Again in April, HDT Editor in Chief Deborah Lockridge and I expended a day touring the Autocar manufacturing plant in Birmingham, Alabama. The plant by itself was a little bit of a throwback to a different time. It was a blend of both equally mass manufacturing with a hand-created contact thrown in as a way to make certain hugely customized vehicles designed to correct buyer specs.
They have been making a products that present day, higher-pace, automatic manufacturing strains just cannot produce, Autocar engineers told me. In their watch, fingers-on, intensive notice to element is the only way to make sure its fleet customers get the vans they need to have to get their work completed.
That got me to thinking what the foreseeable future of vocational trucks will be, offered the bewildering array of technological alterations speeding headlong at trucking now.
“Super Spec’ing” Vocational Trucks
Initially off, let us take note that the skill to spec a truck down to the Nth element, is mostly a North American matter these times. It will make feeling, specified the vast variety of local climate, terrain and application North American fleets should contend with. It also does not damage that supplying this sort of a services to what is still the largest truck industry in the planet continue to would make perception to OEMs from a shopper relations standpoint.
That “Super-Spec” product has mainly disappeared in Europe and Asia. Shopping for a truck in people countries is a great deal like acquiring a passenger automobile in this article: You can perform all-around with a number of confined specs. But, by and large, you sort of have to get what the company is presenting.
A single huge motive for restricting specs is so OEMs can manage expenses and streamline manufacturing both of those on a worldwide and regional scale. That is develop into increasingly complicated for producers to do over the earlier few of decades – and that’s just mainly giving human-pushed, diesel-powered vehicles.
So, what I’m thinking is, what transpires when you quickly introduce multiple alternative gas/powertrain choices into the equation? And then, what transpires if you start mass-developing autonomous vehicles will minimal, or even no, lodging for human drivers? My issue is, that products and element synergy is vital for world-wide charge command and scale manufacturing. Moreover, the less parts and specifications a maker should deal with, the much easier it is to customize vehicles to a quite exact established of requirements.
Modular vehicle designs are the most straightforward way to do this. Fundamentally, you share as several parts as feasible – such as cabs, chassis and engines – across as lots of distinctive would make and designs as probable. OEMs have been undertaking this quite correctly for lots of a long time.
Will they be in a position to proceed to do so in the near long run, with so a lot of diverse powertrains, fuels, engines and differing concentrations of automation coming into into the generation chain?
My hunch is, sure – to a huge diploma. But, on the other hand, this plethora of new systems, elements and technologies is heading to create numerous new headaches for engineers and the staff who really make vehicles on assembly lines.
Autonomous Vehicles on the Assembly Line?
Although this continues to be to be observed, if autonomous very long-haul vehicles are as big a hit as some marketplace analysts (myself provided) think they will be – I’m not confident it will make sense from a manufacturing and value-manage standpoint to build a auto that can be possibly autonomous, or human-managed. Which is due to the fact I think the rewards of completely taking away all human ergonomic capabilities from autonomous vans will necessitate the build of independent vehicles – most most likely primarily based on frequent chassis, with some shared elements.
The actuality could flip out to be that human-pushed vans and autonomous vans are so distinctive in terms of specs, components and build requirements, that it may not make sense to build them with each other on the similar assembly line. And even if you do, will you then be in a position to personalize and spec the vehicles to the degree that most North American vocational buyers nonetheless demand?
For illustration, if you are a big OEM who now has to get started looking into, producing, and inevitably building battery-electrical automobiles, hydrogen-fuel-mobile motor vehicles, other substitute gasoline motor vehicles, and autonomous vans on major of diesel engines, are you heading to want to make investments time, revenue and producing pounds into developing a rather conventional mid-vary gas or diesel motor for vocational programs as properly? Are you heading to want to present those people vocational automobiles with a substantial volume of spec possibilities available to clients?
In all probability not. But you’ll nonetheless want to present those people sorts of trucks and engines to your customers.
So, what to do?
The Remedy to Far too Quite a few Specs Choices
One alternative, which Daimler lately introduced, is to farm out motor production to a third-social gathering provider. Cummins, in this occasion. And it is well worth noting that Cummins is currently laying the groundwork to properly provide in this part, by presenting multiple powertrain alternatives – equally standard and chopping-edge – that can help OEMs with speedily expanding item, powertrain and production demands.
A ton of new startups – mainly in the BEV space — seem to be eyeing the probability of some sort of creation shakeup in the vocational house by giving new motor vehicles. I discover, several of these cars have a tendency to be under Class 7 in sizing.
Those people autos, I would guess, would be the most most likely kinds to get dropped by OEMs quickly faced with mounting manufacturing, component and manufacturing prices, and pressures to minimize as a lot of specs as possible out of the full process.
This would be an superb opportunity for the car makers – which mostly walked away from vocational trucking in the course of the tumultuous early 2000s – to get back in the trucking sport. They may perhaps nicely to do so, given the relatively dreary outlook for passenger auto product sales in an autonomous long run, as opposed to the ever-developing emphasis on transferring freight as speedily, safely and securely and proficiently as possible in that exact same long term earth.
In other terms, if more than one automotive futurist is suitable, the production design will flip absolutely from the just one we have recognised for above a century now: The revenue will be in vehicles. Not autos.
To provide this minimal considered experiment comprehensive circle, I’d make just one final observation. A highly specialised, depth and spec-oriented manufacturer like Autocar would likely do fairly very well in that bizarre new earth, even when manufacturing highly spec’d automobiles using alt-fuel or BEV powertrains (systems Autocar is by now doing work on).
Irrespective of what occurs on the significant-tech entrance, the demand for hard, specialised vehicles that can accommodate human motorists and perform crews is not going absent for a extensive time to come. I assume new opportunities to serve people marketplaces and consumers may perhaps perfectly be an offshoot of trucking’s know-how revolution.