By on October 12, 2017

Volkswagen Truck & Bus launching trial projects for digital truck platoons

Having already dropped itself into an ocean of electric car R&D, Volkswagen is now making plans to develop battery-powered commercial vehicles aimed at servicing urban areas where public officials are having night terrors about air quality.

Jürgen Stackmann, VW’s board member responsible for sales and marketing, promised the company would be at “full steam” on EV production and development by 2020. That includes a battery-only option for “all styles and body types” by 2030, according to Stackmann. But the brand wants to have something similar on the table for trucks and buses before then.

Volkswagen Truck & Bus is investing 1.4 billion euros ($1.7 billion) into new electric drivetrains for use in both medium and heavy-duty distribution transport and city buses. While that development will go toward European vehicles initially, VW and strategic partner Navistar will use the “e-drivetrain” platform on U.S.-based electric trucks from 2019 onwards. 

The company says a battery-powered truck, called the e-Delivery, will make its way to Brazilian assembly lines in 2020. However, the German manufacturer’s MAN and Scania brands will both deliver entirely electric buses to European cities before this year’s end. “The e-Delivery marks a milestone in the history of Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus (Trucks and Buses),” said Roberto Cortes, CEO of MAN Latin America, in a statement. “This is a brand-new platform that was developed in Brazil with the aim of offering new mobility alternatives to large cities.”

If VW Group can adhere to its proposed timelines, it would place it in very a good position to compete with Tesla, Daimler, and Volvo Trucks’ attempts to deliver similar electrified long haulers. But Volkswagen isn’t satisfied with delivering on electric powertrains — it also wants to design autonomous driving technology that’s focused on closed environments.

By narrowing its scope, the company could get a jump on rivals pursuing similar self-driving systems. Navigating through unpredictable traffic and endless roadways is a tall order, so VW’s initial autonomous vehicles will be things like transportation shuttles, highway maintenance vehicles, and airport-based tractors. By keeping things in a more stagnant environment, the automaker thinks it can get the first self-driving models out within two years.

Volkswagen Truck & Bus launching trial projects for digital truck platoons

Of course, the end goal is to build up to fully autonomous trucking fleets capable of making it cross-country. To that end, MAN will work with logistic experts at DB Schenker to test a convoy of connected trucks on the A9 autobahn in the spring of 2018. The theory of “platooning” the vehicles together allows the lead truck to set the course and pace via a human driver while the remaining vehicles follow autonomously.

“Platooning is the first step towards automated driving on public roads,” Andreas Renschler, CEO of Volkswagen Truck & Bus, explained. “The next step will involve enabling truck convoys comprising different brands to operate in platoon formation. As part of this process, Scania and MAN will join forces under the Volkswagen Truck & Bus umbrella to pioneer technology and develop standards that will shape the future of the entire industry.”

[Images: Volkswagen AG]

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14 Comments on “Volkswagen Dumps $1.7 Billion Into Development of Electric Buses, Commercial Trucks...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    These guys are pretty good talkers.

  • avatar

    Imagine coming up behind a platoon of ten trucks on a regional highway.

  • avatar

    I’m not saying it will, but if the EV market vanishes before it appears in earnest, VW will be in some deep $hit, having put all its eggs in one basket.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      VAG is far from putting all its eggs in one basket. I do believe some of you can’t see the forest through the trees.

      I have for a number of years painted a picture of the USes Big 3 becoming ever reliant on large protected vehicles, namely pickups and SUVs. This can only occur whilst US protectionism and technical barriers remain.

      VAG and many other global vehicle manufactures have a far broader array of product to select from than the protected US vehicle industry.

      Start looking at the forest.

  • avatar

    U can understand a hybrid system, sort of like the locomotive engines, where there are batteries that turn the wheels, but a diesel powered generator that charges the batteries. But I am not sure how they will build a battery only semi. The batteries needed to supply that much electricity would take up a lot of the weight that the trucks are allowed to carry. Especially for the O.T.R. guys. How will they charge their batteries? Are they expecting the truck stops to supply them with the juice for free, or simply charge them? And again, no one is telling us how we are going to supply more electricity to a weary electric grid, not only here in the States, but in most places around the world.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    The batteries would be a huge part of the gross weight for OTH rigs. Perhaps there could be smaller batteries in them that are used for pulling hills and such but the truck would otherwise use power from, oh, I dunno, cables strung over the highway? Further, to both minimize accidents AND maximize efficiency, they could travel along the highway using some sort of high-strength guide. Two of them, even! And to save costs on rubber tires, maybe the truck could actually drive on these guide rails ( ‘rails’ for short ). This all reads like crazy-talk.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    VAG has set an ambitious target of producing one million EVs by 2025.

    Most other EU manufacturers are ambitious as well.

    In NA GM I believe is leading the Big 3 and the Ponzi company called Tesla.

    What cand the US do? Quality EVs grom the EU and cheap EVs from Asia. Maybe expand the chicken tax to cover EVs?

    • 0 avatar

      EVs, just like other electronics prior, will increasingly be Asian built. That’s where the population densities make them most useful, relatively speaking.

      And EVs are too fundamentally simple to build, to give German grade overengineering much real benefit; whether in practice or in the obfuscations of European regulators.

      Once the credit bubble finally bursts in the West, people here will become much more cynical/realistic about what constitutes worth paying for “improvements.” Just as happened in Japan.

      Which leaves lots of current European manufacturing industry, amazing as it is, very exposed.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        I disagree. Your comment is as if the EU manufacturers are reliant on the EU only.

        You have Nissan/Renault/Mitsubishi, VAG, Pug and Opel and even MB/Daimler.

        Toyota is large in it’s own right.

        These companies are very profitable and there profits are not heavily reliant on one type of vehicle with a massive tariff on imports.

        The manufacturers I mentioned above are quite successful with a huge array of vehicles across most of the globe. They aren’t reliant on only large vehicles. This is where the US is going wrong.

        If you look at the global market the US is quite unique. Why? Americans are not any different from others in the world.

        So, what is driving this difference in preference? There are multiple countries with very high incomes. Is US income is that much better? Obviously not. People are not different around the world.

        It’s the controls, regulations, protectionism in place that influence what is driven.

        This is the part of the formula that appears to be not understood by the Big Three, even after the Energy Crisis of the 70s.

  • avatar

    And when they get done spending billions of deutschmarks, BEVs will still be niche market vehicles of limited utility, primarily useful to relatively prosperous suburb dwellers as 2nd or 3rd car commute vehicles. Useless for sustained long distance travel, and chained by the laws of physics to either excruciatingly slow, or painfully inefficient fast, charging cycles.

  • avatar

    Daimler’s Mitsubishi Fuso e-Canter is already here. Urban/suburban delivery box truck with ~80 mile EPA range. Real-world in slow-moving urban traffic will probably be better tho; speed is what kills EV range, especially when you’re rocking the aerodynamics of an 8′ wide, 10′ tall brick.

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