8 Things to Expect on Tomorrow’s Trucks
Fleet demands, changing freight patterns and government regulations are driving changes in vehicle design and specs.
December 2013, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story
In some ways, the truck of the future is here today. What would a truck driver from decades ago think if he were suddenly transported from his own time into one of today’s state-of-the-art rigs?
Smooth, quiet rides. Automated transmissions. A voice giving turn-by-turn directions through in-cab speakers. Systems that warn if he’s wandered out of his lane or to slow down if he’s in danger of hitting the vehicle ahead. Tires that inflate themselves up automatically. The list goes on and on.
Freightliner’s Revolution concept truck took some fairly radical approaches to designing a better truck for a regional or hub-and-spoke trucking operation.
The Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Associations has been looking at the future since 1984. That’s when it founded its Future Truck program, which looks at what members want and expect in the trucks of tomorrow.
TMC is midway through the multi-year process of developing a new Future Truck position paper. We started with those results, then spoke with truck makers and others in the industry to bring you this list of things you can reasonably expect to see on trucks in the next five to 10 years or beyond.
1. Better fuel economy
More than half the fleets in TMC’s survey think we’ll see trucks achieving better than 9 mpg – a feat already being achieved by some fleets. Mike Jeffress, vice president of maintenance at Maverick Transportation, would like to see 10- to 15-mpg tractors. That’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Peterbilt is a partner in the Department of Energy’s SuperTruck project, which focuses on doubling the freight efficiency of tractor-trailer technology.
Peterbilt Chief Engineer Landon Sproull says its first-generation SuperTruck concept tractor-trailer achieved nearly 10 mpg. He expects even better performance out of the second-generation truck, which should be ready in the first quarter of 2014.
Fuel economy is being driven both by fleet demand and by federal regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The first tier of those GHG regs already is in effect for 2014 model year trucks. The next round of regulations, which are still being written, are expected to kick in starting in 2019, says Wade Long, Volvo Trucks director of product marketing.
As equipment makers move forward, Long says cruise power demand will decrease by at least 20% on average, pushing down optimum engine size and/or allowing for downspeeding.
“Decreased cruise power demand and potential for smaller engines could allow for optimizing cab aerodynamics,” he says, “either for a small engine with waste heat recovery or a larger engine without waste heat recovery.”
Expect more trucks to have a 6x2 axle configuration where the second axle in the drive tandem is a “dead” axle, and more direct drive instead of overdrive transmissions.
Expect more automated transmissions, both for fuel economy and widening the driver pool. TMC’s survey predicted above 60% usage of AMTs in Class 8 trucks as well as increasing use of hydraulic automatics – above 15% market share in Class 8 and above 70% in Class 6 and Class 7.
There already is, and will continue to be, an increasing focus on the powertrain as a whole, with the transmission, engine and axles all working together for the optimal fuel economy.
The next step will use data from outside and inside the truck to make drivetrains even more efficient.
Sproull believes that in three to five years, using technologies such as predictive cruise control, GPS and 3D mapping, “we’ll see improved predictability of the terrain to manage the vehicle for fuel economy.” In fact, he said, it’s already been demonstrated on the SuperTruck project.
Navistar is also heading in that direction, says spokesman Steve Schrier. “One unique technology that’s a couple years away is what I would refer to as a ‘smart cruise control system’ that takes into consideration a number of various factors like GPS data, topography, road data, etc. The system takes these variables and transforms them into formulas and algorithms and communicates with the truck’s ECM to apply (or not) the throttle based on approaching inclines and declines on the road.”
Peterbilt’s Sproull predicts the next set of regs will bring “a step change in terms of aerodynamics.” Efforts will focus more on the tractor-trailer as a whole, he says. Strategies will include managing the air flow between the tractor and the trailer, under the trailer and coming off the rear of the trailer.
Volvo’s Long agrees, and says if the EPA doesn’t bring trailers into the picture, California could mandate advanced trailer designs.
Brian Tabel, spokesman for Isuzu, believes we also will see medium-duty vehicles become more streamlined. Isuzu partnered with Supreme a few years ago to build a lightweight, composite and aerodynamic Aero Body. The Great Recession led to its discontinuation, but Tabel believes the idea will gain traction in the future.
There are many more ideas truck makers are working on to squeeze every last bit of fuel economy they can.
“We’re going to be trying to capture those bits and pieces of fuel economy improvement, because a lot of the low-hanging fruit has been captured,” says Scott Perry, Ryder’s VP of purchasing.
Long believes the next step of federal GHG regs will lead to the proliferation of low-rolling-resistance tires. You may even see such tires mandated for on-highway use, he says. And we’ll likely see continuing adoption of wide-based single tires for operations where it makes sense.
Lighter weight materials will save fuel and/or increase payload. The TMC survey suggested dynamic control of the trailer gap and fifth wheel height. We’ll likely see the demise of external antennas, as we already have on the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution. And cameras could replace rear-view mirrors, as they did on Freightliner’s Revolution concept truck.
Navistar’s Project Horizon concept vehicle at the 2013 Mid-America Trucking Show featured grille bars that open and close based on cooling demands. “The dynamic grille bars reduce aerodynamic drag by creating the right balance between the air entering the cooling module and traveling around the vehicle,” Schrier explains.
Idle reduction will continue to gain adoption as systems continue to improve.
Auxiliary power units, auxiliary heater units, battery-powered HVAC systems, auto start/stop battery management systems are all available right now, says Schrier, and will continue to gain traction in future trucks.
Battery-powered, diesel-powered, even fuel-cell-powered systems were seen as likely players by TMC survey respondents.
We could even see widespread use of solar power idle reduction, as eNow has already introduced.
2.‘Right-sized’ vehicles and engines
Fleets are realizing that they may be able to save fuel and upfront purchase costs by spec’ing a smaller or less powerful vehicle that more closely fits their needs, and that trend is likely to continue.