Roland Berger has launched their latest study on automotive industry titled ‘Shifting up a gear - Automation, electrification and digitalisation in the trucking industry.’ As the trucking still continues to play a dominant role in the freight transportation across the world, the study points towards no let-up in the demand in the coming years. Currently, over 70 % of the freight in Europe and US is transported through road, and China leads the with nearly 75 %. However, the paper mentions that the industry stakeholders including OEMs, transportation and logistics operators will have to face significant changes as digitalisation, electric motors and driverless trucks expand their horizons in the industry, along with an increased pressure due to rising shortage of drivers.
The study underlines that the companies seeking to master the challenges will be able to draw on developments in the fields of automated commercial vehicles, electrification and digitalisation. The scale of the transformation will see logistics service providers and truck OEMs alike face many difficulties on the road ahead. The fragmented nature of the industry is an additional complicating factor with small freight forwarding companies dominating over a few large fleet owners. Walter Rentzsch, Roland Berger's expert in the United States has stated that it is because of this situation in the industry, consolidation is inevitable and companies that fail to respond to the changes will find themselves driven out of the market.
Stephan Keese, Partner at Roland Berger’s Automotive Competence Centre, mentions that most companies are still working with very inefficient processes despite the bulk of freight transportation being done through trucking. “High costs within the vehicle fleets prevents them from fully realising the potential they could be exploiting. Plus, there are growing driver shortages, particularly for long-haul routes across Europe and the US, and ever stricter emissions standards to contend with," he added.
Key Areas in the Future of Trucking
The development in the driverless trucks is on the rise and Roland Berger experts have said that such technologies could reduce mileage costs by as much as 25 to 40 percent if long-haul sections are driven by automated trucks and the first and last mile handled by conventional vehicles. "We expect fully automated trucks to be on the roads between 2025 and 2030. But the right infrastructure will need to be put in place at the same time in order to facilitate autonomous driving. That will include clarifying legal questions, such as who is liable in the event of an accident or other incident," states Keese.
The study also points towards batteries playing a significant cost factor as the industry in case of electric-drive trucks and various OEMs have already announced plans to mass-produce trucks of this kind. However, the paper stresses that even as the cost of battery cells falls in the future, electric trucks still cannot be operated profitably over long distances in the current setup. "But for trucks driving within a smaller range of up to 400 kilometers, electric-drive options will be an economically viable alternative," explained Rentzsch. Emissions standards resulting in local restrictions on diesel vehicles and cost benefits are the key factors driving these business decisions, claims the study.
Digitalisation is another key development in the not-too-distant future as the study highlights that trucks will be fully connected to their environment following efficient processes. Some 20 percent of truck journeys in Europe and the United States take place without a payload today, with as many as 40 percent of Chinese trucks traveling empty. "Process digitalisation and artificial intelligence will significantly reduce such inefficiencies, thus giving the transportation and logistics industry a major competitive advantage," explained Keese.
Logistics firms and commercial vehicle OEMs therefore need to define their market strategy and make sure they are taking the right action to address the challenges. The disruption in the sector will also give rise to innovative business models and new rivals with whom to compete, summarised the paper.