The first real-world platooning trial has found that operating electronically linked trucks on German motorways is safe, technically reliable and easily applicable in the routine of a logistics company.
The finding comes from a joint project involving logistics company DB Schenker and two MAN trucks.
As part of the research project, sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), professional drivers drove the two electronically linked vehicles on the Autobahn 9 between the Nuremberg and Munich branches of DB Schenker over the course of seven months.
The trucks covered more than 21,000 miles, at a distance of between 15 to 21 meters apart.
Drivers praised the driving comfort and the general sense of safety. The field test also demonstrated savings in fuel consumption of 4%.
Andreas Scheuer, federal minister for Transport and Digital Infrastructure, said: "The mobility of the future will be automated and networked. Of course, this is also true for logistics. I therefore fully support the industry in bringing technologies such as platooning to market maturity. We want to make the processes even safer, more efficient and more environmentally friendly, all along the value chain. The drivers have a key role to play here. In a digital truck they will be modern logistics specialists. This will open up new prospects for the profession."
According to DB Schenker's research, platooning can be used extensively in the logistics network. Alexander Doll, member of the Management Board for Finance, Freight Transport and Logistics at Deutsche Bahn AG, said: "We have analysed our European transport network and it is safe to say that around 40% of the kilometers traveled could be carried out in platoons."
The platooning system installed in the MAN trucks operated smoothly 98% of the time. Active interventions by the driver were necessary only once every 1,200 miles, which is much less than expected.
Mercedes-Benz Trucks has concluded that there is no business case for truck platooning, saying that the technology failed to deliver appreciable fuel savings in its on-the-road tests.
Although the manufacturer will remain committed to ongoing platooning projects with partners, such as Ensemble in Europe, it now plans to refocus its resources on developing autonomous, self-driving technologies in its trucks.
It told delegates at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that results show fuel savings, even in perfect platooning conditions, were less than expected.
Savings were further diminished when the platoon was disconnected and the trucks had to accelerate to reconnect.
In at least four US long-distance applications, analysis showed no business case for driving platoons with new, aerodynamic trucks.