Mercedes touts self-driving trucks for haulage savings

Thu Jul 3, 2014 2:19pm EDT
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By Edward Taylor and Laurence Frost

MAGDEBURG Germany/PARIS (Reuters) - Balding middle-aged trucker Hans Luft was toying conspicuously with an iPad behind the wheel of his 40-tonne heavy goods vehicle as it hurtled down the autobahn under the approving gaze of assembled Daimler (DAIGn.DE: Quote) executives.

The Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 prototype, demonstrated on Thursday along a closed-off stretch of the A14 near Magdeburg, Germany, is a major step in an escalating race to develop self-driving vehicles.

"The drive was relaxing," Luft told reporters afterwards.

Daimler, already at the forefront of German efforts to counter Google's (GOOGL.O: Quote) advances in driverless cars, sees at least as much potential for automation in road haulage.

The world's biggest truckmaker is confident that its technology can overcome regulatory and legal hurdles - even if the scale of wage and fuel savings on offer spells likely conflict with freight unions in the long run.

"Autonomous driving will revolutionize road freight transport and create major benefits," said Daimler Trucks chief Wolfgang Bernhard.

"We aim to be the number one manufacturer in this market of the future which we believe will offer solid revenue and earnings potential."

Clad in mystery-enhancing adhesive foil, the Mercedes prototype is equipped with aerodynamic fins and radar that scans the road 250 meters ahead.   Continued...

The emblem of German car Mercedes-Benz is pictured on the wheel rim of a Mercedes-Benz S-class at the plant in Sindelfingen near Stuttgart January 24, 2014.  REUTERS/Michaela Rehle