INDIANAPOLIS — As Kary Schaefer sees it, what’s green for trucking shouldn’t be narrowly defined. Rather, it should embrace any number of innovative advances that enhance efficiency.
“I believe that green innovation goes beyond reducing tailpipe emissions – it’s about creating a sustainable future; about providing a gateway to green,” she contended in her March 6 keynote address for the Green Truck Summit held here at the NTEA Work Truck Show.
Schaefer, Daimler Truck North America’s general manager of marketing & strategy, said that, to her, “Green means increased uptime, lower operating cost, and enabling future investment in new equipment. It means improving efficiency and eliminating waste.” With that thinking in mind, she detailed “the big three” technology areas that fleets need to consider: active safety, connectivity, and propulsion.
She asked rhetorically why would active safety systems be regarded as “a green technology” before pointing out that “not only do these systems help prevent fatalities and accidents, they increase uptime and reduce cost. Many go beyond safety and provide a better environment for the driver by reducing workload, fatigue and stress.”
How safety saves
Making a business case for active safety, Schaefer pointed to a graph of internal data collected by Conway from a report by the National Transportation Safety Board on safety technology. The data compared trucks with and without active safety systems, specifically forward collision mitigation systems, electronic stability control, and lane departure warning systems
“Most significant is the reduction in rear end collisions, 71%, and crashes due to lane departures,” she noted. But at the time of the study, CMS on the market had evolved from just a warning system to providing active emergency braking on moving objects. “Now, through generations of innovation, CMS will warn and automatically brake on moving and stationary objects.
“I had one very large commercial fleet tell me that before they installed safety equipment on their equipment (CMS, ESC and LDW), one in four of their vehicles would experience a crash. The average cost of repair for each was around $7800. For trucks where they had installed CMS and ESC, the rate of crashes dropped to one in 19 and the average cost to $350.” I had another fleet tell me that installation of forward collision mitigation systems has eliminated rear end collisions from their fleet.
Schaefer then remarked that the resulting jump in uptime improved asset utilization and saved money. “All of those things contribute to sustainability. Not to mention reducing injuries.”
As for what’s coming, she predicted that we will see systems able to warn and fully brake on pedestrians using data from radar and camera. In addition, cameras integrated with the operation of the vehicle will be able to recognize traffic signs. That information can be used to reduce speeding or adjust cruise speeds. She noted that cameras also offer improved outward visibility and off- board video can be used to capture critical events.
“Combined with adaptive power steering, we will be able to offer lane departure protection that will steer or nudge the vehicle back in the lane in the case of an inadvertent lane drift,” Schaeffer advised. “The next generation of side-object detection systems will warn the driver of objects in case of a lane change or urban turn maneuver. And turn assist will function even at a standstill to monitor for pedestrians, cyclists, and other cars.”
Myth of connectivity
Turning to connectivity, Schaefer sought to dispel “the myth” that connectivity is only important for on-highway applications. “It’s equally important for vocational since connectivity keeps fleet managers informed to minimize downtime, which can drastically improve their business profitability. Connectivity data can accurately track maintenance and repair needs, and avoid pulling a vehicle in for repair too early or worse – too late.”
She pointed out that construction fleets are typically much smaller “so a down truck can mean the difference between winning or losing the next job.” On the other hand data obtained via connectivity can “accurately track maintenance and repair needs, and avoid pulling a vehicle in for repair too early or-- worse – too late.” And refuse fleets are using connectivity data to track and improve driving behaviors to increase safe vehicle operation as well as help reduce environmental impact by cutting fuel consumption.
Schaefer said Daimler “wants to remain very connected to our customer to understand all the ways they want to use vehicle data so that we can continue to provide solutions that make sense for their business. The biggest challenge for us all will be how to deal with all of this data and turn it into actionable intelligence— to go from information to wisdom.”
Powering it all
Lastly, Schaefer dived into what’s happening with what she called “propulsion technology,” focusing her remarks on all the attention being paid of late to electric power in the commercial space.
