Nikola's April launch of the next generation of its hydrogen-electric truck is just one of the technology advances we expect this year. 
 -  Photo: Nikola Motor

Nikola's April launch of the next generation of its hydrogen-electric truck is just one of the technology advances we expect this year.

Photo: Nikola Motor

This year hasn't yet faded from the rear-view mirror, and I'm already looking forward to 2019. The technology advances we have been watching over the past few years look finally to be coming to fruition, and some of those new bits will be hitting the street next year, some within the first few months of the New Year.

I learned, for example, in writing a story about advanced steering systems for the January issue, that some providers plan to have systems on the street in 2019. These will, at first, provide some lane-keeping ability for drivers by nudging the wheel gently to correct for lane drifting. They will also have variable torque control provided by electric motors embedded in the traditional hydraulic steering pumps to make steering at maneuvering speed a lot easier while maintaining the stiffness drivers like at highway speeds. We won't see self-backing trucks in 2019 – but they won't be far off.

Nokola Motors plans to launch its fully electric hydrogen-powered semi-truck in Scottsdale, Arizona, in April. Hard to believe it's been two years since the prototype was unveiled in Salt Lake City in December 2016, but the road-ready version will be launched in a few months with much fanfare, I'm sure, and I'll be there.

On the battery-electric front, in the dying days of December, Daimler Trucks North America delivered its first Freightliner eM2 to Penske Truck Leasing. Penske has committed to install 20 high-power charging stations across five California locations this month, setting up support for nine more eM2s and 10 e-Cascadias that will begin service along the West Coast in 2019 and beyond.

All of the other OEMs are working to bring battery electric trucks to market, with Volvo, for example, planning to have customer-ready product ready by 2020. All of the North American Class 8 truck makers have product in the pipeline, and many more of the medium-duty truck builders are already there or soon will be. And, of course. there are several other truck builders in the game and heavily testing product, such as BYD, Thor, Tesla and others.

My guess is launches of electric trucks will be pretty routine by the end of the decade.

And speaking of the Musk-Mobile, I wonder if 2019 will be the year Tesla chief Elon Musk shoots himself in the foot? Even though there are orders in place for the Tesla Semi, I have a hard time imagining he'll ever bring one to market – or keep it there. I could be wrong, but to me, Tesla is more of a distractor than a disruptor, siphoning off interest and possible investment dollars from the more serious developers of the technology. Because of Tesla's fan base, it's setting expectations pretty high for whichever battery-powered trucks make it to market and gain a foothold. The most successful ones, I'd venture, will be much less sexy than Tesla, and that's why I call it a distractor. Real truckers don't buy trucks because they are cool; they buy them to make money.

Will CES stand for commercial [vehicle] electronics show?

In a real change of pace, I'll be heading to CES (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas in early January. It'll be my first time at that show, and "trucking's" second serious visit. Several companies were there last year, Kenworth and Peterbilt among them, along with a few names we know, like Bosch and Qualcomm, displaying products and technology aimed at the automotive market. Still others, lesser known names like TuSimple and Luminar, had Class 8 equipment at CES showing off potentially useable autonomous control systems.

If the list of exhibitors and the number of contacts I have had from their PR people are any indication, there will much to report on from this show, including some technology not targeted specifically at truck that could easily cross over.

One that caught my eye is called the Quiet Bubble. It a noise-cancelling system integrated into the vehicle's audio system that works like noise-cancelling headphones to reduce background noise. That might be a real boon to drivers trying to sleep in noisy truck stop parking lots.

I'm really looking forward to driving some of these new trucks in the coming months. I have driven five or six electric trucks already – including one built by Transpower, who is now partnering with Peterbilt. I drove that one in August 2015, three and a half years ago. We will hopefully get some equipment to drive from the non-traditional suppliers like Thor, Nikola, BYD, Workhorse and others, and who knows, maybe even a Tesla – but I'm not betting the farm on that.

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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