I wrapped up 2017 with the traditional “look back” blog. And now, as we settle into the first week of 2018, it’s time to take a moment to look ahead at some of the things I’ll be watching for as the new year picks up steam.
Last year was heavy with new vehicle launches, so there probably won’t be a whole lot of new trucks to tell you about. On the other hand, there are a whole lot of new trucks out there waiting on some young, dashing truck editor to come along and take them out for test drives and report on how they handle on the open road. OK, I’m not young any more. And I’ve never been dashing. But I am hoping to take a turn behind the steering wheels on some of these new rigs.
Still, at this point, it seems like 2018 will be more about deployment, instead of unveilings. That’s not to say we won’t witness remarkable things over the coming 12 months, if I’m reading the tea leaves right. Here’s what I think we’re going to see:
It looks like electric trucks are going to a thing, after all. And my guess is that we’ll actually seem some examples enter into sustained, real-world operations this coming year. It seems pretty obvious that the initial demonstrations will come from the medium-duty world. But it’s still going to interesting to see how these not-so-new-fangled trucks fare out in the real world.
On the heavy-duty side of the commercial vehicle world, it’s also likely we’ll get to see some all-electric Class 8 trucks running on public roads in the coming months. And it’s equally likely some of us will finally get a change to slip behind the wheel of some of these trucks and see for ourselves what this strange new world in long-haul is going to look like. Can these electric big rigs deliver on their range promises? Will they truly be as reliable and as maintenance-free to operate as advertised? We may start to get some answers to those – and other questions – over the coming months as well.
Peloton has also promised to take the wraps off its much-discussed, debated and anticipated truck platooning technology – and has indicated that it will have a product ready to go on the market late this year. This has the potential to be a game-changer for fleets wanting to maximize fuel economy in long-haul applications while also serving as one of the first wide-scale demonstrations of autonomous vehicle technology to the trucking industry and the public at large. To say there’s a lot riding on this is a huge understatement. And there are still a lot of questions out there about the practicality of platooning, as well as legislative hurdles. Peloton has expressed nothing but confidence about its technology, however. So this will be a truly fascinating story to watch unfold.
On a similar front, I’m hearing murmurs from friends in the industry that we’ll see some new autonomous vehicle technology from a couple of truck OEMs as the year progresses. This is another sign that autonomous technology is getting very close to limited use in real-world operations. Following those signs, I’m watching to see if any sustained public demonstrations of autonomous technology take place in 2018. Up to now, most evaluation efforts taking place are kept under wraps until the testing is done. But very soon, an OEM or autonomous technology developer is going to attempt to make a splash. It’s likely things will start small – perhaps a 500- or 1,000-mile Interstate run is possible this year, working up to the biggest splash of all – a full-blown, coast-to-coast run without any human interaction at all. It’s an immense technical challenge. But one that seems coming closer to fruition with incredible speed.
Taken as a whole, it looks like 2018 has the potential to be as interesting a year as 2017 turned out to be. And that’s without factoring in several surprises that are surely waiting out there. I don’t think 2018 is going to disappoint us one bit when it comes to gaining a clearer picture of trucking’s high-tech future.