Could we see a re-emergence of Class 8 cabovers in the U.S. and Canada? A couple of Canadian fleets appear to be interested in them for improved freight efficiency, but an exec from the one company that's still making them doesn't think drivers would stand for it.
Once length restrictions were eased in the U.S., cabovers fell out of favor, all but disappearing by the end of the 20th century. The last gasp was Freightliner's Argosy cabover, dropped because its low volume didn't justify the cost of engineering in the EPA '07 diesels, although it's still exported to many other markets.
At the American Trucking Associations' Management Conference and Exhibition this week, I chatted with Yves Provencher, director of FPInnovations’ Performance Innovation Transport group, a not-for-profit engineering and research center for the North American trucking industry. PIT is working with Volvo Trucks and Canadian fleet Transport Robert to compare a Euro Volvo high cabover with a North American Volvo VNL in Canadian operations.
PIT has finished fuel economy testing on the track, results of which should be released in a couple of weeks, and will continue to monitor the two vehicles throughout Robert's 18-month test period.
Some of the challenges Provencher identified that may make the Euro cabover unsuited for this market include heavier weight on the front axle, the possibility that the aerodynamics may not perform as well at the higher speeds run in Canada compared to Europe -- oh, and the fact that these vehicles aren't legal here. Robert got a special permit to try them for 18 months in Canada, and they won't be able to run into the U.S.
Robert isn't the only one interested in cabovers for freight efficiency. HDT Senior Editor Tom Berg wrote about Walmart Canada's super-cube test rig. It consists of a COE tractor (from an Argosy glider kit) with a dromedary box and a 60-foot, 6-inch-long semitrailer, put together for Walmart as a pilot project. Walmart says the rig can carry 30% more cargo than a standard 53-foot trailer.
So with these two initiatives on my mind, when we had a roundtable with Daimler Trucks executives at ATA this week, and Daimler Trucks' new CEO, Wolfgang Bernhard, talked about his desire for some harmonization of NAFTA and Euro emissions and safety standards, I had to ask: Do you think we'll ever see Euro-style cabovers make inroads in the U.S.?
Daimler Trucks North America President and CEO Martin Daum pooh-poohed the idea. "The driver wants it silent and cool; in a cabover, because the driver sits over the engine, the engine is hot, it's loud and vibrates a lot -- and it makes it less accessible fo the service guy. And aerodynamics is much better on the conventional than the cabover."
It'll be interesting to see what the Canadian test results from PIT and Robert show on the fuel economy. But PIT's Provencher had an observation about the comfort issue:
"Drivers say they hate cabovers because they think of the ones they used in the '70s," Provencher told me. "When we were testing these trucks two weeks ago, drivers loved them."
Daum, who earlier in the reporters' roundtable had joked about the fact that his truck sales projections from a year ago turned out to be pretty far off the mark, pointed out good-naturedly that if he happens to be wrong on this issue, that DTNA would be ready, since it's still producing the Argosy for export.