In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON expands on the autonomy theme exemplified by Daimler’s “Future Truck 2025”, speculates on a future direction for European truck design, and updates the detail on Iveco’s new Daily van, truck and bus line-up.
The unveiling by Daimler Trucks of its “Future Truck 2025” concept, during July, was deservedly the subject of much media attention – you may have read Charleen Clarke’s interview with it last month …
Essentially, this rig was made up of a Mercedes-Benz Actros 1845 truck tractor coupled with the manufacturer’s Aerodynamics Trailer concept, but also equipped with “Highway Pilot” functionality.
This integrates and coordinates a multitude of on-board systems including Proximity Control Assist, Emergency Braking Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Predictive Powertrain Control, an Intelligent Transport Systems Vehicle Station, radar sensors, a stereo camera as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication. The end result was an articulated combination which could, under certain circumstances, drive itself.
At the present state of the art, a driver is still present to take over should circumstances dictate. These circumstances include starting, stopping and overtaking slower-moving traffic. While on the move, however, driver intervention by steering, braking or accelerating is largely discretionary, as the vehicle can take care of incidents – such as broken down vehicles at the roadside, an emergency vehicle wishing to overtake or gusting crosswinds – entirely on its own. While not required to intervene, the driver can attend to administrative business, plan his next trip, listen to music or generally relax while the truck drives itself in an efficient and totally legal manner at speeds up to 80 km/h.
Is this science fiction? Not at all! Logically, autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles are only a progressive extension of the safety and convenience functions that are already found in many modern vehicles.
These include the electronic control of functions to manage and optimise the drivetrain, suspension, braking, lights, cruise control, lane deviation, seatbelt tension, airbags, seats, interior climate control, entertainment and navigation, and even parallel parking.
These functions are also able to cross-communicate to enhance performance, cornering, braking and collision avoidance and, as a last resort, “prepare” the vehicle and its occupants for a seemingly unavoidable accident in such a way that injury is ameliorated.
Historically, most of the innovation has been directed towards assisting the driver to improve his/her performance, find the intended destination, be entertained, or keep out of trouble. However, if all of this functionality is added together, it follows that vehicles should be able to drive themselves, without any direct human input.
This is particularly significant, given the global situation where more than one million people die annually in traffic accidents, and it begs the question of whether the human element – that is directly, or indirectly, responsible for the vast majority of fatal accidents – should be taken out of the equation?
The concept of fully automated, or autonomous vehicles, has recently gathered a great deal of momentum, particularly in the light-vehicle arena, and there have been several predictions of commercially available versions from about 2020 onwards.
It is now well-accepted that the electronic management functions of vehicles could also access public information systems, providing details of weather, road condition and traffic density, and that individual vehicles could “talk” to each other. This would allow them to take appropriate pre-emptive action to avoid accidents, or cope with sudden changes in climatic or road conditions.
The Mercedes Benz Future Truck 2025 represents an important step by a truck manufacturer into the realm of autonomy, and we look forward to the promised unveiling of the “final and spectacular version” of this concept at the 2014 IAA International Commercial Vehicle Show.
In the meantime, manufacturers will continue with testing and development, until a totally practicable “autonomous” solution is evolved. Obviously, this technology will carry a substantial cost, and there has been much discussion about its ultimate affordability.
There are also concerns about the degree to which it will be dependent on outside cues, such as road markings, and the possible consequences of less than perfect infrastructure upkeep.
However, there is little doubt that autonomous vehicles will have the potential to make roads safer, and save lives. Global Focus will be following the progress of this technology closely over the following few years.
The future of European design?
The single most important difference between American heavy-truck operators and their counterparts in the rest of the world is the persistent refusal of the former to consider anything other than conventional (normal control, bonneted) cabs, for the vast majority of their fleet purchases. This reflects the preferences of drivers, based on their safety perceptions, and mechanics requiring convenient access to major mechanical units.
The traditional American “18 wheeler” rig consists of a bonneted 6x4 prime mover, with luxurious sleeper cab, hitched to a tandem-axle semi-trailer, and there are very few exceptions to this rule.
In Europe, Asia and South America, however, the picture is very different, with the vast majority of operators opting for forward control (cabover) layouts, in order to fully utilise axle mass limits, and to accommodate the largest possible volume of freight within prescribed legal dimensional parameters.
