EU unveils semi-autonomous platooning timeline

Europe’s truck manufacturers have revealed a detailed timeline of steps leading up to the introduction of convoys of semi-automated trucks on Europe’s motorways before 2025. Besides setting out the timing, the ‘EU Roadmap for Truck Platooning’ also provides guidance to policy makers and authorities on the regulatory changes and political support necessary for cross-border truck platooning.

Truck platooning is the linking of two or more trucks in convoy, using state-of-the-art connectivity technology and driving support systems. The truck at the head of the platoon acts as the leader, with the vehicles behind reacting and adapting to changes in its movement – requiring little to no action from drivers. The first real-life tests with truck platooning are already under way.

Platooning allows trucks to drive closer together, thereby significantly reducing their air-drag friction – which in turn can reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by up to 10%. Given that braking is automatic and immediate, truck platooning helps to improve safety too. Platoons of trucks also use roads more effectively, thus delivering goods faster and reducing traffic jams.

Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), recently presented the ‘EU Roadmap for Truck Platooning’ to policy makers, speaking at the European Parliament. The roadmap provides an overview of the steps that are necessary to implement multi-brand platooning by 2023. “The technology for platooning with trucks of the same brand is already available today. But clearly customers will need to be able to platoon with trucks of different brands, so our next objective is to introduce multi-brand platooning,” says Jonnaert.

“By 2023, it should be possible to drive across Europe on motorways with multi-brand platoons, without needing any specific exemptions for crossing national borders – a prerequisite for international transport.” Subsequently, allowing the driver of a trailing truck to rest might come under consideration. However, full autonomous trucks will only come later, Jonnaert stressed.

While manufacturers are already exploring the business case for truck platooning with the logistics sector, certain conditions that need to be met before 2023 are beyond the control of the truck industry. “That’s why we will also need to strengthen cooperation between all players involved, including operators of road infrastructure, transport companies, regulators and insurance companies, but policy makers in particular.”

Europe will need to create a supportive regulatory framework before truck platooning can become a common sight. “And that’s exactly where the policy makers come in. They will need to develop new rules, make changes to existing legislation, and harmonise international and EU rules.”

At the same time, it will be imperative to get political support for promoting the widespread introduction of platooning. Governments should, for example, introduce incentives, such as toll and tax reductions, CO2 bonuses or flexibility in driving time, to stimulate the market uptake of truck platooning.

ACEA is the Brussels-based trade association of the 15 major car, van, truck and bus producers in Europe. The ACEA commercial vehicle members are DAF Trucks, Daimler Trucks, Iveco, MAN Truck & Bus, Scania, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, and Volvo Group.