Advances in Class 8 autonomous and electric truck technologies continue to make headlines, but executives from two major trucking companies said they don’t expect the new technology to bring major changes to the long-haul trucking industry any time soon. However, hours-of-service and electronic logging device mandates are bringing changes that have made the speed of service at truckstops and travel plazas even more important.
Dave Manning, president of TCW Inc. and Chairman of the American Trucking Associations, and Dean Newell, vice president of safety and training at Maverick Transportation, sat down with Lisa Mullings, president of NATSO, during NATSO Connect to discuss the future of heavy-duty trucks, industry regulations and professional drivers, who the executives expect to remain relevant for years to come even if autonomous technology advances rapidly.
"The drivers perform too many functions besides navigating the vehicle on the road,” Manning said, adding that drivers also need to be available in case technology fails.
Newell told attendees the airline industry has already shown that the public wants humans to be available to intervene in an emergency. “If you get on an airplane and look left, you always see two people in the cockpit, and airplanes are autonomous,” he said.
A growing number of companies are working on electric vehicle technology. Late last year Daimler’s Mitsubishi Fuso Truck unveiled a heavy-duty all-electric truck with a range of up to 220 miles, and Tesla announced an all-electric Class 8 Semi that will feature a 500-mile range on a single battery charge.
Manning and Newell agreed that there will be some applications that can benefit from electric vehicles, such as those that require emission-free vehicles, but neither believe the technology would work for the typical over-the-road fleet. “The downside to electric is to move 80,000 pounds 600 miles requires 20,000 pounds of batteries,” Manning said.
As part of the session, the panelists told attendees they are seeing shifts in operations from hours-of-service and electronic logging requirements, and Newell said speed at truckstops has become even more important as drivers work to maximize productivity. He said, “I know you want us to come in and buy stuff, but how long does that take?”
Ultimately, ELDs are driving productivity gains for companies that were running legal hours-of-service, Manning said. “We’ve seen that the dispatchers are better able to plan the drivers because they can see their hours,” he explained, adding that he thinks the industry will begin to appreciate driver’s time more. “It has been taken for granted for too long.”
Photo credit: Brittany Palmer/NATSO
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