Navigant Research Blog

Truck Platooning Hits the Road

— April 20, 2016

Connected VehiclesA group of two or more vehicles traveling together and linked by wireless communications is known as a platoon. The idea is that each vehicle communicates directly with the lead vehicle so that any braking or acceleration commands are acted on simultaneously. Because the delay caused by driver reaction time is eliminated, vehicles can travel much closer together without compromising safety.

As well as using less space on the road, vehicles that are platooning save significant fuel expense mainly due to the reduction in drag. Tests have shown fuel economy improvements of up to 10% for following vehicles and as much as 5% for the lead vehicle. Actual benefits will vary depending on a wide range of factors, but they are expected to be significant. The initial benefit data came from the European Union’s (EU’s) SARTRE project led by Volvo, which ran from 2009 through 2012.

Initiatives on the Rise

There are a number of initiatives now underway to advance the technology and help bring it into production. In 2014, the American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council established the Automated Driving and Platooning Task Force within its Future Truck program. In 2016, the European Truck Platooning Challenge was set up with a goal to accelerate the introduction of truck platoons by putting the subject high on the agenda of EU policymakers. The challenge is being organized by the Netherlands as part of its EU presidency.

While developing and testing the technology is very important, policymaker support is necessary for long-term success. The EU project is tackling this by coordinating both multiple vehicle manufacturers and EU lawmakers from a range of countries. A key initial step was accomplished in April 2016 when a successful pilot test was completed with teams of trucks converging on Rotterdam from all over Europe.

OEMs Lead the Way

Truck OEMs participating in the challenge include DAF, Daimler, Iveco, MAN, Scania, and Volvo Group. Daimler sent three of its Mercedes-Benz autonomous trucks from Stuttgart, Germany using its Connected Highway Pilot system. Iveco sent two heavy-duty Stralis semi-automated trucks from Brussels, Belgium. Volvo sent three trucks in a platoon from Gothenburg, Sweden.

The ACEA (European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) sees its role on the project as encouraging individual countries to work together to avoid creating a patchwork of rules and regulations. Shared standards will be important to encourage investments in automated and connected vehicles by maximizing future potential component volumes.

Truck platooning is an important step toward self-driving truck fleets. Navigant Research has a detailed Autonomous Commercial Vehicles report planned for 4Q 2016, and it is encouraging that on-road testing has begun already. Some of the subsystems such as sensors and sensor fusion software can be shared with suppliers and manufacturers of light-duty vehicles, as well as image processing software that can identify obstacles. More details on the consumer vehicle market for self-driving features are available in Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report, and analysis of the technology for vehicle-to-vehicle communication is featured in the Connected Vehicles report.


A Bright Future for 48-Volt Systems

— April 20, 2016

Electric VehicleWhen Navigant Research first took a look at 48-Volt (48V) systems for cars back in the fourth quarter of 2013, the technology was seen essentially as offering a more powerful version of the stop-start advancements that were becoming ubiquitous in Europe and gaining a foothold in North America as a low-cost way to achieve better fuel efficiency. Prospects looked very promising. A second assessment in April 2015 identified that the practicalities of production costs had dampened the initial enthusiasm and delayed some launches, but there were still sound reasons why 48V looked set to become an established technology.

As work begins on an update to our detailed research report, it’s worth taking a quick look at the potential for the future. The production launch of the Audi SQ7 in 2016 saw the first introduction of a 48V system, and it indicates a possible future direction for the technology. As well as a more powerful stop-start system for a large diesel engine, the higher voltage makes possible an electric turbocharger for better performance and an electric suspension option that gives improved stability and ride quality over rough surfaces. More energy is recovered for reuse than is possible with a 12V system.

At First a Luxury

As has been the case for many emerging technologies in the past, the first applications are seen on high-end luxury and performance vehicles, with new functionality and performance being the primary incentives rather than fuel efficiency, as that is what people are prepared to pay for. As suppliers get behind the new technology and volumes grow, the component costs will come down and new features will be developed.

With more electrical power available, it becomes practical to introduce more accessories powered by small electric motors rather than driven via a belt on the crankshaft. By only using power when needed, such systems reduce the load on the engine and lead to small fuel economy improvements that are becoming increasingly important as governments impose penalties for missing efficiency targets. This arrangement also permits engine-off operation of functions such as HVAC and power steering.

Small electric motors can also provide some meaningful drive assistance when combined with a slightly bigger battery than the standard starter variety. On large vehicles this might save some fuel, while on smaller vehicles it could allow electric-only operation in some low-power circumstances such as coasting, sailing, and low-speed maneuvers in traffic jams or while parking. Implementing new electric suspension options also brings the ability to harvest energy, as well as to improve comfort and handling.

Europe in the Lead

48V technology development is being led by the European OEMs and Tier One suppliers such as Schaeffler, Continental, Valeo, and Bosch. At present, it appears that European vehicles will lead the rollout of the technology, which is then expected to spread to North America and some markets in Asia. Japan may be one large market exception because of its heavy investment in full hybrid drive. The introduction of 48V systems will also bring another potential growth market for battery and ultracapacitor suppliers. Once the component costs come down, there will also be new business opportunities for the technology in the commercial vehicle sector, which has developed its own 24V systems to deliver the necessary power but has never itself had the volumes to bring prices down.


