Commentary: Europe is Different

December 2016, - Editorial

by Rolf Lockwood

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Rolf Lockwood
Rolf Lockwood

What are the differences between trucks and trucking in North America versus Europe? Our trucks have become increasingly similar, but there are limits.

I’ve been flying across the pond for decades and I’ve written stories about trucks and engines and the highest of electronic technologies. I’ve done dozens of plant tours, spent many hours on test tracks, and driven quite a few miles on roads both urban and rural.

Once, after driving north from Stockholm, across the Arctic Circle, and then down the length of Finland, I even got lost in downtown Helsinki while piloting a Volvo Globetrotter with a full trailer behind. Long before the days of GPS.

In a nutshell, the differences between here and there are countless, yet there are also similarities. Trucking is trucking in some senses, no matter where you are, and nowadays technology walks across the water in both directions every day.

My very first transAtlantic trucking trip was to Finland in the winter of 1985, and it illustrated the wandering technology point a lot earlier than you’d expect. Hosted by Nokia, I was the lone journalist amongst a group of tire dealers. The company set me up to drive with a logger in the boonies outside the city of Tampere. Great! Told that he drove a made-in-Finland Sisu cabover, I was excited to try it out.

Imagine my surprise when I found a Cummins 400 under my right foot and a Fuller 13 in my right hand! I wanted something far more exotic. Still, those 8 hours going from forest to mill plus a truckstop lunch in the middle – with a driver who spoke no English and a meal I couldn’t identify – were fascinating. Among the lessons: Drivers are drivers and, despite a distinctly Finnish configuration in that Sisu, trucks are trucks.

Except they’re really not. I’ve learned that people are drawn to the truck-driving thing over there for much the same reasons as here: a simple love of driving and the feeling of independence you get as you grip the wheel and stare at the open road. But even then, and certainly now, European drivers are subject to much stricter rules than we are, and mostly they drive many fewer hours.

Then there’s the cabover thing. Invisible here, dominant there. Narrow, twisty European roads have much to do with it – try driving a long-nose conventional through a small town in Belgium, for example, on roads that were conceived in the year 1403. A key reason why cabovers work better there.

There are still folks on this side who ask why we can’t bring those big, tall COE tractors across the pond. It will never happen, if only because cabover aerodynamics are inferior to those of our svelte conventionals, and fuel economy seems to matter more here than there.

I pursued this topic at a recent dinner in Germany with Daimler’s two top engineering executives on the powertrain side, Frank Reintjes and Elmar Boeckenhoff, along with Kary Schaefer, general manager of marketing and strategy for Freightliner and Detroit, herself an engineer. I made them laugh in a big way when I asked them to discuss what makes the two markets different.

How long have you got, they chimed, almost in unison … that’s a doctoral thesis.


  1. 1. Antti [ December 28, 2016 @ 01:19PM ]

    It's not that fuel economy wouldn't be as big an issue over there -- in fact, considering the hefty price they have to pay for the fuel, it actually matters even MORE there. But the design of the cabover tractors is dictated/a result of the legislation which limits the OVERALL combinatioin length, as opposed to the trailer length only as is the case on this side of the pond.

  2. 2. dwigget [ December 29, 2016 @ 12:25AM ]

    Lower operating speeds also reduce the aerodynamic effect. They're also updating EU legislation to allow a VERY small "bonnet" on the front - it will create a more rounded/aerodynamic power unit with a bit of a "crush zone" in the front, better protecting both the operator and whatever it may strike. To be clear - there will still be COE's (or more exactly, Cab Forward Engine - engine mostly sits under the bunk of European trucks), BUT with a little bit of give on the front.

    Wish we could get them here - we do a ton of deep-inner-city work (downtown everywhere essentially, and then some), would be nice to have the visibility & maneuverability.


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