Will Autonomous Pickup Trucks Lower Fuel Consumption?

The road ahead for the automotive industry is largely tied to autonomous vehicles, pickup trucks very much included. While road safety and efficiency are the main goals of the development of driverless cars, one equally important aspect of research is in fuel efficiency. The rate and efficiency of fuel consumption in trucks have a tremendous effect not just on operating costs, but also for the environment.

This is especially crucial here in Canada. The International Energy Agency reports that North America leads the world in terms of annual vehicle-kilometers (vkm) – or the total annual distance covered by a given fleet – of light duty vehicles. With ongoing regional efforts to lessen the country’s carbon footprint, fuel efficiency in pickup trucks is one of the most important vectors of the cause.

On fuel efficiency and consumption

According to Canadian Ministry of Natural Resources, light duty diesel trucks can run anywhere from 7.9 L/100km on highway driving to up to 12.1L/100km on pure city driving. By 2050, however, these are expected be reduced by as much as 18% for connected autonomous trucks.

This cut in fuel consumption is due to a number of factors: Forbes explains that autonomous vehicles employ wired – not mechanical – driving and braking controls, which eliminates additional weight. Driverless cars would also be equipped with sensors that can better analyze and respond to environmental and road factors, keeping within the most optimum speeds for maximum fuel efficiency by 2050.

Some car companies, like Ford, are aiming at much closer and ambitious deadlines. The automobile manufacturer is looking to take the lead in the world’s self-driving pick-up truck market by 2021.

An ongoing effort

In truth, the fuel savings and efficiency targeted by autonomous car manufacturers are part of a larger, multinational effort in cutting down fuel consumption for passenger and transport vehicles. For instance, the United States launched its very first fuel economy standards for light and heavy-duty vehicles way back in 2011, which aims to have 20% better mileage for trucks and pickups by 2018.

As in many endeavors, technology is playing a huge role in lessening fuel consumption, even in our pre-driverless pickup world. Fleet operators have been using electronic means to limit their drivers within 60 to 63 miles an hour for safety and fuel consumption considerations. This is because speeds of around 55 miles per hour or slower actually reduces aerodynamic drag and lessens fuel consumption.

Another way safety is promoted through driver behavior and technology is in the regulation of maximum Hours of Service (HoS) in Canada, United States, and Australia. The United States’ Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mandate requiring all transport fleets to carry electronic logging devices (ELDs) is one example of this. Fleetmatics specifies that the devices serve to track and report drivers’ HoS, proactively reminding both truckers and managements when drivers are approaching their maximum HoS. In this way, technology is helping fleets comply with FMCSA regulations while also promoting good driver behavior and road safety. This also lessens road risks from driver exhaustion and encourages trust from the commuting public, with whom trucks regularly share the road.

The transition to autonomous pickups and trucks is estimated to take several decades, and is expected to effectively disrupt how the world sees transportation and delivery. Still, the end goal of car makers for fuel efficiency and overall development of vehicles is something to be excited about.

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By: BeWise_RJ

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