whole.
“Those are the core technology pillars that are converging at the same time and forcing change,” said the new chief technology officer for Paccar inc., John Rich. Paccar recently showcased two zero-emission Class 8 commercial trucks at the U.S. Capitol, and claimed that the future of both medium- and heavy-duty trucks relies on these trends.
Rich came onboard Paccar after 30 years at Ford Motor Co. as the company’s director of global strategy and of autonomous vehicle technologies.
Paccar also unveiled its battery-powered Peterbilt Model 579 EV, along with a a hydrogen fuel cell-electric Kenworth T680, at the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters. Members of Congress and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm were in attendance.
Peterbilt and Kenworth, which operate under Paccar, have formally introduced their three battery-electric models, although the company’s fuel cell trucks are still in development.
“We’ve made our first deliveries of [electric] trucks,” said Rich. “There’s a lot of talk, a lot of pilot projects, a lot of test fleets, a lot of samples, but cold, hard cash for a truck is a rarity, and we’ve done that in a couple of places.”
For these efforts to be as efficient and widespread as possible, Rich believes that a strong government and trucking industry collaboration is key.
“We’re trying to stress that this is not an industry that’s afraid of the change,” he explained. “We’re just trying to get it done at a measured and predictable pace that works for the industry and works for the economy.”
Additionally, some of the “very important building blocks” for this process include grants and other government incentives to help alleviate some of the bigger overall costs that come in hand with the implementation of electric vehicles and the infrastructure needed to keep them charged, Rich added.
Other key collaborative efforts include those between autonomous vehicle companies and the vehicle manufacturers themselves–efforts which have been focusing heavily upon commercial truck automation much more than the automation of taxi and ride share services–an area that many feel may cause for business overlap.
“We know our swim lanes and our businesses run nicely in parallel with each other,” said Rich.
In fact, Paccar has been partnering with Aurora, a self-driving truck maker, to develop SAE Level 4 autonomous vehicles and to work toward boosting advanced driver-assist capabilities.
These kinds of self-driving vehicles could help alleviate some of the obstacles the trucking industry has been facing in regards to the current driver shortage, as well–particularly within long haul trucking, Rich believes.
“If we can relieve some of that pressure and improve the quality of jobs for people to actually get home and get to see their families in a hub-and-spoke model, it’s a wonderful thing for everyone,” said Rich. “I firmly believe in the safety, job quality, and efficiency improvements that are possible.”
Rich also noted that “extraordinarily high tech” diesel trucks will be making their way into the industry in order to meet the 2027 federal emissions standards, an initiative that will work alongside the latest electric-powered vehicles and autonomous driving tech that have been entering the trucking industry recently.
“You can’t argue that anybody–any segment of the industry–is going to be more advanced than that,” he said. “There’s no second fiddle in this space.”
Operations and vehicle uptime will also see major improvements with the advancement of connected-vehicle technology, Rich noted.
“We haven’t even imagined some of the benefits that we’re going to get out of that,” he said.
Overall, autonomous trucking capabilities will be a huge component in the quest to improve trucking efficiency and safety for the country as a whole.
“The technologies will work,” Rich said, explaining that it will still take time. “You have to be patient with it.”