Luxury class motor vehicles are no longer synonymous with upscale automakers. With truck drivers in short supply and high demand, commercial vehicle makers are rolling out tractors with truly cushy cabs and sleepers as fleets increasingly turn to “comfort” as a primary consideration for retention.
“High driver turnover rates and the difficulty of finding new drivers means that fleets have a strong incentive to provide a comfortable driving experience in their trucks,” said Gary Moore, assistant gm for sales & marketing at Kenworth Truck Co.
“One of the keys to our new sleepers is that they optimize operator ergonomics, productivity and comfort,” said Dan Sobic, gm for Peterbilt Motors Co., referring to the company’s new Model 387 and 386 highways tractors introduced this year. “They feature abundant storage, ample lighting and other amenities that offer what we call ‘practical luxury’ to an operator.”
All of the major truck makers are taking this new “driver comfort” approach, trying to build more value into their products from a driver retention and recruiting standpoint. For example, Warrenville, IL-based International Truck & Engine Corp. surveyed and studied 1,500 drivers, capturing hundreds of 36-point body measurement profiles as they performed various task while performing time and motion studies to make its new ProStar Class 8 tractor much more ergonomic and comfortable.
The reason, said Lenora Hardee, International’s manager of human factors and ergonomics, is that a comfortable cab and sleeper environment helps keep drivers happy. “Ergonomics is a viable and practiced concept,” she explained. “The objective is to create an environment that better-matches the capacity and limitations of the driver to achieve natural positions and reach to actuate controls. Labeling and displays are assessed and designed to provide the driver greater ease to quickly read and understand them.”
Development of Mack Trucks’ new Pinnacle highway truck also incorporated more focus on drivers. Tom Kelly, Mack’s vp—marketing, noted that new cab designs include a four-inch increase in the depth of day cabs. That provides more leg and belly room while boosting seat angle recline to more than 20º. Also included is a wrap-around “cockpit style” dash, with a new primary gauge cluster and space for up to 25 switches.
“Taken as a whole, these features result in an interior environment that promotes safety, eases service, and provides a level of comfort that's sure to help attract and retain drivers,” Kelly said.
“Drivers spend a lot of seat time, so some of the leading comfort features for spec’ing consideration are found right in the cab, including seats, lighting, instrument panel layout, noise levels, and interior trim package,” said Kenworth’s Moore.
Even noise reduction is a big factor, he said. “Noise can be fatiguing to a driver on a long haul, so a quieter cab is better,” Moore explained. “We’re achieving a 20%, or one full decibel, reduction in noise levels on our 2006 Class 8 models by adding special materials in key areas.”
“Their truck may be their home for weeks at a time,” said Scott Kress, senior vp—sales & marketing for Greensboro, NC-based Volvo Truck North America. “That’s why we built a lot of functionality into our new VT 880 sleeper. For example, it has an optional workstation that can function as dining table, office desk and den. After supper, the bench seats quickly convert to a full-length lower bunk. The upper bunk with premium mattress folds out from the back of the cab, and a foldaway ladder allows easy access.”
“Driver comfort is a major factor in maintaining satisfied customers and happy drivers, so we focus our design efforts on offering a comfortable and spacious work environments for our customers,” said Mark Lampert, senior vp—sales for Freightliner.
He pointed to a new “driver lounge” optional sleeper package developed for Freightliner’s Century Class S/T, Coronado and Columbia Class 8 truck models last year as an example: a self-contained office table unit that folds away for convenience and interior cab space. When the table is lowered and stowed away, it completes the middle-area of the lower bunk and then cushions are then placed over the table to restore the bunk and bed area, he said.
“The enhanced driver’s lounge was designed to address the needs of the long-haul driver who spends a substantial amount of time in his or her vehicle,” Lampert explained.
“You don’t forget the sleeper specs,” said Kenworth's Moore. “Fleets need to carefully balance the particular needs of their application and the comfort of their drivers in choosing the sleeper. Drivers usually prefer easy sleeper access, ample stand-up room and storage space, and a good, large mattress – that helps produce a restful environment.”