Switching to battery-powered trucks in a bid to cut emissions could result in the Chinese starting to make significant inroads into European truck markets. That is the view of Christian Levin, executive vice president and worldwide head of sales and marketing at Scania.
“They won’t be a big threat so long as trucks rely on diesel engines,” he says.
“If demand for electric trucks grows, though, then they could be because of the considerable experience they have already built up in this area.”
They are already making progress with electric buses.
Battery-powered buses using BYD’s technology are in service in London and Nottingham and the Chinese manufacturer has done a deal with Alexander Dennis Ltd – ADL – under which it supplies the powertrain and ADL supplies the bodies.
An ambitious Chinese company could address this challenge by acquiring a major European manufacturer with a network already in place. Levin (pictured, right) says he can think of at least one (not Scania or sister company MAN) that could be a takeover candidate.
European truck makers should respond to any heightened competition from the Far East by developing their own equally appealing zero- and low-emission alternative fuel offers, he contends. They are of course already doing so – Scania among them – and have been for some time.
In 2016, Scania sold almost 5,000 vehicles that were either hybrids or run on alternative fuels: a 40 per cent rise. In addition, nearly 40,000 drivers employed by Scania’s customers were trained in fuel-efficient driving – a 30 per cent rise.
“The demand for vehicles that support the shift to sustainable transport is growing,” said Scania president and chief executive officer, Henrik Henriksson.
“So is the demand for services that support fleet owners in reducing fuel consumption and consequently both carbon emissions and cost.
“This proves that sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand.”
Charging stations will be built at both ends of the 14km bus line to supply the six buses involved. With 10-minute charging, they will run every 15 minutes for a total of 100 journeys each day.
Scania has also announced an order for 160 gas-powered buses placed by EMT Madrid, the Spanish capital’s municipal transport company. This is in addition to the 46 Scania gas buses the fleet ordered last year.
So far as trucks are concerned, the Swedish manufacturer has entered into a five-year agreement with logistics specialist HAVI to shift 70 per cent of its truck fleet in a number of European countries to alternative fuels, including gas and hybrid power, by 2021.
HAVI is closely involved in transport operations to and from McDonald’s restaurants.
The agreement is expected to result in CO2 cuts ranging from 15 per cent to 40 per cent for every kilometre driven depending on the route, the traffic conditions and the fuel used.
Diesel engines are cleaner than they have ever been, says Scania senior vice- president, powertrain development, Björn Westman (pictured, right).
“The trend is looking good for diesels for the next five to ten years, at least so far as long-distance haulage is concerned, and we’re focusing on improving fuel efficiency at the rate of around one per cent a year,” he says.
“The sort of thing I’ve got in mind is the engine not turning over when you are coasting,” he adds. “You shouldn’t have friction when it’s not necessary.”
The Swedish manufacturer has recently revised its iconic V8, adding a 650hp variant to a line-up that already offers 520hp and 580hp options.
All three employ SCR only. The mighty 730hp V8 diesel also offered uses both SCR and EGR but is based on the previous V8 platform.
The latest V8 benefits from improved injection, combustion and thermal management systems, says Westman. They should result in cuts in fuel consumption of up to 10 per cent when deployed in conjunction with the new and more-aerodynamic Next Generation S- and R-series cabs.
Scania is making more use of the Miller cycle which is fitted to the 520hp V8 as well as to the new 370hp version of the 12.7-litre DC13.
Using a special profile on the camshaft for the intake valves keeps them open for slightly longer during the compression phase. Less air is pumped through the engine as a consequence which helps keep the temperature up and the SCR running without the need to burn more diesel to produce heat.
“You’ve got to do everything you can to ensure you keep your tailpipe NOx levels below the legal limit,” Westman says.
“That includes in real-world driving and you have to be able to do it for all the fuels you use; but without incurring fuel penalties.”
Diesel includes biodiesel.
The most recent incarnation of the five-cylinder 9.3-litre DC09 engine features two variants that will run on 100 per cent FAME (fatty acid methyl ester) biodiesel. Furthermore, all Scania Euro 6 engines presently in production can be run on HVO – hydrotreated vegetable oil.
How soon before fully autonomous trucks are a common sight on public highways the world over? With no need for a driver, any such trend would undoubtedly lead to the steady disappearance of traditional truck cabs.
“One has to wonder whether the latest Next Generation cab will be Scania’s last real cab designed for a driver given that we’ll have to live with it for the next 15 to 20 years,” remarks Next Generation project leader, Lars Bygdén.
Full autonomy in day-to-day highway operations remains some years away, reckons Levin.
It is not the technology that is holding up progress he believes, but rather the legal framework.
What he has in mind is who will be held liable if the technology goes wrong – the truck’s manufacturer or the truck’s operator?
“Two countries – Germany and Finland – have already stated that we as a manufacturer will be liable,” he says. Many others have yet to make up their minds.
Then there is the question of making the technology so secure that a terrorist cannot hack into it, take control of a truck then deliberately cause a catastrophic accident.
“That’s something we’re working really hard on,” he says.
Where fully autonomous trucks do have a role to play more immediately is off-road. Scania has been busy testing self-driving vehicles for use in mining operations, and will be deploying them in Australia in conjunction with Rio Tinto by the end of the year.
They can also have a role to play in duty cycles that involve short, predictable journeys along public highways.
Scania is engaged in a platooning project in Singapore which will involve four trucks travelling on public roads transferring containers between port terminals. The three trucks behind the lead truck will be autonomously driven.
Returning to buses, Scania has come up with a study for an autonomous electric single-decker for city centre use. Looking a bit like an overgrown skateboard with a body on it, it has an open platform which allows passengers to hop on and hop off at will.
So far as the majority of on-highway trucks are concerned, what is more likely in the short- to medium-term than full autonomy, Levin suggests, is the introduction of semi-autonomous models, with someone still sitting in the cab.
The role of the driver – if that is still the correct term to use – will alter however, he believes.
“Drivers will become more like truck managers,” Levin says.
Their role will end up being in part rather like that of an employee who keeps a watchful eye on machinery in a factory; but they will still have to respond quickly if there is an emergency.
Freeing them from constantly having to watch the road ahead means they will be able to take on more administrative duties.
“In effect the cab will become an office,” he predicts.