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Traffic: Driverless trucks are coming onto the highway

Traffic: Driverless trucks are coming onto the highway

After years of testing, it’s headed to public roads: autonomous trucks from MAN have been driving on the A9 for a few days. Daimler wants to go into series production as early as 2027. Are the customers participating?

MAN has been testing driverless trucks on the highway for a few days. Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing also ventured on board. On the A9 north of Munich he drove in a computer-controlled semi-trailer from Allershausen for almost ten kilometers to the Fürholzen-West service area and was enthusiastic.

“Our goal is to become the lead market for automated and connected driving,” said the FDP politician. It could help to cope with increasing freight volumes despite the growing driver shortage. With the law on autonomous driving, which came from his predecessor Andreas Scheuer, Germany has “taken the leading position in Europe”.

MAN developed the test vehicle together with suppliers Bosch, Knorr-Bremse, Leoni, TÜV Süd and other partners and tested it on the factory’s own test site. With a special permit from the Federal Motor Transport Authority, we can now go onto the motorway.

The truck is always monitored remotely by employees in a control center and, if necessary, controlled and braked, as MAN spokesman Gregor Jentzsch emphasizes. There is also a safety driver at the steering wheel who can intervene at any time.

Expected to be a billion-dollar business

Manufacturers and suppliers are hoping for big business with self-driving trucks. Daimler Trucks has been driving self-driving trucks on highways in the USA for a year in pilot projects with customers. It wants to bring them onto the market regularly in 2027 and generate three billion dollars in sales and one billion dollars in profit before interest and taxes in 2030, according to company spokesman Paul Mandaiker says.

MAN has no such concrete plans yet. Steps “towards series production” are not planned until the end of the decade, says MAN boss Alexander Vlaskamp.

“In the end, it has to be worth it for a freight forwarder to purchase the technology,” explains MAN spokesman Jentzsch. And lists a number of advantages: Autonomous trucks could reduce total operating costs by 10 to 15 percent. You don’t have to take any driving times or rest breaks into account. You can theoretically drive around the clock. You won’t get tired or inattentive. The number of accidents is likely to decrease. There is a huge driver shortage in Europe and the USA. Instead of driving semi-trailers with containers back and forth on the highway between Hamburg and Munich and regularly spending the night in the driver’s cab far away from home, more drivers could work in regional transport in the future, loading vehicles and delivering goods.

The shipping industry has doubts

But customers are skeptical. Self-driving trucks – “that sounds good in theory,” says Dirk Engelhardt, board spokesman for the Federal Association of Road Haulage, Logistics and Waste Disposal (BGL). Basically, he sees this as positive – but with a lot of question marks: “How often are there failures in the radio network? How does it work in heavy rain, fog, snow? At construction sites? When the road markings have faded?”

Then there are the investments. Both manufacturers and freight forwarders will have to invest a lot of money in the switch to e-mobility in the coming years, as the law requires. That takes priority now.

According to the BGL, there is already a shortage of 120,000 truck drivers in Germany alone. 30,000 retired every year. Only 15,000 will be added, says Engelhardt. But he doubts that autonomous trucks will help in the foreseeable future. They won’t be on public roads properly for ten years at the earliest. But without a driver? The autopilot did not make the pilot in the aircraft superfluous. Trains would continue to be driven by engine drivers. “I don’t understand why autonomous driving should find its way into road traffic, which is much more complex,” says the head of the association.

MAN has already tested autonomous trucks during transshipment in the port of Hamburg and when loading onto the railway and reported up to 40 percent efficiency gains. By the end of the year, the prototypes should be on the move between logistics points from Munich to Nuremberg, Ulm and Landsberg am Lech. Afterwards, practical projects with customers are planned. The vehicles could only be ready for series production from 2030.

Pioneer USA

Daimler wants to be ready by 2027 and is focusing on the much larger US market. The volume of freight there is expected to double by 2050. “The USA, with its long highways, increasing demand for freight transport, large truck fleets and forward-looking regulatory authorities, offers an ideal initial field of application for the use of this new technology,” says company spokesman Mandaiker. Overall, the USA is very positive about the use of autonomous vehicles. In the next step, Daimler could then go into series production of autonomous trucks in Europe. What is crucial for commercialization is that it can be used across borders.

Continental also relies on the USA. The German supplier group wants to mass-produce an autonomous driving system with the US software company Aurora in 2027. Aurora works with major truck manufacturers like Paccar. Demand is high, “because of the long routes, because of the lack of drivers – this will be the first market for us,” says Conti spokeswoman Jennifer Weyrich.

Source: Stern

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