Volkswagen Truck & Bus believes strongly that platooning is ready for testing in routine and real-life conditions—with test runs ready to commence. Within the framework of a groundbreaking cooperation, MAN delivered the first test vehicles to the logistics service provider DB Schenker. Daily test runs are scheduled for the near future, with up to three platoons commuting every day on the A9 autobahn (highway) between Munich and Nuremberg throughout 2018. Future transport operations will increasingly rely on the automated navigating of networked vehicles. That’s why Volkswagen Truck & Bus considers platooning an essential step toward automated driving.

Driving in the slipstream reduces CO₂ emissions and fuel consumption by up to 10%.
Driving in the slipstream reduces CO₂ emissions and fuel consumption by up to 10%.

The delivery ceremony conducted at MAN headquarters took place in bright sunshine—quite possibly a metaphorical image when considering the brilliant future most likely ahead for platooning technology itself. In a symbolic gesture, Ewald Kaiser, Chief Operating Officer of DB Schenker, and Professor Christian T. Haas, from the Fresenius University of Applied Sciences, received the keys for the new MAN platooning vehicles from Dr. Frederik Zohm, Chief Research & Development Officer at MAN Truck & Bus AG.

“We have already delivered proof that platooning technology performs very well, including through numerous precursory projects such as the European Truck Platooning Challenge in 2016,” said Zohm, emphasizing that the time has come for the next step: “Adapting this technology to the real-life conditions of logistics operations now presents the challenge we are poised to address.” DB Schenker’s COO Kaiser also believes that automated and networked driving will fundamentally change the world of road freight transport. A major stepping-stone in this direction is the principle of platooning. It entails a vehicle system allowing a minimum of two trucks to drive on freeways with very little spacing, as they are supported by technological driver assistance and steering systems. The leading vehicle specifies speed and direction, while the drivers of successive vehicles can assume control over their individual truck at any time.

The driver activates the platooning mode by pushing the button.
The driver activates the platooning mode by pushing the button.

This project—the only of its kind in Germany—is supported by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), while scientific monitoring is conducted by Fresenius University. Its aim is to systemically research the advantages of platooning and substantiate these with valid data, even though there is no doubt about the theoretical benefits. As slipstream driving can accomplish fuel savings of up 10 percent, this can result in a reduction of CO₂ emissions throughout the entire logistics chain.

For the first time, the participation of MAN drivers is not scheduled for this particular cooperation project. Instead, professional truck drivers from DB Schenker will operate the trucks, following comprehensive instructions. Training is provided by MAN ProfiDrive experts, who also work with driving simulators. This phase is scheduled to conclude as early as April 2018, after which the trial period with test platoons is set to commence and continue over several months. By then, the sight of platoons on the A9 autobahn between Munich and Nuremberg should have become a daily routine.