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Truck suppliers team up to tackle future trends

Truck manufacturers have played a leading role in making the long-haul sector cleaner, safer and more productive. However, there is also a core chain of suppliers that has been working hard behind the scenes to turn innovative concepts into reality.

To navigate the impact of autonomous driving and electrification in the truck sector, suppliers are working more closely. Joint efforts help to share the load when it comes to R&D, and in the long run should reduce time to market.

Continental, for example, has been working with Knorr-Bremse since 2018 to accelerate efforts on highly automated commercial vehicle systems. The latter brings its expertise in braking and steering, while Continental provides sensors, central processing units and develops the human-machine interface (HMI). Peter Laier, Chairman of Knorr-Bremse, recently told Automotive World how the company is repositioning to support the next generation of autonomous truck developers.

Special report: Long-haul trucking

Partnerships have also been forged directly with automakers, bringing them closer together than a conventional supply contract might. Bosch has worked closely with Nikola, in which it holds a minor stake, and in April 2021 formed a joint venture with Chinese commercial vehicle (CV) manufacturer Qingling Motors to co-develop fuel cell systems. “We are now literally picking up speed in the industrialisation of the fuel cell,” said Bosch board member Stefan Hartung at the time.

In some cases, strategic partnerships have not been enough, with full mergers taking place to bring new expertise and scale. Perhaps the most significant deal for the truck sector in recent years was ZF’s blockbuster US$7bn acquisition of Wabco in 2019. It has already proved fruitful, positioning ZF as a major supplier of everything from stability control and electronic steering to advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). ZF’s OnGuardMAX, for example, combines camera and radar sensors and allows the truck to react to possible collisions with other road users or pedestrians.

For automatic emergency braking (AEB) to work, the truck needs powerful and reliable braking systems at a mechanical level. A spokesperson from ZF flagged the supplier’s latest solutions, which also help to solve the challenge of bringing more than 33,000lb of metal to a stop. These include new air disc brakes—delivered to first customers from January 2021—and a new brake actuator platform that launched in May. Research from Bosch in 2018 found that as much as 34% of all collisions caused by heavy trucks could be avoided by using AEB.

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