Daimler takes automated trucks to next level with EUR 500M investment

Published: Thursday, February 14, 2019

After making record profit selling more than half a million trucks all over the world in 2018, Daimler Trucks sets new goals to bring highly automated trucks (SAE level 4) to the road within a decade. Company is hiring more mechatronics and robotics specialists.

For over 50 years, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas has been the world’s largest platform showcasing cutting-edge electronics and tech products. But this year the event also played host to global auto makers with new cars and trucks now laden with technology.

Daimler Trucks, which made record profits in its history by selling more than half a million trucks all over the world in 2018, was among the auto makers that participated at the January 7, 2019 CES.

Martin Daum, Daimler Trucks & Buses CEO and member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, said it’s only fitting to launch their latest truck at the event as “the modern truck is all about technology: 400 sensors on board, roughly 100 million lines of software code, hundreds of thousands of our trucks worldwide constantly online.”

In his speech at the CES, Daum also noted 2018 was the company’s most successful year in its history with record sales mainly driven in the US.

“Our strong results are due to our customer focus. We want to make our customers better every day – and thus, feel an obligation to innovate. We build to provide solutions, making sure to develop and to offer the right product at the right time – and with the quality and reliability our customers deserve to expect from Daimler,” the CEO said.

New Investment

At the event, Daum announced Daimler Trucks will invest EUR 500 million (around USD 570 million) in the coming years and will create more than 200 new jobs in its global push to bring highly automated trucks (SAE level 4) to the road within a decade.

Regionally, the US would pilot the Level 4 concept in building highly automated trucks. Some 200 positions for mechatronics engineers or robotics specialists with IT and programming skills will be filled at the Daimler Trucks & Buses new Automated Truck Research & Development Center in Portland, Oregon for this project.
Daimler said the center’s experts are dedicated to all aspects of developing, testing and validating automated vehicles. Plus, its engineers work in close cooperation with their colleagues in the research and development centers at Daimler Trucks locations in Stuttgart (Germany) and Bangalore (India), thus forming a global network.
The company said a crucial success factor for the development of a safe and reliable level 4 highly automated truck is a closely coordinated system of engineering and technology development.

Level 4

In commercial trucking, level 4 is the natural next step after level 2, increasing efficiency and productivity for customers, cutting costs per mile significantly, Daimler said noting that it’s skipping the intermediate step of conditionally automated driving (level 3) as it does not offer truck customers a substantial advantage compared to the current situation with no corresponding benefits to compensate for the technology costs.
Level 4, which is Daimler’s current goal project, means there’s no driver on board at least under certain conditions.

“You may now be wondering why we skip level 3. We skip it because in the truck world all CASE technologies must also make a viable business case for our customers – otherwise they don’t invest in them. A level 3 truck is no business case – it means higher technology cost and investment without corresponding benefits. So, we’re heading directly for level 4 – and we’re doing so in a very deliberate way,” Daum, Daimler’s CEO, explained.
At the event, Daimler debuted the Freightliner Cascadia which offers partially automated driving features (level 2), making it the first-ever partially automated series production truck on North American roads.

Daum said the company pioneered automated trucking and was also the first to get road license for an automated commercial vehicle. But its accomplishments won’t stop there.

“Now we take automated trucking to the next level: we’re ready to launch the first partially automated new Freightliner Cascadia in 2019 – and next, we tackle highly automated trucks. Highly automated trucks will improve safety, boost the performance of logistics and offer a great value proposition to our customers – and thus contribute considerably to a sustainable future of transportation,” said Daum.

In 2015, Daimler Trucks introduced in the US trucking industry its highly automated trucks with the launch of the Freightliner Inspiration Truck. Since then other innovations were introduced in the trucking industry with Daimler leading the pack.

Level 2 of Freightliner Cascadia means the driver remains in control, but is supported by an advanced driver assistance system – regarding braking and accelerating as well as lane keeping.

“The benefits are significant: more safety, better fuel efficiency, and lower emissions. We have defined our strategy to move to the next level – beyond level 2. We are here today to announce two major updates in this regard,” explained Daum.

The revolutionary Level 4

Level 4 trucks offer enormous advantages in many areas says experts as they enhance safety in traffic thanks to a redundancy of systems and a multitude of sensors and systems that never get tired or lose attention – because today, a great majority of accidents are still due to human error.

Level 4 highly automated trucks also improve efficiency and productivity, among other things, through higher utilization of the vehicles – practically around the clock. They also make it possible to travel during light traffic times, for example at night, and thus avoid traffic jams by intelligent route management.

This has positive effects for truck customers and for the entire economy: the competitiveness of an economy is strongly correlated with the efficiency of logistics. This aspect becomes more and more relevant as global road freight volume is expected to more than double between 2015 and 2050.

“Level 4 trucks will have enormous benefits. First, they will – compared to level 2 – increase safety even further. Second, they will boost performance of transportation – for example by running at night much of the time, in less dense traffic,” said Daum. “Third, they will help society cope with ever-growing volume of freight – and thereby enable further economic growth and prosperity. Global road freight volume is expected to more than double between 2015 and 2050.”

“Fourth, highly automated trucks will make our economy more competitive, as the competitiveness of an economy is strongly correlated with the efficiency of logistics. Fifth, and very important for this technology to gain market acceptance: highly automated trucks will offer a tremendously strong value proposition for our customers. They will cut cost per mile considerably,” he added.

The German CEO said the transformation won’t happen overnight and will take time but it’s a good start to a future laden with technological advancements.

“All said, highly automated trucks will be great means of transportation that take logistics to the next level. They will move the world forward – and that’s what we at Daimler Trucks have stood for, for more than 120 years and counting,” he concluded.