Two-truck platoons can save fleets big bucks on fuel

by Sonia Straface

MONCTON, N.B. – Truck platooning has the potential to save carriers a significant amount of fuel and money, according to Jack Roberts of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE).

Roberts spoke at the Atlantic Provinces’ Trucking Association’s transportation summit this week about the confidence report he put together for NACFE that was released last month. The report focuses on two-vehicle platooning and its ability to reduce fuel consumption by about 4% average across both vehicles.

Roberts kicked off his presentation by explaining how truck platooning actually has its roots in NASCAR, where cars would tuck in close to the bumpers of vehicles ahead of them to reduce drag and catch up to the leader.

“Drafting was the technique,” he explained.  “And it is still a fundamental strategy in NASCAR to this day just like blocking and tackling is in football. And a lot sooner than you probably think, you will be drafting your trucks. But it…will be called truck platooning and it will more than likely be your first hands on introduction to autonomous technology today.”

Roberts said he believes that as truck platooning rolls out across the continent, it will be two trucks.

“We’ve interviewed countless fleet executives all over the US and Canada, who are test driving the trucks, and we’ve interviewed the OEMs to…paint a complete picture on what can be expected with this technology,” he said. “There is nothing science fiction on this.”

Roberts said that every system used in platooning is already on the market today, like in-cab cameras and collision mitigation systems.

The confidence report found that with a following distance of 40-50 feet, fleets could save a significant amount of fuel in a two-truck platoon.

“The fuel economy benefits are real,” Roberts stressed. “When you talk to vehicle design engineers, there’s just nothing more they can do to squeeze another 6-10% fuel economy out of these trucks. And yet simply by linking up these vehicles together electronically, and driving down the road in a coordinated fashion you can easily get 3% fuel economy increase in the front vehicle, second vehicle generally sees around 7%, and third vehicle is the sweet spot where we’ve seen a saving of 10-15%. We think this is going to be an attractive enough opportunity for the fleets to save some real money.”

Of course, with change comes pushback. Roberts explained that there are still a lot of challenges to work past before we will see platoons on our roads, like if drivers are going to be onboard with platooning or if they will have to be paid more to participate.

“And then there’s platoon integrity – what happens if vehicles cut in and out of the platoon? How long can these vehicles stay in platoon mode? There’s reliability. And who’s at fault if something goes wrong?,” he said.

Roberts added that though platooning is a “gateway” to autonomous technology, it is not a driverless technology.

“(Platooning) is being unfairly grouped with autonomous technology,” he said. “Because in platooning the driver is still steering the vehicle.”

And though there is still some uncertainty about platooning, Roberts concluded that it is expected to be in the market sooner rather than later.

“We have a high degree of confidence that this technology is going to be effective, it’s going to be useful in real-world operations and it will be an easy place for fleets to start,” he said. “Fuel savings are documented, and the technology is available.”

You can read the full confidence report here.

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  • No sense he is watching too much nascar racing????
    I had some drivers trying this strategy in order to save fuel the indoo are good at this way so to let them know all got to do is move back and forth left to right so the driver behind has a little driving problem than he slow down to a respectable distance.

  • There is nothing strange or new about drafting and the potential savings. Nice to see someone is documenting the potential benefits. We have been using Fierce Fuel Systems products to glean up to 20% savings and when coupled with platooning techniques are getting near 30% savings without the aid of aerodynamic equipment.