As new technologies for the automotive industry continue to evolve, work truck fleets benefit significantly, including cutting operational costs, improving driver safety, and boosting fleet productivity.
The technologies helping to achieve these savings and a better bottom line include new safety features, fuel-management systems, AI dash cams, vehicle connectivity, and many other cutting-edge vehicle advancements. In the truck market, in particular, the global advanced truck technologies market was valued at more than $2.2 billion in 2021 and is projected to continue to grow.
We recently talked with fleet suppliers and OEMs about the latest fleet tech and the direct benefits fleets are seeing.
New Fleet Tech Focuses on Driver Safety & Improved Workflows
There has been a recent concerted effort to focus on driver safety, opportunities for coaching, and improved workflows that positively impact work truck fleets, according to Jesse Chappell, global business development manager at Trimble Transportation, which helps organizations transform their business through technology.
Several factors play into this, including:
- Faster wireless connection speeds via 4G LTE and 5G networks.
- Improved camera resolution.
- Focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning solutions to analyze millions of data points for improved predictions and prescriptions.
- Eliminating frustrations for drivers by focusing on streamlining workflows for an improved user experience.
“The advances focused on improving the driver’s experience all add up to keeping drivers happy, safe and engaged, and ultimately make the transportation industry a more attractive career choice,” Chappell said.
New technologies and ways of thinking are critical for unlocking efficiencies, optimizing operations, protecting and retaining drivers, and keeping the global supply chain moving. Chappell added that fleets that remain complacent with their current operations risk losing out on valuable, actionable insights that come with modern solutions.
“Tech solutions often improve productivity and provide great ROI, so while it may involve making an upfront investment, the long-term gains pay for themselves,” he said. “The next generation of drivers expects fleets to have the latest technology and equipment, and most drivers agree now that fleet technology can help protect them in a variety of ways, from acting as a type of accident liability insurance to helping them maneuver more safely and easily on their journeys.”
Trimble’s technology solutions include its Video Intelligence solution, which records video around a vehicle and monitors in-cab driver behavior for opportunities to improve their driving habits. The Video Intelligence offering also includes DCube, a dynamic driver defense solution that prevents incidents on the road by notifying drivers of potential incidents in real-time.
“Having this many high-resolution cameras and advanced solutions running in real-time in a vehicle would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago — and/or would have been out of most fleets’ budgets. Today, this is not only available but is providing significant ROI for fleets and drivers,” Chappell added.
GPL Improves Truck Fleet for Better Emissions & Driver Performance
Transportation services company GreenPath Logistics (GPL) not only works with other companies to increase fleet productivity but it practices what it preaches within its fleet. GPL operates an exclusively alternative-fuel fleet of 200 medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including vehicles that run on CNG and RNG, and hybrid-electric vehicles. The company plans to roll out EVs in 2023, specifically the Hypertruck ERX.
“It’s always exciting to be at the forefront of innovation — both in what we’re offering to our customers and new technologies we’re implementing for our fleet at GPL,” said Shan Zaidi, president of NGV Global Group (the parent company of GreenPath Logistics).
As a 100% alternative-fuel fleet, GPL continues to test and introduce new alt-fuel technologies into its fleet — from hybrid-electric to fully electric to hydrogen vehicles. This spring, NGV Global rolled out its new EPA-approved 7.3L CNG/RNG F-650, which is available for purchase or lease directly to consumers and also used in the GPL fleet. It includes a dual fuel system that operates on compressed natural gas, renewable natural gas, and diesel. The company found that offering flexibility with a dual fuel option gives drivers peace of mind because they don’t have to worry about running out of fuel.
Because the transportation industry is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, fleets can significantly reduce their carbon footprint by converting to natural gas and other alternative-fuel sources/technologies. There are also substantial cost savings and environmental benefits. According to Zaidi, customers can expect to save 50–70% per gallon by using natural gas instead of diesel, depending on the state in which they operate.
The results of previous alt-fuel initiatives have proven successful, and the positive environmental impact was significant. In 2021, the company’s fleet displaced more than 750,000 gallons of diesel using natural gas and hybrid-electric vehicles.
Another recent technology initiative at GPL included integrating new GPS tracking software across the entire fleet.
“It allows us to track more than 200 vehicles in our fleet in real-time to ensure we’re on schedule and to monitor things like driver performance, safety, and fuel efficiency,” Zaidi added.
