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Volvo VNL 760 I-Shift Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner
Anyone who can drive a passenger car should find it simple operating the shifter of this Volvo VNL 760's I-Shift automated manual transmission.

Big trucks acting like smaller ones

In today's heavy trucks, the order of the day is to help businesses who use these vehicles do their jobs better—whether that means making trucks easier for drivers to operate, easier to spec, easier to connect, or other advantages.

Class 7 and 8 heavy trucks have the most total options of any, with choices of powertrains, axles, interiors, added technology, and more down to minutiae. That includes more third-party suppliers of major or add-on components than any other truck classes—so much so that, all told, spec'ing these heaviest trucks is almost a job in itself.

It has led to one of the biggest trends in this arena: options packages that can include a fairly extensive range of features and specs to achieve a particular purpose. These packages can serve as a starting point for custom spec'ing and mimic what you'll find in light vehicles, simplifying the ordering process while helping ensure fleets optimize their trucks with the latest advancements. Of course, they typically also favor "vertical integration," or trucks built with engines, transmissions, axles, and so on all from the vehicle OEM.

And just like trucks from the lighter classes, heavy truck features are zeroing in on business optimization and efficiency. Operating trucks more efficiently and increasing uptime/utilization simply makes good sense and saves money.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

Top-level interior in Mack Anthem truck doesn't spare the luxury materials.

One example is Mack Trucks' MP8HE 13L diesel engine and HE+ package for the Anthem highway truck, which includes that engine. Both include some of the OEM's top options for a higher-efficiency truck. The MP8HE engine has common rail/ direct fuel injection, turbo compounding, and Mack's Wave Piston technology to maximize efficiency in more ways than one. The HE+ package folds in the OEM's Predictive Cruise that stores info on and adjusts for the road ahead; fairings and other aerodynamic streamlining; and Mack's mDRIVE automated transmission. 

Similarly, Navistar recently announced the MPG Package for its International LT long-haul truck that provides predictive cruise control, an air dam and bumper seal, an aerodynamic chassis package, a roof fairing, wheel covers, and other aero enhancements. Peterbilt's 579 Epiq launched several years ago has been enhanced over time and optimizes engine, transmission, and aerodynamics to deliver 8% higher fuel efficiency.

Volvo Trucks has taken a selective approach following the same efficiency pattern. The company's Xceed package for its VNL 760/860 long-haul tractors offer some advanced lightweighting options along with powertrain optimization and aerodynamic enhancements to deliver up to an 11% fuel efficiency gain. Need to maximize payload for regional- or bulk-haul trucks? Volvo's new Payload Plus package—which is included in Xceed and available on its own—shaves up to 540 lbs. from VNR regional-haul models and more than 335 lbs. from VNL trucks.

Package options of this kind continue across other heavy-truck OEMs, including Freightliner's three tiers of aerodynamic equipment for Cascadia trucks, which can come with extensive equipment like aero mirrors, tow hooks, chassis fairings, side seals, bumpers, roof fairings, wheel covers, and more. Meanwhile, over-the-air truck software updates are growing fast among heavy trucks and are another way to improve truck efficiency, helping save trips to the dealership; today, those can not only fix bugs but optimize engine performance.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

Living room-like Freightliner Cascadia sleeper gives drivers a more productive space.

Like the lighter classes once again, big trucks have been featuring smarter, deeper technology features that are becoming widespread. For instance, Kenworth introduced a fuel-economy package available this spring for its flagship T680 tractor that specifies powertrain and optimized axle configuration and includes enhanced predictive cruise control, but the OEM has also focused heavily on advanced tech tweaks for that and other models.

Kenworth's T680, T880, and new W990 equipped with Paccar MX-11 and MX-13 engines got electronic control module upgrades to allow easier addition of telematics and body controls. And telematics/ transportation management system options are now going beyond the factory-installable system relationships truck makers have had
for years.

You can now add a PeopleNet/ Trimble telematics app to a Kenworth T680's or T880's NAV+ HD media system, integrating fleet management software and a ready-to-use electronic logging device system without having to house it on a separate in-cab terminal. Paccar sibling company Peterbilt is offering a similar integration with its SmartNav display and infotainment system.

Photo: Aaron Marsh/ Fleet Owner

A PeopleNet/ Trimble transportation management system app is integrated into this Peterbilt Model 579's SmartNav infotainment system.

The T680 now features as standard Bendix's Wingman Fusion advanced safety system, which includes video and radar input to monitor and respond to vehicles and obstacles on the road ahead. Freightliner is offering its optional Detroit Assurance 4.0 proprietary suite of advanced safety features for its top-selling Cascadia on-highway truck. That includes active braking assist, pedestrian warning, close-following warning, and adaptive cruise control and can include a lane-departure warning.

Does that sound like light trucks? That's become a frequent tag line for heavy trucks: They're designed to feel and operate more like passenger cars, which can lower the bar when it comes to difficulty of operation and help entice new drivers into the fold. 

It's only a sampling of the latest features finding their way into trucks of all classes. These vehicles that are business necessities of transportation, trades, and entrepreneurs and are a growing preference of consumers deliver their expected utility and, in more and diverse ways, lower operating costs. More with less, more power and payload, innovative capabilities, cutting-edge tech, and comfortable/feature-rich driver environments are the norm in this extremely competitive field of products. 

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Versatile light vehicles

Middleweights doing big jobs

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