Daimler Trucks division head Wolfgang Bernhard says the self-driving market will 'offer solid revenue and earnings potential.' (Daimler AG)
Daimler AG is working to introduce trucks that steer, brake and accelerate independently as early as 2025 as the world’s commercial-vehicle industry leader seeks to keep an innovative edge over competitors.
The self-driving technology, adapted from features already available on Daimler’s new Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan, enabled a prototype based on the company’s Actros truck to travel by itself down a stretch of superhighway while the driver kept his arms crossed, waved or used a tablet computer.
“We aim to be the No. 1 manufacturer in this market of the future, which we believe will offer solid revenue and earnings potential,” said Wolfgang Bernhard, head of the Daimler Trucks division. “We don’t only talk about innovation, we implement it to underline our leadership position.”
Daimler Trucks faces increasing competition as Volvo AB, which ranks second worldwide in deliveries, has vowed to become the most profitable commercial-vehicle maker, while Volkswagen AG joins forces with its MAN and Scania brands. The Daimler unit, which contributed 27 percent of revenue and 15 percent of operating profit at the Stuttgart, Germany-based automaker last year, is eager to adapt technology from the sister Mercedes-Benz premium car division in a push for complete accident prevention.
Mercedes, which ranks third in worldwide luxury-car sales to BMW AG and Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit, demonstrated an automated S-Class in September, when Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche rode onto a Frankfurt car-show event stage in a driverless model. BMW’s 5-Series sedan is available with a system for parking itself, while software maker Google Inc. and electric-car producer Tesla Motors Inc. have been considering prospects for collaborating on autopilot technology.
The heavy-duty Actros, using a system branded as the Highway Pilot, drove back and forth along a stretch of the A14 Autobahn that’s under construction close to Magdeburg. During the 45-minute trip, the truck reduced speed and swerved to the side of the road as a police-car model raced past.
“Automated drive is a future trend,” said Frank Schwope, a Hanover, Germany-based analyst at NordLB. “People might be a little afraid at first, as with many technical innovations before they become commonplace. But ultimately, self-driving technologies will make trucks significantly safer.”
The truck observes its surroundings with the help of four radar sensors and a stereo camera, and the system includes data about current traffic, topography and road conditions to allow for autonomous driving at speeds of as much as 55 miles per hour. The driver can override the Highway Pilot at any time to take back full control, Bernhard said.
The truck can’t yet change lanes and pass other vehicles, a function that Daimler is working on, Bernhard said.
Daimler will be ready to introduce the system in Europe and the U.S. once legal frameworks have been adapted to allow drivers to keep their hands off the wheel for longer periods of time. The Highway Pilot may help to extend driving times between drivers’ obligatory breaks, reduce downtime for repairs and lower insurance premiums, Bernhard said.
Bernhard declined to comment on a possible price for the Highway Pilot technology because it won’t be on the market for another 10 years. He ruled out sharing it with competitors, as “we will keep the technological leap and savor it.”