These are exciting times for some automotive manufacturers. From self-driving “truck platoons” in Europe to advancements in autonomous vehicles in the U.S., and even the Tesla phenomena, it appears new vehicle technology is poised to have a significant impact on the automotive industry as well as the creation of new supply chains.
Progress continues on “smart” self-driving trucks, and last week in Europe, six truck convoys arrived in Rotterdam as an experiment its organizers say will “revolutionize” future road transport on Europe’s busy highways. More than a dozen trucks produced by six of Europe’s largest manufacturers made the trip, which included border crossings, in truck platoons, says Eric Jonnaert, president of the umbrella body representing DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania and Volvo, Agence France-Presse reports. “Truck platooning” involves two or three trucks connected via wifi that autonomously drive in convoy closely following each other, with the leading truck determining route and speed.
The trucks are still in testing phase, and although they are semi-automated and feature computers that allow them to drive by themselves, human drivers were still required to be on-board. Truck platooning is expected to ensure cleaner and more efficient transport because they drive at constant speeds, which reduces both fuel consumption and traffic congestion. Furthermore, self-driving vehicles also contribute to road safety because most accidents are caused by human failure, says the Dutch infrastructure and environment minister, Melanie Schultz van Haegen.
There are, however, still obstacles that still need to be addressed. For example, there is a lack of standardized regulations across the European continent to enable self-driving convoys, and there is a need for systems enabling communication between different trucks from different manufacturers, Jonnaert says.
In U.S. news, Toyota recently announced plans to collaborate with the University of Michigan to open an “autonomous vehicle research base” near the school’s Ann Arbor campus to focus on autonomous vehicles, the third center under a $1 billion investment by the automaker. The Ann Arbor hub is scheduled to open in June, with an eventual staff of 50 people. About 15 employees from the Toyota Technical Center in York Township who have been doing autonomous-car research for more than a decade, will transfer to the new facility when it opens, the company said.
The location will put this arm of TRI close to the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center, a collaborative facility where industry leaders such as Ford, General Motors, Honda and tier one suppliers work with the Department of Transportation on the future of connected and automated vehicles. It’s also the site of Mcity, a 32-acre complex that simulates urban and suburban driving situations for developing autonomous vehicles.
Finally, you may also have seen that in the first 24 hours of Tesla’s Model 3 availability, more than 115,000 customers lined up in stores to pay $1,000 deposits to buy the $35,000 car—a car which won’t even be built until late next year and it will take years to fully ramp up production. Tesla CEO Elon Musk now reports that list has now grown to more than 325,000.
Even though gas prices are down and sales of other electric cars are unimpressive, Tesla’s cars appeal to some consumers because they are not only environmentally responsible, they, well, look cool. And they are fast. Last year, Tesla marketed a tech upgrade on its Model S from “Insane Mode” performance to an even swifter “Ludicrous Mode," said to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds.
Is Tesla really a threat to GM, Nissan and other electric-car makers, as well as Toyota with its Prius? Critics do note that Tesla has failed to meet expectations before and has never produced huge numbers of vehicles. Then there is the simple fact that Tesla’s ability to build a new supply chain will make or break their business. So much remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, it does appear the automotive industry is store for changes, and many new supply chains will need to be formed. It will be interesting to watch.