Over the next five or so years, according to top engineers and product planners at all major OEMs, medium- and heavy-duty trucks will bristle with new and improved technologies.
The technological tour de force coming your way is directed in some cases at meeting new government regulations and in others at reducing fleet operating costs or bettering the driver's working environment.
The engine was cited as easily the biggest area truck engineers will have their sights set on in the next few years.
Telematics — he remote monitoring, control and communications for vehicles — was the second area most mentioned.
Not surprisingly, safety was another big area of discussion, both in general terms and specifically regarding new regulations coming down the pike.
Engine developments will be driven by the stricter federal emissions controls kicking in for 2007.
“What truck technology positively must do in the future is control emissions,” says Stephen Matsil, chief engineer for GM's medium-duty truck group.
“The bar starts to really get raised with the 2007-2010 emission standards,” he continues. “We're looking at using particulate filters and even urea treatment of exhaust to reduce NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and hydrocarbons.”
Nissan Diesel - UD Trucks' director of marketing Dave Trussell says technology is going to change the most going forward for medium-duty emissions. “I expect to see some sort of ‘hybridization’ down the road, with diesel and electric power combinations to generate lower emissions and improve fuel efficiency,” he remarks.
“Fuel economy and the related impact of fuel cost are major issues going forward for customers and truck OEMs must address it in an effective way,” Trussell adds.
Mitsubishi Fuso spokesman Joe Devlin contends “diesel engines are the powerplant of the future, not alternative fuels or fuel cells.” He says that's because nothing can match the power and torque diesel engines deliver relative to their fuel efficiency.
“We'll see a variety of improvements too, even as the 2006 low-sulfur fuel and the stringent 2007 emission rules kick in — mainly making diesels less noisy and obviously cleaner,” he notes.
“Emissions are driving everything, though it will be tough to get engines any cleaner,” says Dan Cutler, director of low-cab-forward development for General Motors Isuzu Commercial Truck.
“Still efforts will still intensify on engines,” he continues, “We'll see new fuels and hybrid powerplants, as well as try to anticipate future demands in terms of emissions and fuel economy.”
Newly renamed Hino Motor Sales USA is currently switching from producing cabover to conventional medium-duty trucks and with that change comes, naturally, extra focus on engines.
“The engine is really the key moving forward,” says Guy Bradford, Hino's national marketing manager. “It has to run smooth, be trouble-free, produce cleaner emissions and offer quality fuel economy. That matters tremendously to customers.”
“Fuel consumption is one of the biggest issues ahead,” stresses Hisanobu Fujita, chief engineer for parent firm Hino Motors Ltd. “It is an issue directly related to emissions, because every two to three years now emissions rules keep changing and keep getting stricter — that makes designing trucks and engines so much more difficult.”
“What we think will be critical to do well is the 2007 emissions technology,” says Dave Tarrant, chief engineer-medium-duty products for Ford Motor Co. “These are not just engine changes — they represent vehicle system changes. Under the old emissions paradigm just the engine had to change. The new paradigm means the vehicle itself, as a whole, has to change. That puts big demands on truck OEMs.
“The technology that will be used to meet the '07 regulations will require larger mufflers that will need to be placed near the turbocharger outlet,” he continues. “There will be increased heat-rejection loads as well, and that heat will find its way into the cooling system. So we'll be getting into vehicle packaging tradeoffs, where we'll have to shift things around, increase the radiator size, etc.”
Kenworth chief engineer Jim Bechtold says that meeting the '07 and '10 emissions regs will involve taking technology from “strictly an internal engine issue to one involving design of the whole vehicle.”
He says there are “lots of approaches” that will be taken and all will take up space on the chassis. “We must think about where aftertreatment system components will be placed to retain functionality and ensure reliability.”
HERE AND THERE
As both an engine supplier and vehicle OEM, Volvo Trucks North America feels there is a “need to harmonize on emission technologies worldwide, but in the meantime we must find the best solution for the customer here,” says Keith Brandis, vp-product planning.
