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The Future of On-Road Trucking

electric-semi-truckIt is no shock that the engine industry has needed to up its game due to the rippling effects of legislation regarding the continued constriction of emission targets. The legislation differs from country to country, however, regulations are inevitably being tightened globally. This is to achieve a reduction in particulate, NOx, and carbon emission pollution. Additionally, a ramification of the narrowing legislature is the evolution of engines, to making vehicles cleaner and more efficient.
China, the UK, and France have announced a ban on the selling of petrol and diesel cars by 2035-2040. But, commentators state the ban could be brought forward as Delhi confirms the ban will be implemented in 2030, and Norway is aiming for 2025. In contrast, the US could be moving in the opposite direction. President Donald Trump voiced that pollution limits signed into legislation by Barack Obama to achieve new targets by 2022 will need to be diluted.
Players in the industry such as Cummins, claim they will “embrace” the new emission regulations. Alan trolley, director of the JCB group divulged he believes that the new regulations are “quite right” and further added that stricter regulations “has certainly challenged the industry to up its game”.

Therefore, Cummins plan to increase their electrical power capacity for both vehicle and industrial means by purchasing Brammo, and Johnson Matthey Battery Systems to give them the upper hand and proficiency in the field. The incentive for this move is to add battery power and range extended power to their extensive arsenal. Recently, Cummins saw the launch of their Range Extender concept, which utilises a battery pack with a smaller engine to ascertain its charge. Although, the company voice concerns that battery and charging technology is not yet capable of fuelling heavy equipment.
The legislation signed by Barack Obama suggests that maybe 10% – 25% of vehicles may be electrified by 2030. Nevertheless, it begs the question of what about the remaining percentage, and large trucks and ships that rely on diesel fuel? These elements conclude that so far, there are no promising electric options for large vehicles, ships, and industrial equipment. Thus, it is imperative that the evolution of internal combustion engines is continued and not abandoned.
Yet, these regulations do not necessarily mean the drawn-out demise of the internal combustion engine. The huge amount of progress in regard to these mechanisms controlling and reducing air pollution over the last thirty years, must be taken into account. The progression of the catalytic converter in petrol engines managed to resolve many of the pollution problems and criticisms it was subject to. The catalytic convertor contains a porous surface structured like that of a honeycomb to encourage gas to surface contact. The porous surface contains metals such as rhodium, platinum, and palladium to extinguish the pollutants passing through the system. As the exhaust gas makes its way through this system, the unburned fuel is oxidized, and oxygen is then removed from the nitric oxide.

The Ramp Up of Electric Engines

However, an effective method such as this has not been so effective for diesel engines. A highly publicised incentive is the use of electric vehicles although, they have been subject to many criticisms. John Heywood, a professor of mechanical engineering, observes that electric vehicles will definitely play a useful role in the aim of reducing pollutions. However, at present he claims it’s difficult to foresee how effective they will eventually be. Heywood has conducted research in the critical area of electrical recharging for MIT energy. Regardless of the insufficiencies, business analysts and auto executives foresee a sea change as battery powered electric vehicles begin to dominate new incentives. It must be noted that legislation and pollution levels are not the only factors driving this new pandemic of battery powered vehicles. The dramatic change is also a business reality, according to industry analysts. But, if the masses agree on a general direction for this change, it raises an air of uncertainty regarding the role of combustion engines in the future.
Elmer Kades, a managing director for AlixPartners, states “Electrification, you cannot stop it anymore – it’s coming” this seems to sum up the general consensus of what is to come but so far, electric vehicles are merely a tiny fraction of the car market. Although you will most likely notice drastic changes as a surge of electric models saturate show rooms in the near future. This convinces analysts of the major transition forthcoming.
The impending change that will impact the industry has auto companies scrambling together the prerequisites needed for a successful transition. Vehicle companies intend to invest more than $90 Billion to ensure a smooth conversion from combustion engines to an idea that has previously been perceived as futuristic. Each individual will have their own opinion of this major change, depending on their devotion to a more eco friendly world and many other variables. Yet, electric motors are easier to maintain, longer lasting and cheaper to ‘fuel’. Also, more advantages will surface if the raise in gas prices continues.
It is no doubt, that a majority of consumers prioritise fun over cost, and if you are one of those people, I envy your ability to do so. Tom Murphy, the managing director of Wards Auto confirms that electrified vehicles are indeed fun. They are quiet and produce impressive amounts of torque which will definitely appeal to many. In contrast, gas powered vehicles will definitely be cheaper, quicker to fuel, and logistically superior due to the large amount of services built to accommodate their needs.

