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Greater connectivity for heavy trucks: The new Mercedes-Benz Uptime service increases vehicle availability via real-time evaluation.

Commercial vehicles in a digital world

“We don’t want to have a Detroit and a Las Vegas,” said Matthias Wissmann, President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) at an international press workshop in advance of September’s IAA Commercial Vehicles event in Hanover, Germany.

Wissmann was referring to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas being separate from—and now competing with—the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, both of which occur annually in early January. The goal with IAA Hanover is to effectively marry the “metal” side of the CV business with the now-indispensible “digital” side.

Many leaders of the CV sector emphasized their activities in this area at the workshop, including Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, Member of the Board of Management, Daimler Trucks & Buses: “Our industry is experiencing a revolution, spearheaded by autonomous driving, connected driving and electric driving,” he said.

On the first two topics, Bernhard summarized Daimler’s endeavors: development of the Highway Pilot self-driving feature, the “first-ever” autonomous truck in 2014 with its Mercedes-Benz Future Truck and, this past March, demonstration of “the digital connection of trucks” by platooning three WiFi-connected, autonomously driving Mercedes trucks on the A52 autobahn near Düsseldorf. This latest advanced system development is called Highway Pilot Connect.

“For high-performance logistics, real-time data are essential—and our trucks supply these data,” he said. Each Daimler truck has about 400 sensors and is connected with 100 million lines of code, the company claims. And it plans to push this connectivity even further, by “investing around half a billion euros by 2020 to connect our trucks with their environment and develop specific new applications,” Bernhard said.

One of these new services, called Uptime, will be launched in September at IAA. Through real-time evaluation of the truck, operators will be contacted before a part needs replacing or other repairs become necessary, reducing the risk of breakdown.

“We are connecting the truck with the internet, making it the mobile data center of the logistics network,” he said.

Illustrating Volkswagen’s growing emphasis on the CV market—not only because of the sector’s success in recent years but also because of financial and image issues VW faces following its passenger-car diesel emissions scandal—the global OEM will exhibit at IAA for the first time this September. Andreas Renschler, Member of the Board of Management, Volkswagen AG, CEO of Volkswagen Truck & Bus GmbH, provided a future look of the CV sector.

“In the long term, we will move away from the role of an OEM with a traditional hardware focus. We will then be much more than just a ‘manufacturer’ when we offer our customers clean and intelligent transport solutions that help all of the players in the transport ecosystem to achieve real efficiency gains,” he said.

By 2040, Renschler envisions fully connected, intermodal transportation systems “in which the flow of traffic is optimized through artificial intelligence.” Digitization will drive out systemic inefficiencies; for example, helping to optimize loading capacities in order to minimize the transport of “hot air.”

Major global OEMs are not the only companies playing in this space. Daimler’s Bernhard recognized in his presentation the emergence of Silicon Valley start-ups and their interest in self-driving trucks. One such company garnering a lot of press is San Francisco-based Otto, founded by former employees of Google’s autonomous car division and Google Maps. Otto has already outfitted three Class 8 tractors with its automated-driving technology, and testing is under way.

Even more recently, Elon Musk revealed in a July 20 blog post that autonomous trucks are on the docket at Tesla Motors. He writes, “In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport. Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year. We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate.”

What’s certain, such lofty visions from industry luminaries is making it really fun to watch what’s next in this increasingly digital world.

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