The new tracking software led to a 10% savings on fuel costs and helped GPL ensure that it’s not burning through fuel unnecessarily. Monitoring driver performance provides management with real-time insights into what’s working and when adjustments need to be made.
“We’re able to see where a vehicle is at all times, the speed at which it’s traveling, how often it’s braking, and how close it is to other vehicles on the road,” Zaidi said. “Enhancing driver safety measures is always of the utmost importance, and this technology lets us know when we may need to provide corrective feedback to a driver.”
Fleet innovation and investing in new fleet technologies is imperative in a competitive business environment, as it leads to better reliability, safety, efficiency, and environmental sustainability, Zaidi added.
“If you’re not innovating, you’re going to get left behind,” he stated.
For example, adding the dual fuel system to the company’s F-650 offering, combined with the fact that it does not require a CDL to operate, makes it a very attractive option for NGV Global's customers to incorporate into their fleets. And with the nationwide shortage of CDL drivers, the company has been encouraging customers to transition from heavy-duty to medium-duty with the F-650 when possible because it improves the operational efficiency of their fleets and saves them money on fuel.
Innovation is also an important driver recruitment and retention tool. When a new vehicle is introduced into the GPL fleet, its most experienced and top-performing drivers are the first ones offered the opportunity to drive it.
“We’re always proud to share with our team how we are testing and investing in new technologies to improve the operational performance of our fleet and the service we offer to our customers,” Zaidi said. “It lets our team know we’re committed to growth, and they will continue to grow with us.”
New Fleet Technology: OEM Innovations
After talking with several OEMs about new fleet tech innovations, the message was clear: Technology that helps reduce fleet costs and downtime is changing quickly. As newer vehicles are brought into the market, many available features can help increase safety.
“Function is of primary importance for a light commercial vehicle in which the driver normally spends long hours at the wheel, often under demanding conditions,” said Dave Sowers, head of Ram Commercial. “Informing the driver with new, more powerful features reduces the total cost of ownership by avoiding collision repairs, downtime, and lost productivity.”
Ram continues to evolve its vehicles, including making a significant investment in its ProMaster line. Updates include improvements to the engine, the addition of a 9-speed automatic transmission, and electric power steering, combining for a 9% improvement in fuel economy and reduced cost of ownership, according to Sowers.
Significant advancements in connectivity and safety have also been made thanks to forward collision warning and optional features such as blind-spot monitoring, Active Driving Assist, and Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go.
“Businesses want to protect their employees, investments, reputation, and the public. Accidents can be damaging to any of those things,” Sowers stated. “Businesses with typical fleet sizes can expect to recover the initial investment in those safety features through reduced accident expenses and less downtime over the life of that vehicle and their fleet in total.”
General Motors has also continued its focus on evolving its vehicle technology, including advances in its active safety offerings, such as its Forward Collision Alert, Automatic Emergency Braking, Trailer Side Blind Zone Alert, and Lane Departure Warning.
“We’ve also introduced advanced available trailering technology recently that makes towing easier with various available trailering cameras/views, trailering app, trailer tire pressure monitoring, and more,” said Pasquale Forletta, product manager at GM Fleet.
GM specifically designs its vehicles for customers, so it also focuses on seat comfort and load floor height, to name a few features that can help improve ergonomics.
In 2021, Kenworth introduced its new medium-duty truck line, which features improved maneuverability, visibility, and ergonomics, directly impacting driver comfort and safety.
“Over the past several years, Kenworth actively sought, listened to, and collected invaluable input and feedback from nearly 1,000 customers and drivers throughout the extensive design process,” said Joe Adams, Kenworth chief engineer.
More than 500 people participated in design studies to help Kenworth define the dimensions and fine-tune the new model’s ergonomics. The OEM developed a new instrumentation cluster with a 7-inch high-definition digital display centered between four standard analog gauges — speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, and coolant temperature. The integrated Kenworth Digital Display allows drivers to personalize information on the screen to match their preferences. The display also enables drivers to customize the digital gauge layout view from the accessory gauges and integrates advanced driver assistance features when specified on the truck.
Other improved or redesigned Kenworth medium-duty features include an air-assisted hydraulic clutch, remote diagnostics, and enhanced column-mounted shifter transmission shifter.