Nevertheless, as the electric models inevitably evolve, experts claim batteries will become cheaper, charging will be quicker, and chargers will grow out of their infancy and start to become a more regular sight globally. Industry watchers say, at some point, the ratio of engines to electric will tip.

So, where will this leave truck enthusiasts? Kary Schaefer, general manager of marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America says: “While alternative fuel commercial trucks are gaining interest from fleet operators, diesel is still set to dominate medium- and heavy-duty vehicles for several years.” This does not mean Daimler trucks is not taking the impending change seriously but claims alternative engines will cower in the presence of Daimler’s diesel-powered truck lineup.
Schaefer says that diesel will remain the transportation fuel of choice for fleet operators. When speaking at the Green Truck Summit, Schaefer did note that alternative fuels will become significant but takes comfort in the fact that diesel will remain the most efficient and cost-effective choice for the next few years. Battery powered vehicles will create four issues for fleets. These issues will be their capability for range, weight, cost, and charging. Although, these issues are not prominent for light duty vehicles.

The issue regarding weight can cause some confusion for electric vehicle manufacturers. Long-range heavy-duty trucks need more batteries, which contributes to the trucks weight along with the payload, will reduce the trucks range. With respect to the weight issue there is concern for the long term structure of road surfaces. The current lack of range electric trucks can currently achieve also plays into the short-term degradation of roads. Compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas trucks fall victim to the same issues. This is due to the tanks required to run the truck on natural which add to the weight of the vehicle.
When considering the facts, does this put the dominance of diesel engines on its deathbed? VW group decided to cease selling diesel models from its VW, Audi and Porsche ranges in the US. This was because they were caught red handed using software illegally to reduce emissions. Inevitably, this resulted in VW paying more than $15, Billion to settle lawsuits and regulation fines over these falsifications. Also, it was revealed that VW diesel engines were more than ten times what the company had previously claimed when they submitted the figures to US regulators. Michelle Krebs, executive analyst at Autotrader said “thanks to the Volkswagen debacle, diesel engines in passenger cars have pretty much no future.” She continued to add that “they will continue to have a place in the trucking world, however.”

In addition, the adjustments that petroleum-based diesel has endured, there is further research aimed at exploring and refining the non-petroleum, bio-based diesel fuels. This is the ‘run your car off chip fat’ tales you hear of. Though, the grim reality is that it turns out to be more complicated than that. The new and improved cleaner diesel is burning more efficiently in the trucks that run on them. To demonstrate, that means roughly a 10-12 MPG, which is impressive for weights in excess of 60,000 pounds of cargo.
So, is this contrasting evidence really a sign of their passing? It turns out the answer is far from simple. First and foremost, think of diesels in a wider context. Imagine if diesel engines were outlawed tomorrow, this would put America’s economy on its knees. This is due to the wide range of uses in commercial trucking, construction, shipping, farming, transport and many more. Observers claim that on this scale there is no efficient alternative available at present or for the foreseeable future. With regard to your average passenger vehicle on the other hand, the issue is more nuanced. Regardless of the fact that VW abandoned diesels in the US, there are still many, many alternate existing, and new diesel models available.
The area of medium duty trucks and vans remain to rely on diesels. The majority of full-size pick-ups such as Ram, Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Nissan still employ the diesel option. Markedly, Ford has announced its first diesel version of its F-150 and Chevrolet will follow practice with their new generation of trucks. This can conclude that the demise of diesels has been exaggerated to say the least. Regardless of efficiency gains made by gasoline powertrains, diesels remain to be more economical. Yet, Diesels remain more financially challenging to produce and control. It seems the highly publicised introduction of electric motors has augmented the pressure on diesel vehicles. This may be the motive behind Tesla’s ongoing attempt at an electric semi-truck.

