Daimler has pulled out of platooning development but companies like Peloton still believe the technology's potential benefits.  
 -  Photo via Peloton

Daimler has pulled out of platooning development but companies like Peloton still believe the technology's potential benefits. 

Photo via Peloton

Has Martin Daum showered serious rain on the platooning parade? Is he right to stop investing in the technology? Will he dissuade others from doing so?

He’s not without influence, after all. As head of Daimler’s Commercial Vehicles unit, and formerly the chief at Daimler Trucks North America, Daum is a weighty fellow whose opinions are always well considered and straightforwardly expressed. He doesn’t beat around many bushes, so when he said last fall that platooning might not be worth the trouble, a zillion ears perked up.

Speaking at the IAA commercial vehicles show in Germany last September, he said, “When it comes to automated vehicle technology, there is a very compelling business case for these systems. However, platooning might not be the holy grail we initially thought.”

As reported by my colleague Jack Roberts, Daum allowed that past platooning tests yielded good results in boosting fuel economy on older rigs. However, more recent testing has shown that fuel-saving results were “not as high as expected” for newer tractor-trailer combinations with already-efficient aerodynamics.

“Therefore,” Daum added, “I am a little bit critical of platooning today, but at Daimler we will continue testing this technology and see where it eventually leads us.”

At the recent CES show in Las Vegas, “a little bit critical” became dismissal. “We will not prioritize [platooning] for series production,” he said. “We tested it for several years... Results show that we have to re-assess how much fuel is actually saved. Platoons do improve aerodynamics and fuel efficiency considerably in an ideal world, but not in real-world traffic.”

Swedish truck-maker Scania (part of Volkswagen’s Traton Group) would beg to differ. It seems to be more committed to platooning than ever, as do other European truck makers. Which is a little odd if you think about the congested nature of roads over there and the fact that no national jurisdiction has made it legal. In the U.S., 18 states allow platooning, and even Daum has said the wide interstates are an ideal environment for trucks running nose to tail.

Scania contends that current adaptive cruise control brings a 3-4% reduction in fuel consumption with trucks travelling around 1.5 seconds apart at 60 mph, a 130-foot gap.

“There will be further savings when we have a smaller gap and much richer information being transmitted between the trucks,” said Christian Bergstrand, a project manager at Scania, quoted on the SMMT website (SMMT represents the U.K. automotive industry, trucks included). “When we introduce autonomous technologies as well and no longer have to take the driver into consideration, we can have a really short gap. In the case where we will have one driver for a platoon of four trucks, we could cut fuel consumption by 10% or more for the time the trucks are in the platoon.”

In the meantime, the challenges have more to do with operational and legal matters than technical ones. Given those operational issues, Bergstrand said the early adopters will almost certainly be large fleets creating in-house platoons.

“They can plan for coordinated departures and match-make within the fleet. We want to then grow the volume so that [in time], smaller customers can benefit from more ad hoc platooning.

“The requirements have not been defined that would determine a possible introduction in, say, three to five years. Even so, I strongly believe that before 2025 we will have many semi-autonomous platooning trucks on European roads,” Bergstrand concluded.

Martin Daum seems not to agree.

Anyone taking bets?