The OEM Panel at this month’s Truck & Fleet Conference in Dubai was an opportunity for truck-makers to look at the trends in shaping the market but also discuss ways they can help transporters based here to be more profitable as we head into a new decade.
Fredrik Samuelson, managing director, Volvo Group Middle East, summed up the major forces at play globally that are disrupting this industry: “The first one, connectivity. The second one we have is electric mobility, the last one is, of course, automation.
“We just passed our millionth vehicle or equipment being connected. Electro-mobility: we have had electric drivelines on public roads in Europe since 2015 and we see automation also being developed,” began Samuelson.
Dwelling on the third of those major trends, he added that Volvo has made major strides in autonomy with VERA, the famously cab-less vehicle and other projects like the deployment of self-driving FMX trucks in Sweden. The next step, he said, is a need for regulation to keep pace with the stunning advances his company and others, such as Scania with the AXL, are making with the technology.
“What is hampering us is actually public acceptance and the legal framework to put these vehicles on the road,” he remarked. “We do it with our customers together in partnership and mainly in private spaces where we don’t have these regulatory complicating factors. We already have automated trucks in mines, in agriculture, depots, shuttle services. I mean, you mention it, we have it. Basically what is holding us back is the legislators. And when they are ready, we will be ready to make this shift.
“I’m sure many of the panellists here are ready to go with their customers and implement these things.”
Hans Wising, sales director, Scania Middle East, added that he thinks most manufacturers are at a similar stage with the technology. They are ready and are testing, he said.
“From the Scania perspective, we have recently launched our AXL vehicle, which is a truck that is focussing on mining operations. I think we also see it more when it comes to buses, public transportation, because can lower risks factors.”
Ognjen Jovanovic, body builder product manager, Mercedes-Benz Trucks, Daimler Commercial Vehicles MENA, argued that we are already seeing autonomy in the market.
The systems on-board the International Truck of the Year 2020 Actros outside the conference hall capable of achieving the Level-2 of vehicle autonomy, including its Active Drive Assist which lets the truck brake, accelerate and steer independently to prevent accidents.
“I would say that for us, at Daimler, this is one trend that is never going to stop. The Mercedes Benz Actros is a Level-2 autonomous truck and has covered close to 1,000 kilometres here in Dubai, driven autonomously under level 2. This is not the future, this is the reality.”
He continued: “We are into an era where we are focussing not on the electronics, we are focussing on the software, on the artificial intelligence, because we want to be on the forefront of technology. We want to lead this transportation segment into the future.”
Standing alongside was the Ford Trucks’ F-Max, the Turkish/US juggernaut which has garnered praise and awards since its unveiling last year.
Ford Trucks has been lauded for catching up with the top-end of modern truck technology in a relatively short time. Can Tekin, regional sales manager – UAE, Kuwait and Oman, Ford Trucks, said his company is now focussed on the first of the trends listed by Volvo’s Samuelson and is leveraging cloud technology as it continues its development.
“We are discussing the Internet of Things, so the connected truck and its connectivity collects a large amount of data. We are using this data for the future of the business,” said Tekin. “We are using this ‘big date’ to predict any future problems in the truck. Connectivity will affect the cost of ownership and also fuel efficiency.”
Erik Bergvall, managing director, Scania Middle East said that his company – as embodied by the New Truck Generation donated by Momentum Logistics for the event – is working with its customers to see how the current technology can be customised for individual fleet owners.
“We all know the transportation business, is also a very competitive business. Our customers are facing tremendous challenges with tiny margins to operate their business. And of course, we as a supplier, as a manufacturer, are trying our best to help out; to support our customers by developing the right specification for their operation, supporting them throughout the lifetime of the truck with a lot of focus on total operating economy,” he said. “We are asking: How can we support our customers to increase revenues by having the right specification? How can we help our customers reduce costs by having an efficient truck or transport solution? So, that is very much what we are focussing on.
“The future is around the corner, but a lot of things can be done with the current technology.”
Samuelson said that all of the trucks being delivered by Volvo into the market – including the FH 460 presented by FAMCO during the conference – are ready for connected services.
“We can learn and do predictive repairs, do adaptable service schedules, optimise our service contracts. All of this is already available on the roads here. But not all customers are ready to take full advantage of that. And coming into us and our partners to have that dialogue, they could get an immediate impact today,” he remarked.
In a market where the fleet transporter panel at the conference discussed as many as 80% of the companies on the roads are owner/operators much of this current technology is being ignored. However, Samuelson, said that the largest fleets in the market are already looking at emerging technology and how it could positively affect their business.
“We have some customers which are bigger logistics corporations, which have people thinking into the future. They are thinking about climate change, for instance, and of course, we are getting questions quite regularly regarding electric mobility.”
Despite the advances being made in electric vehicles, Samuelson said there was still some ground to be made up before it is fully, commercially viable.
