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The future of high tech trucks is now

LAS VEGAS -- While the past decade served mainly as an R&D period for advanced truck technologies, the next 10 years is when telematic and hybrid systems will really mature for real-world use.

That was the word from a trio of experts at the Heavy Duty Dialogue 2010 here in Las Vegas during a panel discussion on trucking technology, titled The Next 10 Years. 

Clem Driscoll of research firm CJ Driscoll & Associates said that while many fleets have experimented with various telematic technology in a portion of their fleet, the economy of scale is improving so quickly that implementing such products in many more trucks working in a wider variety of applications is inevitable over the next decade.

Perhaps, most notable is truck OEMs' interest in being directly involved in telematic implementation and upkeep of sophisticated software platforms, lane departure and auto collision systems, EOBRs, and in-cab diagnostics -- as well as remote, satellite-based security and anti-theft systems.

In fact, at a time when there's no new money in new truck sales, an emerging aspect of truck makers' business is vehicle prognostics and working with fleets to maximize the resulting data for their operations.

"The real transaction," says Sandeep Karr of Frost and Sullivan in Toronto, "is not when the truck is sold," but the relationship the OEM forms with the customer in monitoring and maintaining the truck throughout its life cycle via data analysis.

Speaking more generally about OEM-carrier business relations, Jim O'Neal of Missouri-based O&S Trucking agreed in a follow-up session that the relationship has evolved into an ongoing vehicle servicing contract rather than simply "buying a piece of equipment," and driving it off the lot.


Municipal vocations are driving hybrid truck utilization,
but the gap between public and private sectors is closing.

The first phase of telematics has been focused on vehicle monitoring, while the next era will be more heavily geared towards paying special attention to driver monitoring, says Denny Slagle, CEO of North American Trucks (the branding unification of Volvo-Mack).

Driver fatigue monitoring, distraction mitigation, as well as behavior monitoring and reaction, are all part of the new generation of safety oriented telematic systems.

On the business efficiency and comfort side, trucks are evolving into mobile "hotel rooms" of sorts, providing a driver with rest and leisure accommodations as well as business tools such as in-cab scanning, signature capture, and true in-cab navigation.


Although hybrids trucks face certain challenges en route to more mainstream commercialization this decade, it's arguably the advanced technology sector primed for the biggest jump in growth.

Currently, based on existing conditions, this market still faces an uphill journey from the its "nascence-to-development" phase to profitable growth, says Karr. The good news is that while lukewarm growth is expected in the shortmedium term, things are expected to take off in the latter half of the so-called "teen" decade, which is appropriate considering the adolescent phase the electric hybrid market is in right now.

One hurdle, points out Karr, is that the market is dependent on foreign suppliers for key sub-systems and components, particularly in the case of batteries.

A recent Frost & Sullivan report concludes that a North American battery manufacturing infrastructure needs to be created and "activated urgently to ensure long-term sustainable market growth and development and to fully realize the energy independence and growth potential offered to local market participants."

But the good news for this industry is that demographics and changes in urbanization in many big cities are driving the shift.

Karr points out that "megacities" (amalgamated cities around an urban core, like L.A. and Toronto, for example) are sprouting all over the world.

Population consolidation is redrawing the territorial dividing lines between heavy-duty, over-the-road freight lanes and the urbanized and the work truck-based, medium-duty sector.

Furthermore, adds Karr, political mandates in these more centrally governed urban centers and government-backed incentives -- however modest they may be in Canada -- are ushering in the true advent age of mass hybrid truck utilization in North America.

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