Automated and Electric Vehicles

New Study Group Tackles Challenges of Emerging Technologies
platooning trucks
Trucks platooning over a bridge in Utah by Peloton Technology

The Technology & Maintenance Council is evolving to contend with the necessary maintenance and specification issues that are arising as a result of two advanced technologies that are fast becoming part of today’s trucking scene.

To assess the maintenance-related challenges of driver-assist and fully automated systems, TMC in January 2018 launched its S.18 Automated Vehicle Study Group. The council expanded the study group’s mission at its 2018 fall meeting to include electric vehicles under the premise that these two technologies are often being developed in concert or in parallel by manufacturers.



Robert Braswell, executive director of TMC, said the council’s board of directors expanded S.18’s mission because even though high levels of automation are fre­quently being tested and will be deployed on internal combustion engine-powered trucks, many new demonstrations of electric propulsion commercial vehicles also are coupled with highly automated driving features. The council’s leadership views integration of these technologies as something that fleets need to consider simultaneously as they begin planning facilities and preparing their maintenance shops and technician teams to keep these vehicles up and running at their full potential.

The fleet maintenance and service community, and TMC itself, must quickly adapt the tried and proven methods, tools and diagnostics that have evolved over many years to the rapid and immediate emergence of these vehicles and support infrastructure. There is little hands-on experience and inherent expertise within the current population of technicians, trainers and supervisors.

The theme of this year’s TMC annual meeting, “Beyond the Frontier of Maintenance,” meanwhile, was demon­strated in S.18’s task force and exploratory sessions, and the three primary technical sessions — “Justifying, Implementing & Maintaining Active Safety Systems,” “The Inter­national Forces Driving Electric Vehicle Standardization” and the “TMC/SAE Symposium: The Coming Impact of the New 21st Century Truck Partnership Initiative.” New Class 8 electric vehicle offerings revealed at TMC’s transportation technology exhibition also reinforced the notion that electric commercial vehicles are here.

During the electric vehicle standardization session, panelists stated that these challenges require the industry to not only “think out-of-the-toolbox of maintenance” but in some cases “build an entirely new toolbox,” which has been the council’s strength for more than six decades.

The research arms of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Energy, and the various national research laboratories, also have been evaluating the technical capabilities and the need for enabling regulatory and oversight actions. SAE International has long been working on keeping its vehicle engineering standard apace. In addition, organizations such as CharIN (Charging Interface Initiative) have been working on protocols for globalized norms for electric truck charging.

Working with American Trucking Associations’ engineering policy staff, TMC has been in active liaison so that it can identify areas in which its collaborative expertise in developing maintenance-related recommended practices (RPs) can assist the industry in successful e-truck and automated truck deployment.

An identified area of collaboration is one with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which represents the ­safety aspects of the law enforcement community. CVSA is developing a white paper that will identify what aspects of roadside inspections and enforcement of out-of-service conditions may be defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for these new types of trucks.

At the exploratory session, Will Schaefer, CVSA’s director of safety programs, reported on CVSA’s efforts and the concerns of the law enforcement community, which were echoed by TMC members who were present. TMC’s mission in keeping fleets rolling seeks to prevent or repair the very same malfunctions that concern law enforcement, so this is a natural area for cooperation between government and industry.

Prior to the annual meeting, the S.18 leadership and TMC staff evaluated the organization’s existing knowledge base, activities and liaisons with the previously mentioned groups. To prepare for the meeting’s S.18 sessions, the council polled its membership regarding the initial strategic priorities for the study group as it sets up its action plan. The possible areas of focus were divided into three categories: highly automated vehicles, electric heavy-duty trucks and platooning.

Within each of those categories, the survey asked what the priority level should be (on a scale of “0” for “no priority” to “5” for “highest priority”) for possible development of TMC information reports and RPs across four topical areas: vehicle spec’ing, vehicle maintenance procedures and practices, fleet and service maintenance facility development and technical qualification. In addition, members were asked to evaluate the importance of an ongoing cooperation with CVSA.

The focus areas scoring above “medium priority” in­cluded all four topical areas for highly automated vehicles, maintenance facilities development and technician training for electric heavy-duty trucks, and collaboration with CVSA regarding highly automated vehicles and electric heavy-duty trucks.

As a result of the exploratory session, members participating in S.18’s first official business session determined that its initial work should be organized under three task forces: the first on truck automation, the second to address the needs of truck platooning and the third to take on challenges related to electric commercial motor vehicles.

The S.18 study group is led by: Chairman Kyle Mitchell, regional service manager for Maverick Transportation in Little Rock, Ark.; First Vice Chairman Dan Umphress, region facilities manager, transportation and warehouse for The Kroger Co. in Cincinnati; and Second Vice Chairman Richard Bishop, principal of Richard Bishop Consulting in Highland, Md.

Mitchell said that safety will be a point of emphasis for S.18’s body of work. For all three of these initial areas, S.18 wants to make sure “we are always mindful of the safest ways possible to accomplish future goals for these up-and-coming technologies, and that we need plenty of education for the industry to learn as [these technologies] grow and evolve to production-level components.”

S.18 “is clearly focused on fast-moving fields which could significantly affect the trucking industry,” Bishop said, noting his focus is on automated vehicles.

“First-generation truck platooning (with a clear role for drivers) is coming to market very soon while at the same time we are seeing an increase in the number of companies developing self-driving trucks for highway segments (ramp to ramp) and possibly even streets (dock to dock),” he said.

The truck platooning task force is now getting ready to create an information report or RP to educate fleets about how it works, how it’s used and how it’s maintained, Bishop said. With the truck automation task force, “we are tracking developments in this space and trying to make sense of it all,” he said, adding that now is the time to get involved.

Umphress said the electric vehicle task force is “ramping up” to provide education to fleets and guidance on right sizing battery packs, battery chargers, electrical infrastructure for chargers, plus duty cycle analysis and more.

TMC members can join the S.18 study group community and/or respective task force communities through TMC Connect ( Parties interested in contributing also can contact me at

Jack Legler manages the Technology & Maintenance Council’s recommended practice development process. TMC is a council of American Trucking Associations.