“The energy density of batteries is very much deciding the commercial viability of the electric driveline and consequently the weight versus the energy stored. If you look at one of our battery packs, it’s like half a tonne. You can have 2-6 on a vehicle, when you talk about the amount of tonnes that can be carried and the profitability for the customer that battery density has to come up.”
The transportation industry is arguably facing its greatest period of disruption since the invention of the diesel engine and the vehicles that followed. However, the discussion on electromobility and autonomy are distant concerns for transporters in the here and now.
Together, the panel opened up on ways that it can support fleets to be more profitable in their operations as they face economic and market challenges.
“We are no longer just a manufacturer, we are the solution provider. By that I mean, when I’m going out visiting customer, discussing the truck is small part of the discussion,” explained Bergvall. “We are more and more discussing their operation and how we support them to make their operation more lean. Financial services is one part of that. So are workshop services, fleet management services, connectivity are also part of those discussions.”
Ford Trucks’ Tekin remarked that the company has added three new services for its customers as evolves into a solution provider partner for our customers.
“Whether it is small or big company we need to give them complete solutions. We need to be a partner of our customer. There are three basic things in the market now. The first is finance with retail finance leasing options on the table too. A clarity on the total cost of ownership which we keep improving by getting the data from the vehicles and we will continue to increase. Drivers make a great impact on operational cost. So that’s why we have an assessment programme for them and after that we give training so that those two points are very important for the have defeated customers, but not all of the customer side leader for all those solutions.”
One thing standing out during the debate for Mercedes-Benz Trucks’ Jovanovic was that, regardless of how big or small, or which region they are located, everybody is looking for a partner in the industry.
“I think that nobody here or anywhere in the world is buying a truck because he wants to buy the truck. He is buying the truck because he has to buy the truck and he has to do business. And this is what drives us at Mercedes Benz,” he commented. “We are constantly focussing on the people relationships. We are trying to be focussing on developing ourselves, our general distributors. We start by listening.”
At the core of the industry is a desire to raise standards of drivers, principally through training.
“We’re probably proud to say that in the truck industry, we are the original disruptors at Mercedes-Benz going back almost 125 years. The innovation or the disruption didn’t come from Silicon Valley at the time,” remarked Daimler CV MENA’s Jovanovic before noting one of the deceptively simple features of the 2020 Actros as demonstrating ways of helping fleets. “We have one unique feature we actually invented some 50 years ago, is the seat bench in the back, which can sit four people. And this is not a disruptive technology as such, but it can be used for driver training. We invite our drivers to join and offer them coaching on safe driving, efficient driving and the proper use of the vehicle technology.”
Scania’s Wising added: “It is easy to talk about all the fancy technology, advances and things. The most important thing for the safety of the vehicle and the surrounding environment is the actual driver. It’s very important to put focus on the driver. That is something we have had at Scania all along. If you give the driver a vehicle that he feels happy with: he feels in control, he builds confidence and he becomes a safe driver. Added to the driver training, of course, is the technology around it. But I think that the core of safety is the driver.”
“And with the information becoming available through the connectivity we can better support the driver development as well,” his colleague Bergvall interjected. “We can be a better coach to drivers; explain to the operators and owners what we can do to make the complete operation, and be more efficient as well.”
Volvo’s Samuelson said that the fuel efficiency difference between drivers can easily be in double-digits as demonstrated at its regional Driver Challenges competitions.
“We can see a 15% gap. It is a controlled environment, controlled road. The same truck. And that is up to that driver. If we can support him with a good working environment, connectivity and proper training, which we are offering through our partners, we can make that happen. And of course, looking at the future when we have the autonomous vehicles that hints towards the savings that our customers can do when that comes through.”
With these figures in mind, Volvo Trucks’ Samuelson – like other OEMs on the panel – believes the training of fleet drivers should be a major benefit for fleets to tap into: “We can develop fantastic products but if we do not support that driver to be efficient in his daily work and our customer for will get the benefits to profitability.
“We are all global players but we are all interested in having a sustainable business together with our customers going into the future. We see some very rapid development going forward. And this is being led by the companies because we want to provide these solutions and we want to have sustainable solutions for society and for our customers,” he said. “So, looking at the UAE as one small market in a global context, we are developing these products for our global customers and they will be available for the UAE customers as well.”
Samuelson argued there remains some hurdles to overcome for widespread adoption of all the connected solutions on offer – but the door remains firmly opened to fleets that want to use them to improve their bottom line.
“There is a question of maturity of the legislative system and there is a question of the business model of customers (the cost breakdown of customers around the globe may vary a bit depending on the salaries of the drivers and the cost of the fuel, but the split remains more or less constant anyway). However, we are ready to support you guys with our services and solutions to just come to us and have that dialogue. And we will be ready to help you. It’s too rapid a development and you can’t do it alone as one customer. You have to cooperate with us and incorporate what is there and being developed already into your business and that will give you major benefits.”