Named chief engineer of Peterbilt Motors Co. earlier this year, Landon Sproull has lots to look forward to, not the least of it being the hard work and headaches that all truck engineers will face as the 2007 low-emission regs roar into sight.
Fortunately, however, he reports that Peterbilt has a serious leg up on the 2007 development process thanks to the engineering foresight that was applied to the OEM's newest truck, the Model 386.
The Model 386, rolled out back in March at the Mid-America Truck Show, is an aerodynamic Class 8 that can be configured as a day cab or ordered with a Unibilt sleeper system. According to Peterbilt, it's a premium truck for buyers seeking fuel efficiency with the option for a detachable sleeper.
“The 386 offers a significant improvement in aerodynamics,” says Sproull. “It's comparable to our aerodynamic Model 387 and provides 10% better fuel economy than its predecessor in this category, the 120-in. BBC version of the Model 385.”
But the real grabber is that beneath its slippery skin, the Model 386 sits atop an all-new chassis expressly designed with 2007 in mind. “Anything forward of the firewall is new components,” says Sproull.
“While engineering this new model,” he continues, “we took the opportunity to adjust our front castings [brackets used to attach suspension, radiator and bumper] to lower the radiator position to help create a more aerodynamic truck.
“This let us lower the radiator four inches,” Sproull relates. “That gave us a significant improvement in aerodynamics and also 24 inches of forward visibility looking out over the hood, which is a safety bonus. The new truck also has a longer [126 inches] BBC, which provides better under-the-vehicle air flow. We were also able to move the position of the front axle enough to improve the turning radius.”
While the Model 386 is by no means a 2007 model arriving two years early, Sproull says rather its design was developed to help Peterbilt prepare for the packaging challenges that lower-emission diesel engines mandated for 2007 will pose to truck OEMs.
“As we're looking to 2007,” he states, “we have to start thinking about how we'll get all the components that will be required by the 2007 engine rules on board the vehicle.”
Sproull says out that one of the biggest packaging bugaboos will be ensuring there is adequate cooling capacity for 2007 engines, which are expected to displace more heat than today's powerplants.
“But,” he elaborates, “you can't speak of solutions for one truck being the same for the others. Each Peterbilt model has its own unique attributes; for example, there are different axle loads and set-backs etc.
He notes that besides its new chassis and advanced aerodynamics, the Model 386 is distinguished by its use of new materials. For example, the bumper is made of Metton, an advanced composite that Sproull says Peterbilt found to be 60% lighter than steel yet durable enough to withstand the most rigorous on-highway duty cycle.
“The key thing is the Model 386 represents a good first step toward being ready for 2007,” Sproull says continues. “After all there is no sense building a new truck only to see it become in some sense obsolete in two years.”
What's more, Sproull contends making this effort now goes a long way toward signaling to Peterbilt's customers that the OEM “is confident in how we will proceed” as 2007 draws near.
Although he clearly regards 2007 as a “pivotal point,” Sproull states that “it's not the only thing we are working on. “We have to stay on top of current customer demand, listening to the voice of the customer is what we feel distinguishes Peterbilt in the marketplace. That's why we'll continue to roll out other new products going into 2007.”
In fact, he says that rising fuel prices were the key driver behind the relatively rapid development of the Model 386. “Concern over fuel efficiency led us to create the Model 386,” Sproull says. “We wanted to respond to rising fuel prices and were able to get this product, an entirely new truck, out in just 18 months.”