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Truck Talk: Safety sells edition

Semi-automated driving safety, dump trucks, and what pre-order means

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This week, we’re looking at some impressive outcomes from truck safety technology; a couple of dump truck developments (because dump trucks are cool) and the definition of a pre-order.

This stuff really works

Daimler Trucks North America was the first to show off limited hands-free driving in its 2020 model Cascadia flagship. The suite of technologies included active braking, active lane assist and adaptive cruise control all the way to 0 mph. 

Riding along the turnpike in South Florida back in February 2019 during a Daimler ride and drive for media showed this stuff really worked — especially for safer and more comfortable driving.

Now comes Robert Bosch with a new study that shows just how good advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) really are for safety, and the bottom line that drives fleet purchases.

The 2020 Freightliner Cascadia (Photo: Daimler Trucks North America)

Lane keeping and lane centering

Lateral actuation systems — unintended lane departure and lane keeping — may reduce costs associated with property damage when a Class 7 or 8 truck is the vehicle at fault by 35%. Injuries from large truck crashes could potentially be cut by 23% and fatalities by 19%. 

Bosch reviewed public crash data to correlate statistics between vehicle types and the severity of crashes. The data was used to calculate a field of effect (FoE) for accidents triggered by large trucks. Simply put, what crashes could have been mitigated or avoided by using lane-centering and lane-keeping systems?

Lane keeping and lane centering make driving easier and lead to safer roads. Additional technologies like hydraulic failure detection and steering assist can lessen a bad outcome from a tire blowout on a tractor hauling a load. 

“Let’s face it: When drivers hear more safety systems, they roll their eyes,” Len Copeland, Daimler’s Detroit product marketing manager, told me. “They think more buzzers, more warnings, more reports back to headquarters. Active lane assist is much more than that. It’s a highly advanced safety system. But it’s combined with driver comfort systems.”

Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet’s Google, released a similar study earlier this month. Substituting the Waymo Driver system for humans would have avoided nearly every fatal crash, including those with bikes and pedestrians, in Chandler, Arizona during a 10-year period.  

The money factor

Bosch calculated the systems can reduce the costs of accidents by as much as 4 cents a mile, or $3,700 a year per heavy truck. That is based on the National Safety Council’s KABCO injury scale, a process used to classify the costs of crashes.

The Federal Highway Administration figures a heavy truck covers 100,000 miles a year. By translating miles into dollars, Bosch came up with its figure. Even if the FoE is just 50%, using a lateral actuator system for five years could save more than $9,000 per truck.

“The full value when injuries or fatalities from vehicular accidents are avoided is ultimately incalculable,” said Kevin O’Keefe, regional president of Automotive Steering for Bosch in North America.

What’s up with dump trucks?

There is just something cool about a dump truck. Based on the number of Mack Defense press releases about its armored dump truck (even cooler) for the U.S. Army over the past couple of years, they must know it, too.

The most recent was the money shot — the Army ordered 99 of the Mack Granite-based M197A3 after two years of testing that included trying to blow the truck up and strafing it with rounds of machine-gun fire. The contract announced in May 2018 could be worth up to $296.4 million over seven years.

Oh, speaking of press releases, here is Meritor Inc. (NYSE: MTOR) describing its rather significant role.

The Mack Defense M197A3 armored dump truck. (Photo: Mack Trucks)

Dump truck tech

TRUX, the startup that can track what’s in a dump truck and where it’s going, now can tell how many tons are delivered in an hour versus what is expected. It builds on the TRUX Order Delivery Tracker that launched in October 2019. The order tracker monitors deliveries throughout the day, estimating the time of arrival for material en route to the jobsite. 

Consider a road paving project. Time-sensitive jobsite operations run on the number of tons of asphalt delivered per hour. Getting that velocity data pinned down is what TRUX offers. 

What’s in a word?

SPAC-backed Class 1 delivery van startup Electric Last Mile Systems (ELMS) says it has 45,000 nonbinding pre-orders for its urban delivery Class 1 commercial electric vehicle (EV). 

Note the word nonbinding. It’s the lack of that description that brought heat from Hindenburg Research on electric pickup truck startup Lordstown Motors (NASDAQ: RIDE). The short seller dug into Lordstown’s claim of 100,000 orders, finding LMC paid outside consultants per order written to inflate the number. LMC calls it testing the market acceptance.

Much to Hindenburg’s delight, LMC shares are getting hammered. A short seller makes money when the share value of its target falls. Now, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is asking questions of LMC. And CEO Steve Burns is playing defense, even to the point of donning a hard hat for an interview on CNBC. (True, he was in the LMC factory.)

Why tie these two together? History. 

ELMS CEO Jim Taylor was CEO of Burns’ Workhorse Group in the last decade. Taylor has been less than glowing in talking about his former boss. And ELMS’ description of its reservations is one example of how Taylor operates differently. 

ELMS intends (note the hedging language) to begin producing its van in Mishawaka, Indiana, by the end of the third quarter of 2021. If successful, ELMS would be the first Class 1 commercial EV available in the U.S. market. 

The Electric Last Mile Systems Class 1 Urban Delivery van. (Photo: ELMS)

Thanks for reading Truck Talk. See you next week.


Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.