Wireless Charging Steps Forward

— October 5, 2015

Along with range anxiety, recharging the batteries has been one of the stumbling blocks for widespread acceptance of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Public infrastructure is growing steadily in many countries with mandates to encourage the use of BEVs and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). Advocates of wireless charging are making the case that this is a temporary fix and that widespread wireless charging is necessary to create broader public appeal. Wireless charging has certainly been getting some news coverage this year, including:

  • Qualcomm wireless power for BMW i8 safety car in the second season of FormulaE
  • Momentum Dynamics won first prize in an energy security competition
  • WiTricity and CTEK agree to a technology and patent license agreement
  • Qualcomm licenses its technology to BRUSA
  • Canada-based ELIX Wireless announced the E10K Wireless Charging System
  • Evatran has a new partner in China

However, some of the cheerleaders are missing the bigger picture by focusing on simply eliminating the charging cable. If wireless chargepoints were common around cities in parking spaces and at traffic lights, there is the potential to reduce the size of the onboard battery without invoking range anxiety. This might offer an opportunity for the development of a low-cost fleet of small electric cars for restricted use within a city or town. Qualcomm is one company that is working on dynamic wireless charging so that vehicles could recharge as they are driving along.

In the United Kingdom, government agency Highways England has just completed a 2-year feasibility study to investigate dynamic battery charging systems for electric vehicles. It was successful enough that the agency is about to start another 18-month scheme to test a system on a road that replicates motorway conditions. If that goes well, the trial is slated to expand to a public highway. The government has announced that it is committing £500 million over the next 5 years to keep Britain at the forefront of wireless charging technology.

As is often the case with new technology, the devil is in the details of the transition. In the short term, vehicles will need to be equipped with both corded and cordless charge capability, which adds cost and weight to the vehicle. Once the wireless infrastructure is in place, savings can then be made by eliminating the redundant hardware on board. The infrastructure can be upgraded at minimal cost. Qualcomm has said it thinks much of the infrastructure upgrading can be scheduled in with routine repairs and road surface upgrades to keep investment cost low.

Navigant Research has been following the wireless charging market for a little while. Watch this space for an update to our short report on Wireless Charging Systems for Electric Vehicles. The next couple of years look to be very interesting for this technology.


High-Strength Steel or Aluminum for Vehicle Body Parts: That Is the Question

— August 10, 2015

In a presentation to the 2015 CAR Management Briefing Seminars, Eric Petersen, the vice president of research and innovation at AK Steel, outlined his plans to produce the next generation of high-strength steel. He was confident that new innovations from steel suppliers will prevent the loss of more market share to aluminum. As Petersen demonstrates, Ford’s decision to convert its F-150 to all-aluminum has prompted steel suppliers to get creative.

However, there are a lot of things to consider when choosing a material for manufacture of vehicle components. Current vehicle bodies and closures are made primarily of sheet metal, although carbon and glass fiber-reinforced plastic are also used. Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) designers and engineers have to consider both the requirements of the finished vehicle and the ability to manufacture it efficiently.

Modern production lines depend on assembly techniques that can be automated, and fixing parts together must use a process that can be done by robots both for speed and repetition. Depending on the material, this may involve spot welding, seam welding, rivets, bolts, glue, etc. If production facilities are already equipped with a certain capability, changing to a material that needs a different joining process might require a major investment, which may only be practical when the existing equipment is reaching the end of its useful life.

Part manufacture is another consideration. Many body parts have complex shapes. If they are stamped and need a deep draw, then there may be a limit on how thin the material can be. Steel that is developed to have high strength has a higher yield stress than ordinary mild steel, which is a benefit in the finished article to absorb loads, but makes it harder to form during manufacture. Other lightweight materials such as magnesium have poor formability for body panels but can be cast for uses such as the instrument panel beam in the 2015 Ford Mustang. Some materials are treated after shaping to make them harder, but that also adds cost. Different materials also require different post-manufacture treatments to prevent corrosion.

Once a part is manufactured and assembled, it has to meet various performance specifications. A vehicle body structure has to be stiff in torsion and bending, cope with fatigue loading at load points, handle rollover and side impact loads, and absorb crash energy while keeping occupants safe. In addition to meeting these structural goals, overall vehicle fuel efficiency targets mean that keeping the weight low is now critical. And, as always, there is the ever-present need to keep costs as low as possible.

No Silver Bullet

Just as with powertrains, there is no silver bullet material that is ideal for every application. Material suppliers should recognize the big-picture approach of the automotive manufacturers, which involves reducing the number of platforms to increase volume of many parts and to streamline manufacturing processes. OEMs are increasingly using multi-disciplinary optimization for part design, which considers a wide range of factors including manufacturability, assembly, structural performance, weight, functionality, and overall cost.

Future vehicles are more likely to be made from a variety of materials than to stick with one or shift entirely to another. Material suppliers should consider how to make parts with their products that not only perform better than the competition at lower cost, but also integrate easily into existing platforms.


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