Trucks at Work

Reimagining the highway tractor

So I had a chance to chat with Justin Yee, manager of vehicle concepts for Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) here at the 2012 Mid America Trucking Show about the Revolution Innovation Truck concept vehicle he helped build for DTNA’s Freightliner Trucks division – a unique take on the ubiquitous highway tractors that’s chugged along our nation’s highways hauling freight since time out of mind.

What’s neat about this particular concept is that it’s a fully operational truck – yes, you can hop in, key the ignition, and start driving – that features an awful lot of what Yee refers to as “near future” technology, meaning it’s packed with stuff that could become reality for freight haulers very rapidly if desired.

Take this truck’s suspension system, for example: though it looks like a traditional 6 x 4 axle configuration, it can actually operate in a fuel-sipping 6 x 2 mode when not under load. Yet the mind the vehicle detects a load or the need for more traction, BAM! That extra axle automatically kicks right back into the mix with a time lag of 0.3 seconds, Yee told me – basically meaning it’s instantaneous.

Yee added that his team at Freightliner – comprised of folks from all disciplines throughout the company – built this concept trucks in a surprisingly fast 18 months, starting from scratch and using some different materials in critical places, such as aluminum frame rails and special carbon fiber “pre-preg” from Toray Carbon Fibers America for the hood, roof cap, side walls and back wall; marking the first time this material has been used in heavy-duty truck construction.

That special "sandwich structure" of low density honeycomb material and carbon fiber resulted in extremely lightweight components, which helped simplified the truck’s inner support structure and maximize interior space – resulting in significantly more interior space and functionality than a traditional day cab, while weighing less than a sleeper.

Now, for sure, many truck drivers will take one look at this truck – with the electric blue glow lights giving the interior a vaguely disco-like feel – and say, “No way, not for me.”

Yet the way the interior of the cab has been re-imagined by Yee and his team – especially in terms of the work station created in the traditional passenger seat area – seems to open up a whole new realm of possibilities of how to give drivers a truck that’s a far more productive work tool for them than in the past.

It’s definitely a vision of the truck’s future worth pondering. 

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