Platooning: The Future of Transportation

By Christina Chu | Public Relations Account Supervisor

You may have heard of platooning once or twice, but what is it and what is all the fuss about? It’s been a long-known principle that if you follow other cars – or even better, large trucks on the road – you will decrease drag in your own vehicle and increase fuel economy. Obviously, following other vehicles too closely on the road is a major safety hazard, but this principle, when applied safely, can unlock quite few benefits for drivers and fleet owners alike.  

In a nutshell, platooning is driving a group of vehicles together. It’s a simple concept with big implications in the world of commercial transportation. Some of the nation’s leading truck manufacturers and fleet owners are looking at platooning to save fuel and reduce the total cost of ownership of their fleets. But at the same time, large trucks platooning on a highway are also reducing emissions, decreasing congestion on the road, and providing a safer driving experience for all vehicles.  

Here’s what platooning looks like today: Often with mounted sensors that “couple” the trucks together, newer trucks can now autonomously sense where other trucks in their groups are, space themselves out accordingly, and follow each other close behind. In essence, one truck will “talk” to the truck in front of it and calibrate speed, stopping distance, etc. In this way, the trucks autonomously accelerate and brake at the same time to create a safe and efficient driving experience, without the risk of human error. While platooning can occur on the new autonomous trucks, today there are still drivers present in each truck, though the truck’s autonomous electronic features assist the driver with safely platooning.  

Platoons of on-highway trucks could be as small as three trucks or as large as 10 or more. And researchers have found that the longer the platoon of trucks, the greater the benefit. In a study by the US Department of Energy and in a subsequent article, they found that Class 8 trucks platooning on the road provide: 

  • Fuel savings: Platooning technology can provide a four to 20 percent fuel savings, depending on the gap, speed, number of vehicles and location of a vehicle within a platoon 
  • Emission reductions based on lower CO2 emissions by as much as 10 percent 
  • Increased safety: Connected driving reduces driver reaction time to nearly zero, reducing human error along with it.  
  • Improve traffic flow, reduce traffic jams 

But how much do these benefits really add up? The impact of platooning may surprise you.  

Based on the Department of Energy study, if the nation’s truck fleet were to save 6.4 percent of its fuel with conservatively spaced two-truck platoon teams on 56 percent of its miles traveled, the overall reduction in fuel consumption would be approximately 1.1 billion gallons of fuel per year, resulting in a 10.7 million metric ton reduction in CO2 emissions.   

Platooning Infographic | HMH

Now, if you expand that platoon to three trucks, they could achieve a combined 13 percent reduction in fuel consumption and would save close to 2.1 billion gallons of fuel per year. 

Obviously, these numbers can vary greatly based on terrain, weather, load, etc. But nonetheless, the impact of platooning is something that cannot be overlooked. With time, expect to see more and more technologies hitting the market that enable fleets to safely platoon their vehicles, along with increased research focus on this area. Fleet owners are always looking for ways to decrease the total cost of ownership of their fleets and increase safety, and with new autonomous and connected technologies available, the future of efficient on-highway commercial transportation may already be here today.