Heavy Load

German truck makers hitch onto electromobility

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Almost Autobahn ready. Source: Handelsblatt/Thomas Einberger

It’s a well-worn cliché that Germans love their cars, but they seem to have far less room in their hearts for trucks. Commercial vehicles are more commonly a cause for complaint: They’re loud, pollute the air, and snarl traffic on the Autobahn.

But the reality is that trucks and vans transport three-quarters of all goods in the European Union. As e-commerce industry titans like Amazon grow, demand for cargo transport is increasing at an unsustainable rate. Commercial vehicle manufacturers face even more pressure to develop new technologies than their car-making counterparts. That includes, of course, self-driving trucks.

Safety systems used in commercial vehicles already feature emergency-braking and adaptive cruise control, and connectivity is standard. On the highway, truck makers are next pinning their hopes on “platooning,” a technology that links two or more trucks electronically, allowing them to drive more closely together and save fuel. The idea is that the lead vehicle controls the speed and direction.

One day, self-driving technology will have the potential to drive down freight transport costs even more, as well as reduce accidents caused by tired drivers. “Fleet operators today already know exactly where their vehicles are at this moment,” said Joachim Drees, CEO of the Munich-based MAN Truck & Bus, owned by the Volkswagen Group.

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