Brandis says Volvo is “currently reviewing the technological pathways” that may be taken to '07 and will “fairly soon” make its choice, which will “deliver the performance and reliability customers expect.”
Also part of an engine as well as a vehicle OEM, Freightliner is “looking at several technologies for '07 emissions,” says Jerome Guillen, gm of new product development.
Guillen says the company is engaged in “developing a new heavy-duty engine platform for '07 that will use the best of what we know from Europe and North America.”
Peterbilt chief engineer Craig Brewster says the '07/'10 emissions challenge is “larger by magnitude than any other technological issue the industry has faced.”
He says truck OEMS will have to address both the jacket-water and charge-air cooling systems due to the expected higher internal pressure and heat rejection of '07 engines.
Telematics was discussed largely in terms of how aspects of this technology may be deployed to “feed” diagnostics information from truck components to fleet managers and drivers alike to cut vehicle downtime.
As Brad Bishop, business development manager for International Truck & Engine Corp. sees it, telematics is the key to providing fleets with more information.
“Not only can fleets get notification of fault codes so they can prepare their maintenance shop ahead of time to handle a specific problem, they can download information on driver habits — speed, braking events — that affect vehicle performance,” he explains. “For example, instead of having to troubleshoot a problem when a truck comes in for service, the fleet electronically gets a ‘heads up’ as to what the problem is so it has the specific parts ready to correct the problem when the vehicle arrives.”
GM's Matsil says telematics can make diagnostic information transparent to the driver, giving him or her “feedback directly from the engine, transmission and brakes as to the operating condition of the vehicle.”
He says that ‘real time’ information will also be “uplinked” back to fleet management, primarily to allow managing predictive maintenance issues and troubleshooting problems in real time.
“In the future,” Matsil remarks, “data taken from the engine control unit (ECU) or the transmission will be automatically sent to a ‘back room’ system at the truck's home base, which then would analyze the data to see if there is a problem. Eventually, ‘intelligence’ can be added to the back room system, so it can go back to the engine and ask for more data or automatically make adjustments to engine operation to solve a problem, all while the truck continues to move down the road, without disturbing the driver.”
He says telematics will also be deployed to boost security. “Geo-fencing capabilities will be used to make sure trucks don't deviate from planned routes or work areas,” Matsil explains. “There may even come a day when transponders on vehicles can be used to restrict them from certain areas, either for security or pollution reasons.
Ford's Tarrant says both telematics and onboard electronic systems offer fleets a lot of opportunity. “But medium-duty fleets have been slow to adopt telematics because of the cost and lack of a clear value equation for doing so,” he points out. “So while the technology is here and in use, the value proposition for adopting it hasn't been clearly defined.”
Tarrant figures that at some point in the near future the advantages of high-tech electronics will outweigh the negative perceptions, especially in terms of cost.
“We're just not at the tipping point yet and I don't know what that tipping point will be for medium-duty users,” he states. “For Class 8 fleets, the ability to communicate with the driver and track the vehicle is making telematics a key technology. But there is not as much call for this level of communication yet in the medium-duty market.”
According to Mack Trucks' on-highway marketing manager Tom Davis, “soon to be seen” will be axle-weight monitoring (AWM) systems that will enable a truck to be weighed accurately as it's being loaded. And the data collected could be transmitted via a transponder to allow bypassing weigh stations.
In the safety area, much focus is being placed on dealing with anticipated changes to federal stopping distance regulations, as well as continuing efforts to enhance vehicle safety overall.
When International redesigned its medium-duty trucks, it went to a multiplexed electrical architecture (dubbed Diamond Logic) that, among other things, supports ‘interlocks’ to improve safety. “For example,” says Mark Schumacher, marketing manager-truck electronics, “this can stop the transmission being put into drive if an aerial boom isn't secure or outriggers haven't been raised on a utility truck.”
UD Trucks' Trussell predicts a “real and workable” collision avoidance system will be available for medium-duty trucks in the next five to six years.
