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Autonomous, electric and regulatory barriers: Navistar’s Gilligan paints a path forward

A Navistar LT model drives through a construction site. Navistar’s Steve Gilligan discussed several technological opportunities for truck makers during this week’s ACT Research conference.

COLUMBUS, Indiana. Autonomous trucks are still in the future, but there are plenty of technologies available now and coming down the pipeline that will transform the industry, said Steve Gilligan, vice president of marketing for Navistar (NYSE: NAV).

Speaking at ACT Research’s Seminar 60 conference at The Commons in Columbus, Indiana, Gilligan took a few minutes to briefly touch on the pathway forward for trucking fleets, including electric and autonomous vehicles.

“When and if we see truly autonomous Level 5 vehicles remains to be seen,” he said, but many of the new trucks purchased today include autonomous-type technologies such as lane keeping technologies, collision mitigation systems, and advanced cruise systems. In fact, 70 percent of Navistar’s Class 8 trucks now include at least one of these systems, Gilligan said.

Gilligan highlighted four areas that Navistar believes will continue to provide innovation beyond this year: connected vehicles, driver interfaces, fuel economy and emissions reductions, and advanced driver assistance systems.

In the past two years, Navistar and Volkswagen (OTC US: VWAGY) have taken a more collaborative approach to vehicle design through the Traton Strategic Alliance. Volkswagen now holds 17 percent of Navistar stock, but the tieup has been beneficial for both companies, Gilligan said.

“It has achieved and to a great extent eliminated many of the problems we were having,” he said.

The two companies are working on global sourcing opportunities and sharing of technologies. In late 2017, the companies announced they would work on the next-generation of fully integrated big bore powertrains, with a likely launch in 2021. The powertrain is expected to take advantage of a Joint Procurement program that is designed to secure components and parts from suppliers for all the global truck brands under the companies’ portfolios.

The alliance will also produce a connected vehicle program, joining Navistar’s OnCommand system with Volkswagen’s Rio system. There will also be a Class 6-7 electric truck for North America.

When it comes to the much-talked about connected vehicle, Gilligan said Navistar is well on its way with an early focus on fleet maintenance. This includes service scheduling, parts management, vehicle triage, regulatory compliance, vehicle records and warranty records.

“We are going to continue to see advancements in connected technologies,” he said.

Future connected technologies could focus on telematics services and transportation management such as dispatching and document management.

Fuel economy remains a key line item for fleets, and Navistar, like other OEMs, has worked on ways to improve its vehicles’ fuel economy. Some of that work has been done with the company’s CATALIST SuperTruck project. That truck has tested at 13 mpg on flat terrain and 11.7 mpg on hills with a greater than 50 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag.

Not all of the SuperTruck technologies have made their way into production yet, but Gilligan doesn’t see development of more fuel-efficient technologies slowing, even if the government puts the brakes on new regulations, although the next phases of greenhouse gas regulations in 2024 and 2027 are still on track.

“All of those regulatory cycles are going to drive OEMs to improve fuel economy, but the truth is, those improvements are going to continue because fleets want them,” he said, noting that a 1 mpg improvement in fuel economy is a $24,000 fuel savings over the life of the vehicle.

“Some fleets are already achieving 10 mpg, but we believe 10 mpg will be commonplace in a couple of years,” Gilligan added.

How OEMs will meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s model-year 2027 sleeper regulations remains to be seen, but Gilligan said that “every OEM has a pathway to meeting it.”

Among some of the technologies that will likely be utilized are improved powertrains, more aerodynamic and improved take rates of aerodynamic devices, low rolling resistance tires, efficiency improvements in the transmission and axles, use of automated manual transmissions (close to 80 percent of all new Class 8 trucks now feature an AMT), more idle reduction technologies, tire pressure monitoring and automatic tire inflation systems, predictive cruise and use of 6×2 configurations.

Finally, turning to the big headline maker these days – electric vehicles – Gilligan said that the industry is nearing a viable electric vehicle.

“One of the questions [customers] have is can they haul the payload necessary to do their daily loads,” Gilligan said. “We’re getting very close to that.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.

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