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Software-defined vehicles (SDV): the answer to truck driver shortages?

Fredrik Almhöjd
Aug 2, 2023

Although most truck OEMs acknowledge software-defined vehicles as a new norm for the commercial vehicle industry, they still need to convince their customers that these vehicles will add value to their businesses – especially around the top three objectives of improved uptime, productivity, and fuel efficiency.

SDVs have a major role to play in helping fleet operators overcome the international shortage of truck drivers, explain Fredrik Almhöjd and Jean-Marie Lapeyre, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer, Global Automotive Industry at Capgemini. That’s because SDVs can transform the driver experience, potentially attracting younger people and women who currently don’t see truck-driving as a career option.

“Without action to make the driver profession more accessible and attractive, Europe could lack over two million drivers by 2026, impacting half of all freight movements and millions of passenger journeys.” That is the stark prediction of the International Road Transport Union (IRU), commenting on a study it conducted in 2022. The outlook isn’t any more reassuring in other regions.

So what are transportation companies to do, and how can truck OEMs help? In this article, we’ll argue that software-defined vehicles (SDVs) could be a big part of the answer. We’ll be building on ideas from earlier blogs.

In the passenger car market, the concept of SDVs is often promoted on the basis that it will create a better customer experience for the driver. For commercial vehicle fleet operators, by contrast, the main focus has always been, and will continue to be, on TCO. Until recently, efforts to improve life for the driver, while important, have received less attention.

However, with driver shortages becoming critical, truck-driving needs to be made more attractive to jobseekers. The IRU suggests that attracting more women and young people is an important part of the solution – but current working conditions make that difficult.

SDVs can help with the challenge of recruiting and retaining staff.

SDV features can make drivers’ lives better

So what SDV features might improve driver experience? Truck drivers will enjoy many of the same benefits as car drivers, such as customized infotainment – though obviously, this must not distract them from the job.

Consumer-oriented SDV features can be tailored for trucks. For example, a framework for companion apps on smartphones could be adapted to support the needs of HGV drivers in finding places to stop, eat, and sleep, avoiding illegal and dangerous use of phones while driving. In addition, although software can’t improve the quality of facilities available to drivers, it can help direct them to the most satisfactory ones based on a driver’s personal preferences and ratings by other users.

With all the functionality they need integrated and automated (and configured for personal habits and preferences that they have already stored), the job can be done safely, easily, and legally. Similar technology could be used to help last-mile delivery drivers navigate between stops.

Integrate drivers’ digital lives

Many people, especially younger ones, now expect their digital lives to be streamlined and integrated across work and leisure. To appeal to these individuals, SDVs could be equipped to remember drivers’ preferences regarding infotainment modes and transfer them across trucks. Their preferred smartphone apps, or similar ones, could also be made available via the truck’s console.

By integrating various aspects of working life, we can make the driver’s job easier, as well as more pleasant. A common complaint from truck drivers is that they have to unload cargo themselves because there is nobody else to do it. An SDV can contact the destination to communicate the arrival time and nature of the cargo, increasing the chances of the relevant staff being on hand with the right equipment.

When a truck is an SDV, ADAS features can easily be added. Some of these features can help to make truck-driving more attractive to younger people and women by allowing multiple tasks to be performed simultaneously. Stress levels for the driver are reduced significantly if they can organize their working day – including route optimization and scheduling of pickups and deliveries – while they’re on the road. This can be achieved through partial automation of driving tasks, whether via assistant systems or fully autonomous driving (say up to level 4), paired with services that help with routing and scheduling.

Overcome negative perceptions of truck-driving careers

For women in particular, personal safety issues can be a deterrent to working as a truck driver. Connected vehicle software can help here too. For example, AI-enabled services can monitor sensor data and warn when someone is approaching a stationary truck, and biometrics can control who has access to the cabin. Predictive maintenance can reduce or eliminate the risk of breaking down in a lonely spot. (And with SDVs, we can go beyond preventive maintenance via telematics and alerts to their natural successor, self-diagnosis by the vehicle.)

Thanks to SDV connectedness, despatchers can more easily monitor drivers’ safety and send help if needed. The same communications facilities could streamline interaction between communities of drivers who can look out for one another, reducing any sense of isolation.

Long hours away from home are another turn-off for many potential drivers. SDVs’ communications technologies can improve their work-life balance, with social media style software, in-vehicle display screens, and cameras keeping the driver in touch with family or friends during stops.

Work-life balance can be further improved by advanced route optimization techniques. An SDV route can be automatically optimized to accommodate a driver’s personal preferences and constraints, as well as requirements such as refueling and rest stops. It can then be continuously adjusted to reflect the current circumstances such as weather and traffic conditions, helping drivers to finish work on schedule.

Deliver better driver experience and financial benefits for fleet operators

Despite their urgent need to recruit more drivers, at the end of the day truck buyers are still likely to focus on the more tangible benefits of SDVs. The good news is that many of the features that give drivers a better experience simultaneously increase productivity, uptime, or fuel efficiency – for example, predictive maintenance and real-time route optimization, both mentioned above.

The same is true of services that address electric vehicles’ range limitations and shortages of charging stations (as discussed in our recent e-mobility blog). Suppose the truck’s battery is getting flat, and the nearest charging station has a long wait time. An SDV can save energy in various ways: for example by modifying engine parameters or environmental settings such as aircon, or by advising changes in driving behavior. With these adjustments, the driver can continue to a charging station with an acceptable wait time, improving productivity and likely reducing frustration too.

Safer driving is yet another example of an SDV capability that benefits both employer and driver. Examples here include the use of sensors to detect when vehicles get too close to one another, or when drivers are tired and need a break. For example, a truck could raise an alert when its driver is blinking more frequently than is normal for them, indicating exhaustion.

Make driver appeal part of the business case for SDVs

For truck OEMs and tier 1s, the case for SDVs is clear. They can enhance revenue flows via a shift from one-off purchases to full lifecycle engagement, and improve automotive sustainability performance, for example by reducing waste in R&D processes. Ultimately, SDVs can help to make the brand central to customers’ businesses. In addition, selling SDVs makes sense as part of the journey to autonomous driving and in the context of companies’ overall digital transformation.

Software-defined vehicles as passenger cars

SDVs are already proving their worth in the passenger car market, where improved driver experience is a more obvious selling point. (Read our “point of view” report on software-driven transformation for more.)

An excerpt from a recent Connected Mobility infographic – please download the full version here

The question is how to demonstrate the value of SDVs to truck customers such as fleet operators. Industry concepts such as software-driven transformation are not always much help here. Instead, OEMs can point to the business benefits that result from SDV adoption. And right now, improved driver experience could be among the most important of those benefits because of its ability to help overcome driver shortages.

For more information, visit the commercial vehicles area of Capgemini’s website, and read the earlier articles in this blog series.

About Author

Fredrik Almhöjd

Director, Capgemini Invent
Fredrik Almhöjd is Capgemini’s Go-to-Market Lead for Commercial Vehicles in the Nordics, with 25+ years of sector experience plus extensive knowhow in Sales & Marketing and Customer Services transformation.

Jean-Marie Lapeyre

VP and Chief Technology & Innovation Officer, Global Automotive Industry
Jean-Marie Lapeyre works with automotive clients to develop and launch actionable technology strategies to help them succeed in a data and software-driven world.

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