She said that “a lot has happened in the last 12 months to create excitement and interest around electric vehicles,” including “big announcements” from the likes of Daimler, Cummins, and Tesla. “I am sure many of you here think – yeah, big deal – we have been dabbling in hybrids and electric vehicles for years but [those] big announcements definitely overshadow some of the activities in the work truck industry.”
If electric vehicles have been around for a while, Schaefer asked, what has changed to spark so much activity? “Well, battery technology has improved, costs have declined, and regulations on the pass car side to reduce or eliminate emissions have all created this push.” But, she stressed “the business case for trucks is not a slam dunk.”
She said the challenges facing electric trucks start with reduced range. “For electric vehicles, range fluctuates considerably based on several factors. Loads, speed and temperature all have an impact on range” Demands from vehicle auxiliaries, such as power steering, air compressors, cooling systems and HVAC can also diminish range, as well as body equipment run off the battery.
What’s more, battery cell temperatures need to be kept in a narrow range to run efficiently and high or low ambient temperatures cause batteries to lose capacity. “The amount of installed battery capacity will diminish over time through use,” added Schaefer. “And this loss of capacity and ability to fully charge batteries will reduce the range.”
Another hurdles for electric trucks is reduced payload from the added weight of battery packs. “Payload is not much of a consideration for work trucks, but the increased weight of batteries has to be considered as some applications are more sensitive to weight than others.”
Schaefer explained that it’s the battery pack that’s integrated into the vehicle that adds weight. Desired range dictates the size of the pack. “The greater the range, the more packs and the more increased weight.”
Then there’s the cost of those battery packs. “Initial cost is only one piece. Battery life may not last the life of the vehicle and may require replacement. Residual values may also be impacted.” She said there is some good news: “There are more and more [government] incentives out there to offset these costs.”
Schaefer noted that operators must also factor in electricity costs in their area. Prices for electricity range from .05 cents in Washington State to almost $.13 cents in parts of the Northeast. California is considered the average at roughly $.11 cents. Electricity prices change hourly depending on demand so it makes it tricky to determine operating costs.”
And of course you can’t go far without a charge. “Charging infrastructure is probably the most unknown aspect of the battery-electric vehicle equation,” said Schaefer. “And depending on the size of the batteries and type of charger, charging times can take several hours.”
She said it is important to understand that battery charging from full depletion to full charge occurs in stages. Charging from 0-80% occurs much more slowly to avoid battery damage and requires the other half of the charge time. “DC Fast Chargers provide the quickest charging option, upwards of 100-125kW, however, they place a significant burden on the charging infrastructure, particularly if multiple vehicle are charging simultaneously at the same location.” And there will “definitely be an impact to grid infrastructure.” Depending on existing infrastructure and power demand, that could mean “anything from a transformer upgrade to a new substation” being required for some fleet operators wanting to charge electric trucks.
“Regardless of these hurdles, we know that battery electric power for commercial vehicles will be part of the future of transportation and Daimler is committed to invest and work with our customers on how to ensure this fits into their business,” Schaefer stated.
Natural gas remains a great alternative
Schaefer also said that natural gas continues to be “a great alternative to diesel for those operators that have invested in infrastructure, or have readily available source of nat gas for their fleet.” She said natural gas trucks come with noise abatement advantages and are similar to the serviceability of diesel powered products. There are some additional requirements for technician training and equipment, but these are considered “pretty minor” for most operators.
“While the range of this fuel option is no longer an issue and fueling infrastructure has widely improved, purchasers of nat gas trucks are still faced with a cost premium at the point of purchase and when considering the current price of diesel, realizing the payback in this fuel option from a cost of ownership perspective can be a challenge,” Schaefer remarked. “We will see how this plays out in parts of the country that are pushing for near zero emissions regulations.”
Wrapping up, Schaefer said all the talk of alternatives “brings us back to diesel and why it will continue to be around for a long time.” She pointed out that diesel’s great advantage is its power density and said that “innovations in diesel technology will continue to be critical to ensure a green, sustainable future. “
“Green innovation means much more than emissions,” she concluded. “It’s how you run your business and how you drive cost and waste out, and drive uptime and efficiency in to create a sustainable future.”