Obviously, trucking plays a huge part in freight transportation, in fact it is a key link in the chain. It seems that a lot of companies are operating in inefficient ways due to travelling without payload. In the US and Europe combined, these empty journeys amount to 20 percent of all truck journeys. In china, the figure stands at 40 percent. This happens due to a disconnection between less-than truck-load consignments and cargos that need to be shifted. Adding to this, is the disjointed dynamic of the industry preventing any coalition to save cost. To remedy these hindrances, there has been research into automated trucks, electrification, and digitalisation to resolve these problems.

Digialitized Engines and Trucking Optimization Software

But if the whole industry was digitalised, trucking companies would be turned on their heads if unprepared for the change. Only a few large freight companies operate widespread fleets, and the many smaller companies run only a minor number of vehicles. So, if these players don’t prepare for this futuristic model of digitalisation, they could find themselves pushed out of the market. Still, these advancements could benefit a lot of freight companies, in terms of lower cost and higher efficiencies.
There is currently testing underway including platooning scenarios. This is where the longest sections of a journey are driven by automated trucks. The only driving undertaken by a human is the first and last mile. So, if this were successful it would drop mileage costs up to 40 percent. Recognised OEMs are also looking to develop electric trucks to work within a 400 km range. Again, if these were successful the electric drive option would be much better economically, disregarding the factor of acquisition. This has led to some OEMs announcing intentions to mass-produce these trucks. The incentives driving this are obviously the amount of money they could save, but also the element of firm emission standards that impose local restrictions on diesel vehicles.
So, it turns out that if this digitalized channel of communication between all entities was used, it could cut the cost of a fleet by 25-40 percent. This has led companies wanting to digitalise their fleets. This would make things a hell of a lot easier in terms of logistics. The idea is that if trucks, warehouses, customers and suppliers are all connected on a digitalised platform employing methods of artificial intelligence, the inefficiencies of empty payload journeys can be cut down. In turn, this would create a huge advantage for those who employ this method.
All this information could leave you tempted to jump on the bandwagon of electrified motors before it swallows you whole. The evidence suggests that yes, diesel car residual values are slowly descending, but far from collapsing. The controversy has left people tempted to take the leap into the electric future. So, should you sell your diesel truck? If you think you were due an upgrade anyway then it would be worth taking a look at. Some manufacturers in Europe are trying to encourage punters to make the transition by offering financial help toward a new vehicle if you trade in an EU4 or earlier diesel car. This could save you thousands.

If you’re travelling more than 12,000 miles per year, then the additional cost of running your diesel vs. the higher upfront prices may be worth the savings you make from its impressive fuel economy. Also, if your frequent routes take you through towns and cities you may have to consider the extra cost for entering clean air zones. The testing and intentions of freight companies are exciting, but clearly a huge change that will take some time to plan for. The future it is coming, and its coming faster than we originally thought.
So, among the contrasting views, scandals, statistics, and media reports, diesel engines still have a future. Though, running parallel will be incentives to create a more eco friendly planet, and electric vehicles can be a step in the right direction. No doubt, it will take years for the electric vehicles to emerge out of infancy and reach similar scales of combustion engines. But it does seem to be the future. Saying that, there is still a need to seek remedy for industrial, shipping and heavy load reliance on diesel engines. It seems to be that forthcoming change is inevitable, but change isn’t always a bad thing just sometimes costly. Additionally, the battle on climate change will be continue to be encouraged by those across the world.<