“Safety remains a key issue, especially in terms of driver protection,” says Mitsubishi Fuso's Devlin. “We have ‘crush bars’ in our cabs and collapsible steering wheels but we'll see more technological innovation for safety as well.”
According to Kenworth's Bechtold, the anticipated shortening of federal stopping distances for commercial vehicles will mean “more torque being applied to front brakes and that will result in higher front-suspension loads.”
Pete's Brewster says the expected stopping limit will be 30% less than today's, or roughly the same as for a car.” He says that rulemaking is expected by '06 with enactment by '07 and will be met by either high-output drums on front axles or disc brakes.
KW's Bechtold expects interest in electronic stability/rollover control devices to climb because “customers will see this as something that adds value to their vehicles.”
While the mention of driver comfort usually brings big rigs to mind, medium-duty OEMs are also paying closer attention to what will draw and keep vehicle operators.
“We can't pay lip service to the driver shortage — it's real,” says UD Trucks' Trussell. “Ergonomics and comfort have separated the goats from the sheep in trucking for years, but technological efforts in those two areas will increase in the coming years.”
He says air-ride seats are going to become the norm rather than the exception in the medium-duty market. And Trussell sees automatic transmissions not only dominating the medium-duty market but changing as well.
“Automatics represent about 90% of the light-duty market now and over the next seven to eight years they'll reach 85% in the medium-duty market,” he says. “But they'll also change, getting quieter and smoother, giving them a silky, smooth feel like you're driving a pickup truck and not a medium-duty commercial vehicle.”
In Class 8, according to Mack Trucks' on-highway marketing manager Tom Davis, automated transmissions will become more popular on sleeper-equipped trucks and automatics on daycabs.
GM Isuzu's Dan Cutler says it's “getting to the point where drivers will rebel if they don't have decent working conditions in the truck. Air conditioning and satellite radios will all become standard. Everyone wants CD players in their trucks now and we may even see MP3 players in trucks. It is partly to provide a better work environment but also to boost safety. A more comfortable truck can help reduce driver fatigue as well.”
Volvo's Brandis points out that many buyers reacted poorly to the first generation of electronic engines due to fear of computer failure. “But now we expect new engines to have complete electronic architectures,” he continues, “and with new automated transmissions, w e have a data link that makes the shifts seamlessly.
“In this way,” Brandis adds, “electronics are helping the driver while also becoming more transparent to him or her.”
Technology for the driver's sake, says Jerome Guillen, Freightliner's gm of new product development, will be focused on reducing in-cab noise and improving ergonomics with “more integrated controls placed closer to the operator as well as improved dash displays.”
He also sees potential for adaptive cruise control with electronic braking, “if regulations are changed to allow it,” as well as the possibility of steering-wheel and side-of-cab “sausage” air bags coming to trucks.
Brewster of Peterbilt notes drivers will benefit from future front suspension designs. “These may include front suspension with air for a car-like ride, as well as independent front suspension. These are being looked at and each has its pros and cons.”
Tim Logsdon, vp-marketing of commercial products for Workhorse Custom Chassis thinks technology itself won't be as central a focus of step-van development as will finding better ways to integrate truck and body components to meet diverse needs.
According to Mack Trucks' vocational marketing manager Steve Ginter, fleets will benefit from “greater use of body link electronics that give body builders a way to integrate the functions of a vocational body with those of the vehicle using the OEM's own software.”
Ginter points out that this technology will help prevent equipment failure or damage. “It could be set so the operator can't engage the PTO if rpms are such and such.”
OEMs all pointed out that everything they will be doing with technology that is not specifically to meet a government regulation will be aimed squarely at meeting customer needs.
For example, according to Kenworth's Bechtold, there's technology under development that will “allow storing cooling/heating energy and then providing it as needed at a controlled rate to cost-effectively provide a very effective ‘no-idle’ solution.”
When it comes to future tech, there's one thing all OEMs are sure to agree on. “OEMs are and must be the electronic integrators,” says Pete's Brewster, “because there are so many controlled functions and software that must now interact on commercial vehicles.”