Trucks at Work

Looking into the future

Got a chance to talk with Dr. Steve Charlton – VP and chief technology officer for the engine business at Cummins – the other day at a press event ahead of the Mid America Trucking Show (which is now upon us in its full frightening intensity!)

Obviously, there are lots of improvements in the works for diesel truck engines – not in the least because they must meet a series of strict greenhouse gas (GHG) emission rules by 2017. But apart from that, Charlton is really excited (there’s really no other word for it) about what’s being revealed by long-term research work such as what’s being conducted by the “SuperTruck” project sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of Energy.

[You can view some of his comments on that particular subject in the video below.]

“We’ve taken a tractor-trailer, of which the expectation is to get at best 6 to 7 miles per gallon (mpg), and now get just a touch under 10 mpg,” he told me.

“And yes we’ve made a lot of improvements to the engine, but it’s how we’re approaching the design of the tractor and trailer as a unit that holds the most promise – especially by making the trailer more aerodynamic,” Charlton explained. “The important part is, in terms of trailer aerodynamics, that what we’re doing is not rocket science – meaning it’s totally feasible for ‘real world’ applications.”

Charlton also alluded to how telematics is beginning to alter how engineers think about “tuning” trucks, especially in terms of keeping them in the “sweet spot” for fuel economy over time. You can view some of his comments in that direction in the video below:

Imagine it – being able to upload the latest fuel-saving engine algorithm on the fly, without even touching a button; with the ease of downloading a song from iTunes. Now THAT offers some interesting future potential for fleets methinks. 

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