Over the horizon 10 May 2016

Trucks are changing, but what should fleet engineers expect? Will the future be better, or just different and more expensive? Ian Norwell dusts off his crystal ball

If the past is a good guide to the future, then where trucks are concerned two themes are likely to dominate for fleet engineers and workshop managers: legislation and automation. In the wake of Euro 6, truck makers hoped finally rid of the penitent’s hair shirt – the garment they’ve been wearing since Euro 1.

They were looking forward to spending R&D pounds on customer-focused innovations rather than yet more compliance. Sadly, comments from Ricardo’s Andy Noble (Transport Engineer, March 2016 page 10) reveal such excitement to be premature. But whether further regulation comes from the EU, the DfT (Department for Transport), even TfL (Transport for London), the effect will be the same: higher prices and rising costs.

Operators running fleets in and around the capital have learned to live with CLOCS (Construction Logistics and Cyclists Safety) and FORS (Freight Operators Recognition Scheme). They know what compliance requires – and they know that TfL’s efforts will soon be influential elsewhere. Latest proposals to ruffle feathers call for a peak time delivery ban as well as extra glazing to nearside cab doors on HGVs. It’s little wonder that fleets feel unloved: more like a necessary evil than delivering an essential service.

But attitudes are changing. Fleet managers I’ve spoken to in recent months are adopting a new attitude. Part pragmatic, part commercial, they appear to revel in the compliance demands that flood into their inboxes. They see it as a commercial advantage that separates them from the rest.

And there is another positive aspect arising out of compliance. Truck OEMs are not alone in driving engineering advances. Equipment suppliers are busy too – and Steve Caddy, director of advanced engineering and technology at Cummins, says that means components such as turbochargers are evolving. “As reducing fuel consumption and emissions become more critical, different turbocharger will be key for different engine ratings,” he says, adding that wastegate, two-stage, and VGT (variable geometry turbine) turbochargers will be revisited.

Why? Not least due to truck innovations elsewhere. “Improvements in truck aerodynamics and tyre technology reduce the power required under cruise conditions, so reducing energy available in the exhaust to drive the turbine,” he explains. So Cummins Turbo Technologies is developing new turbine aerodynamics able to extract more energy and hence further improve fuel efficiency. Name almost any part of a truck, from tyres to telematics, and comparable improvements are on the way.

However, some whole vehicle developments relating to connectivity are among the most interesting. According to Dr Wolfgang Bernhard, director of trucks and buses at Daimler, almost every aspect of future trucks will be connected to the internet. Everything from components to subassemblies, vehicles, shippers, container ports, fleet workshops, even other vehicles, will be open for data traffic over the web, he says.

Indeed, speaking in Düsseldorf, Germany, at a recent Mercedes-Benz technology conference, he insisted that anything not connected will in the not-too-distant future be viewed as anyone today without a mobile phone. As for practical applications, he pointed to autonomous driving (AD) in concert with platooning – with a live on-highway demonstration of automatically managed trucks on the A52 motorway near Düsseldorf using the firm’s latest upgrade, dubbed Highway Pilot Connect.

Three AD-equipped Actros trucks were shown running with a 15 metre gap. All the drivers were in hands-free mode and other traffic was seen comfortably interacting with the platoon. The 15 metre gaps were enough to allow other vehicles to cut in between to leave or join the motorway – with the gap automatically enlarging before then closing as appropriate.

It’s important to squash the term ‘driverless trucks’, because that’s not what this is about. Nor is it proposed anytime soon. The combination of AD and platooning gives three straight wins: trucks running at top efficiency; best use of available road capacity; and fuel economy improved through better aerodynamics. Looks like a win-win-win.

Indeed, Daimler’s submissions to the German authorities have gained the German giant special permissions to run AD and platooning operations across a raft of public highways throughout the country. And legislators, known for dragging their heels, seem to be waking up.

But trailer and body builders are looking to the future too. Staffordshire-based Don-Bur – well known for ensuring that trailers complement increasingly slippery cab designs – is one such. Richard Owens, group marketing manager, says the obsession is always around aerodynamic drag and vehicle weight. “For rigid truck bodies, weight is more critical as their natural habitat is on stop-start duty cycles, which are already fuel-hungry,” he explains. “But weight takes a back seat for semi-trailers on 44-tonne work where aerodynamics become crucial.”

Don-Bur’s Mk1 teardrop design is now a decade in service and the firm is now exploring a variety of innovations. “It’s a pragmatic exercise,” says Owens, “Weight, strength, cost and serviceability are the main forces at work.” Aerodynamic drag is split into thirds between front bumper, rear doors and other parasitic losses. These latter include axles and structural members along the trailer length.

Creative use of encapsulation is one thing, but – as with the undersides of tractors – overheating is an issue surrounding trailer wheels. Looking elsewhere, Owens says he’s unconvinced by rear-end ‘boat-tail’ designs, simply because they are vulnerable and one damage event can wipe out several years’ savings. So Don-Bur is investing in ‘plasma actuator’ technology, designed to modify airflow without the need for physical structures. Research is also underway to cut weight by using lighter base materials, and spraying them with carbon fibre for additional strength.

Meanwhile, sources at Wabco tell me that trailers will soon get more intelligent too. Trailer-related data reporting – including location, axle load, tyre pressure, reefer temperature and door status – should become the norm, says the spokesperson. So far, uptake of such technologies remains lacking. Indeed, only around 6% of trailers are equipped with a telematics-related fleet management system. And just 3% of fleets are using remote diagnostics, like tyre pressure monitoring.

Lighter matters

The heavy truck industry is making its own moves towards a more efficient future, and usually steals the limelight, but burgeoning numbers of vans on UK roads also justify a glance at the future. A concept vehicle execution of Iveco’s Daily looks at what drivers and fleet operators might expect from future generations.

“Its creation is centred, above all, on low environmental impact, mobility and safety,” comments Stuart Webster, managing director of Iveco. Obvious changes are a hybrid power unit with a significant full-electric range for urban work. More unusual are see-through ‘A’ pillars, a photovoltaic roof, tyre pressures that are adjustable on the move, and novel cargo-protection airbags.

More than 15 companies partnered the Iveco exercise, including Bosch, Dainese, Brembo, Streparava and Arcelor Mittal. Its regular Daily has green alternatives too. They’ll get harder to ignore as legislation creeps.

Ian Norwell

Related Downloads

Related Companies
Cummins Turbo Technologies
Don-Bur (Bodies & Trailers) Ltd
Iveco Ltd
Mercedes-Benz UK Ltd
Ricardo UK Ltd

This material is protected by MA Business copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the sales team.