The commercial transport revolution – it’s underway

13 September 2023
Advanced technology will pave the way to exceed what was previously thought possible.

The commercial transportation industry faces rapidly changing regulations and evolving customer needs. Cummins examines the future of commercial transportation, and indicates that it will be shaped by three perspectives: a shifting energy mix, innovations in software, and evolving use cases driven by autonomous driving and vehicle-as-a-service (VaaS).

The commercial transportation sector has already begun a rapid period of software development, helping fleets avoid accidents, optimize their fuel usage, and identify the best routes. Going forward, safety will continue to be paramount; meanwhile, connectivity and software development will revolutionize condition monitoring and performance optimization. This revolution will take place at three levels: asset-level, system-level, and intermodal.

In the near future, asset-level connectivity will continue to be under a spotlight. For example, Cummins is already testing prognostic algorithms that leverage massive amounts of data to move customers away from reactive service models to predictive, planned maintenance. The idea is this: sensors in the vehicle monitor the way equipment is performing and report abnormalities. This allows potential issues to be detected early enough that the necessary action can be taken, either through over-the-air updates or at the next scheduled maintenance, so unplanned downtime is reduced, increasing the availability and reliability of the equipment.

Soon, we will see an increased focus on system-level connectivity, where emphasis will expand to managing the complete fleet and system elements such as distribution centres and refuelling stations. With this, we will see the sector continue to drive automated decision making through an increased reliance on harnessing real time data and computing capabilities.

Finally, intermodal connectivity will connect different modes of transportation. This will create a commercial transportation eco-system where individual assets among different modes of transportation such as road, rail, sea, and air are connected and operate in harmony. One of the things common between autonomous trucking and VaaS (Vehicle as a service) is they may both drive an evolution among commercial transportation use-cases, but at different scales.

Autonomous trucking may have more profound impact on transportation, as more vehicles start to communicate with each other and with infrastructure elements such as traffic signals and depots. A key outcome of the rise of autonomous trucking could be the competitiveness of trucking against other modes of transportation such as rail. Autonomous trucking could also impact the financials of the industry; as these vehicles will be highly utilized, which could lead to shorter replenishment cycles and lower volumes of vehicles to own. As the safety considerations are getting addressed, this and the increasing focus on system-level connectivity will also continue to shape the role of the drivers in autonomous vehicles.

Vehicle-as-a-service, on the other hand, may have a limited impact in commercial transportation. VaaS, which mirrors the efficiency model used by Uber and Airbnb, primarily relies on under-utilized assets. Meanwhile, commercial transportation is inherently different from privately-owned cars and homes, where a wealth of these under-utilized assets exists. In commercial transportation, there is not a large reserve of under-utilized assets. There may be use-cases where a combination of VaaS and advanced autonomy (without a driver) could address chronic driver shortage issues. Meanwhile, for fleets where utilization rates are already very high and access to finances is not an issue, the impact of VaaS will be limited.

Commercial transportation is certainly in a period of rapid change, but the sector has always pushed hard to ensure it would meet the needs of society. Today, those needs are increasingly demanding, and technology will once again rise to the challenge.