Throughout history, commerce and trade have been an important catalyst for co-operation and growth. Over time, simple barter systems have evolved to become the complex, interconnected and global trade networks of today.

Logistics networks play a pivotal role in global trade by providing the critical infrastructure for the cross-continental exchange of goods. The transport industry is undergoing a major transformation, which is due to digitalization, changing consumer expectations, and an increased importance afforded to sustainable and resilient supply chains.

This page explores some of the trends shaping logistics, where the TRATON Group is working to transform the next chapter of transportation. With its world-leading capability within Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) technology, its solutions are paving the way for a new, electric era.

How logistics is evolving

At the heart of the transformation of the logistics industry is digitalization. Innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and autonomous driving technology are transforming trucking and freight transportation. These technologies enable greater efficiency, accuracy, and visibility throughout the supply chain.

Today’s consumers demand faster, more reliable, and transparent services from delivery companies. The rise of e-commerce, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to an expectation of same-day delivery or next-day delivery for many products. This has pushed companies to find faster and more efficient delivery methods. The demand for speed and convenience has forced players within the trucking industry to innovate and optimize last mile delivery services. Companies now source and produce goods from different locations around the world to optimize delivery costs and resources.

What are connected supply chains?

Connected supply chains refer to a highly integrated and collaborative network of suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. They utilize all the aforementioned technologies to enable infrastructure based on real-time data sharing, visibility, and decision-making across the entire supply chain. By leveraging the power of digital transformation, connected supply chains not only enhance operational performance but also drive strategic growth.

Recent disruptions, such as pandemics, natural disasters, and geopolitical tensions, have highlighted the importance of supply chain resilience. Through digitalization, connected supply chains enhance the ability to anticipate, respond to, and recover from disruptions through improved visibility and coordination. They are also utilized to forecast future product demand and identify patterns in order replenishment, ensuring continuity of supply.

Data is the lifeblood of connected supply chains and is integral to a diverse range of critical supporting applications. Notable examples include demand forecasting, AI-powered route optimization and predictive maintenance. In the future, predictive analytics will also continue to support fleet management systems. As enablers of connected supply chains, TRATON GROUP brands Scania, MAN, Navistar and Volkswagen Truck & Bus (VWTB) recognize the importance of vehicles. They draw on the breadth of their global expertise to make it easier for stakeholders to unlock the power of data, generating insights that will optimize the health, value, and longevity of fleets. They also use their telematics and digital services to offer smart solutions for both their vehicles and customers’ logistics processes in general.

Logistics 4.0: the trucks of the future

With the emergence of Industry 4.0, trucks play a critical role in an increasingly digitized landscape. Acting as the backbone of transportation networks, they are fast becoming mobile data collection points that interact with advanced digital systems. They are the interface between freight transportation and the digital technologies which underpin it. As a ‘smart innovator’, MAN is intensively working together with Volkswagen on connected vehicles, and has international teams in locations such as Munich, Lisbon, and Pune, India.

This tightening of legislation around fuel consumption and emissions is a contributing factor to rising demand for electric, hydrogen fuel cell and alternative fuel technologies. Of these, battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) have emerged as the front runner. Manufacturers like TRATON are continuing to work intensively on further strengthening their ability to produce batteries and electric drivetrains that are both efficient and capable of covering long distances on a single charge. Models such as the new MAN eTruck highlight the substantial progress that has been made towards this aim.

Technology plays a central role in modern truck design. Today’s heavy-duty trucks feature a growing number of devices that have facilitated seamless integration with digital supply chain solutions and enable complete transparency across all operations. The presence of smart sensor technology provides trucking companies with important insights into the condition of their fleets. This enables benefits such as predictive maintenance. The trucking industry is characterized by tight profit margins, therefore, maximizing productivity is essential. These capabilities can help reduce downtime and the associated operational costs.

The arrival of semi- and fully-autonomous trucks also represents a landmark moment for logistics. It is anticipated that the development of driverless trucks will help logistics companies overcome many of the challenges associated with driver-operated trucks, relating to safety, truck driver shortages and driver fatigue. Despite progress on the technological front, important regulatory obstacles must be overcome before we see autonomous trucking on a wider scale.

There are, however, already several examples of where driverless trucks are being successfully deployed, which may provide an indication of the future direction of travel of the industry. The ANITA (Autonomous Innovation in Terminal Operations) project, a joint venture between MAN Truck & Bus, Deutsche Bahn, Fresenius University of Applied Sciences and Götting KG, is a case in point. This saw a driverless MAN TGX 18.510 tractor unit – dubbed ‘Newton’, successfully utilized at a Deutsche Bahn container facility, where it performed the exact tasks of a driver, taking on 300 to 400 transshipments over a six-month period.

The rise of last mile logistics

In recent years, the surge in demand for last mile delivery has restructured retail, and delivery services. Consequently, today’s distribution companies have been compelled to innovate and optimize their last mile delivery processes through pioneering solutions, partnerships, and technologies. These aim to enhance final destination efficiency, reduce costs, and improve the customer experience.

Last mile logistics companies will continue to pursue solutions which make the process of deploying goods to the final consumer as frictionless as possible. The use of autonomous transportation methods ranging from drones to self-driving trucks, as well as micro-fulfillment centers and smart pickup points, will increase in the years to come.

At the same time, the specific demands of goods distribution within last mile delivery must be reconciled with cost and environmental concerns. The design of trucks that are used for last mile has evolved accordingly, for example the MAN eTGE van or the Volkswagen Truck & Bus e-Delivery electric distribution truck, which can accommodate all of the demands of transporting cargo, such as parcel services, to the final destination but without the added tailpipe emissions.

With its electric eTGE van, MAN Truck & Bus offers an ideal vehicle for parcel services
With the eTGE electric transporter, MAN Truck & Bus offers an ideal solution for parcel services.

There remains a lack of suitable infrastructure to support booming demand for last mile delivery services. The practical challenges of establishing loading zones and micro-fulfillment centers in densely populated urban areas represent a major obstacle to the evolution of this increasingly important area of logistics, while charging infrastructure is also struggling to keep pace with demand. Whether through vehicles and other alternative delivery methods or logistics hubs that seamlessly connect the physical and digital, technology will play a critical role in ensuring last mile can sustain the speed, cost, and environmental requirements of consumers. Although investment is essential, close co-operation between manufacturers, logistics companies and other affected stakeholders is key in meeting the industry’s shared goals and incentivizing good practices to benefit everyone.

Trends within last mile are also directly connected to the evolution of smart cities. The future of public transportation and logistics networks within urban settings, key components of smart cities, will be defined by collaboration. The challenges facing these areas are not mutually exclusive and as digitalization and software become increasingly important, this will create new opportunities for synergies with tech companies.

Sustainable practices

In the years to come, sustainability will continue to have an important bearing on the future of logistics. The importance of sustainability within the industry only continues to rise, and this is having a demonstrable impact on every aspect of the ecosystem. There is a growing acceptance from manufacturers that they must play a more active role in protecting the environment by developing cleaner forms of transport, with players like the TRATON Group driving an industry-wide shift towards sustainability. Its decision to invest a total of €2.6 billion in e-mobility research and development between 2021 and 2026 sends a clear message about its commitment to electrification and its associated environmental benefits.

Environmental concerns are also impacting demand for vehicles, with customers closely monitoring the sustainability practices of their logistics partners. As a result, they are taking an active interest in how their carbon footprints and energy expenditure can be reduced. With trucking companies being required to disclose their Scope 3 emissions, sales of electric trucks will continue to rise.