For a brief change of pace, let’s talk about some heavy metal. No, we’re not talking about the AC/DC toe-tapping, head-banging kind of heavy metal found in the classic 1986 full-throttle flick starring Emilio Estevez, but the really heavy metal that can be found on the crazy futuristic Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) concept truck. DTNA claims this truck will offer “a wide range of possibilities for significantly improved efficiency of road freight transport in the future.” Recently unveiled under the Freightliner brand, this streamlined slice of the future is appropriately entitled the “SuperTruck,” and it offers us an exciting glimpse at the next evolutionary step in ground shipping.
Since the future of shipping is already under construction, we might as well come out and say that we couldn’t be more thrilled with the way it looks. After a $40 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), this vehicle is now in the second year of a five-year research and development program that focuses on improving the freight and fuel efficiency of Class 8 trucks. When it was revealed at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., the other day, this streamlined sci-fi semi caught a lot of attention from truck enthusiasts. With its aggressive aerodynamics, lower center of gravity, adjustable ride height, and futuristic cabin, this is one 18-wheeler we wouldn’t mind looking over while passing it on the interstate.
So the SuperTruck looks great, and it promises to change the face of the semi shipping segment forever, but how will it achieve such stellar efficiency? The guys over at Freightliner apparently have a few tricks up their sleeves, and according to a report by CarScoops, “reduced fuel consumption is achieved through energy management, an intelligent powertrain, a DT12 automated transmission and predictive technology that controls the vehicle speed using GPS and digital 3D maps.” The trailer is also outfitted with solar panels, so the truck’s AC system does not depend on sucking engine power.
DTNA also claims that the “SuperTruck will demonstrate [a] 50% improvement in freight efficiency” and that “To ensure total vehicle improvement, program objectives state that 30 percent of the vehicle efficiency must come from the tractor and trailer, while the other 20 percent should come from the engine.” To help with energy savings, Kevin Sisken, manager of technology programs and analysis for Detroit Diesel Corporation, says there needs to be a focus on “Reducing parasitics, engine power used for powering something other than the engine, such as a water pump, will [also] be key to improving freight efficiency and is just one area we are scrutinizing.”
It seems like DTNA and Freightliner are looking at every aspect of the vehicle to better attain fuel efficiency while unlocking untapped torque. The truck’s hybrid system gets charged from the friction caused by braking, its frame weighs 700 pounds less than a typical semi frame, and it features the most aerodynamic mirrors allowed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Martin Daum, DTNA president and CEO, recently said, “We see this as acknowledgment of our key strategic goal to make commercial transportation as environmentally friendly and as fuel efficient as possible.”
Key components like low rolling resistance tires and lightweight materials have been sourced for the project, and hybridization of the powertrain is still very much in consideration along with what DTNA calls “predictive technologies, vehicle auxiliary load, and idle reductions systems.” Therefore, “any reduction in power requirements of additional devices provides a one for one increase in available engine power, which has a direct correlation with the engine and vehicle fuel consumption levels.” Simply put, less strain on the truck’s electrical system will guarantee more power to the hybrid system on board which is clearly illustrated in this video.
DTNA says that testing shows the SuperTruck averages about 12.2 miles per gallon at a speed of around 65 miles per hour, with a gross vehicle weight rating of 65,000 pounds. While this may sound like absolutely abysmal fuel economy to most people, it is actually quite good — no, stellar — when compared to the 2009 baseline truck tested. When put side-by-side, the SuperTruck completely badgered the 2009 model with a 115% freight efficiency improvement, and that wasn’t even the final production model.
So what does this all mean for all of us “non-truckers” out there? With a little luck, the developments and discoveries found on this space-age semi will find their way into commuter cars and will be incorporated into their engine systems, aerodynamics, hybrid systems, and so on. So if Daimler wants to one day take its findings and plug them into an SUV like the Durango, they stand a very good chance of improving the much smaller truck’s overall efficiency by using what was learned in the development of the SuperTruck as a reference point. From the looks of things we might actually be seeing these upgrades sooner than later, as DTNA recently announced that it was “happy with the progress we’ve made so far and are confident that we will reach the program objectives within the specified timeframe.”
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