With major truck groups, such as Daimler, Volvo and Volkswagen, headquartered in Europe, that continent is pretty much the centre of the universe for truck design in the 21st century, and its manufacturers have expended vast amounts of technical intellect, money and ingenuity to ensure that their favoured slab-fronted truck designs progressively emit fewer emissions in line with ever-tightening environmental legislation, while still improving fuel efficiency.
The evidence of this could be seen in the highly integrated product designs that emerged during 2012 and 2013, ahead of the final implementation of Euro-6 emission standards at the beginning of this year. However, the quest for environmental Utopia does not stop, and there is always the challenge of clearing the next legislative hurdle, while still keeping transport operators (and the truck manufacturers) in business.
With mono-nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate emissions under firm Euro-6 control, the emphasis has now shifted to the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) outputs, and this has led to a call for Europe to consider relaxing its widespread 16,5-m (articulated) and 18,75-m (truck and drawbar trailer) length limits to allow for more efficient operation.
One school of thought advocates the use of multiple trailers, similar to the Australian B-Double and South African interlink combinations, on the principle that individual prime movers can then move more freight, thus reducing the number of vehicles on the road emitting CO2, but there has been considerable political resistance to any suggestion of bigger or heavier “juggernauts”.
However, the drive for reduced CO2 levels is very powerful, and the Transport Committee of the European Parliament recently voted to relax truck overall length limits in the pursuit of increased aerodynamic efficiency. If the European Council concurs, and new regulations are adopted by the 27 European Union countries, rules could come into force by 2022 allowing truck cabs to be 800 mm longer than at present.
However, merely adding a longer aerodynamic “nose” to the existing cab designs is likely to be undesirable in terms of front overhang dimensions, turning circles and approach angles. Some degree of configuration change would be necessary, with wheelbase dimensions increased and front axles moved forward under the “nose”.
This will inevitably necessitate a substantial redesign of the typical European heavy truck, into something presumably about halfway between the present continental and North American patterns.
Truck manufacturers would warmly welcome a more universal design approach that would suit all of the world’s major markets. The present situation, where a completely different layout is required for North America, is an expensive distraction and works against the global amortisation of product development costs. Side benefits of a European move to longer cabs would probably include increased internal space, which is likely to be welcomed by drivers and trade unions.
In the past, several European manufacturers have exhibited truck concepts at shows featuring longer cabs, but most were primarily intended to address driver safety concerns about being placed at the extreme front of the vehicle in the case of an accident.
Renault’s 2008 “Optifuel” concept, however, added a 300 mm nose to its Premium cab, and returned a 13-percent fuel consumption benefit under test, while MAN’s 2010 Concept S and matching semi-trailer claimed a 20-percent reduction, but needed a two-metre length increase to achieve it. These designs could most accurately be described as “semi-forward” control, rather than outright conventional, and this may give some hint of future direction.
There can be no doubt that designers and engineers at the major European truck builders are already applying their minds to these new possibilities, and, given the leading position that Europe enjoys in the global industry, it is to be hoped that the resulting designs may find wider geographic acceptance, and do away with the inconvenient Transatlantic dichotomy .
Whatever the outcome, it seems highly likely that heavy trucks, in the third decade of the 21st century, will differ considerably in appearance from those currently seen on the roads of the world.
New Daily in more detail
In our recent coverage of Euro van news, we made mention of Iveco’s totally redesigned third generation Daily range that was due to make its debut in June, 2014. More detail on this range, which contains 80 percent redesigned components, has now emerged, and there have been some interesting specification developments which justify a second visit to this topic.
The Daily was first introduced to the European market in 1978. Significant revisions were made in 1999, and now in 2014. Daily production in Europe, South America and Asia has totalled more than 2,6 million units to date, with sales in more than 110 countries. The latest iteration of this highly successful product line stems from a $US 700 million (about R7,5 trillion) investment in product development and upgraded production facilities.
As noted earlier, the new generation retains Daily’s traditional ladder frame construction, facilitating the offering of chassis/cab derivatives for light-truck applications, and there are now two distinct frame layouts, optimised for chassis/cab and van applications, respectively.
Models with gross vehicle mass (GVM) ratings up to 3,5 t are now equipped with a new semi-independent Quad-leaf front suspension, using double quadrilateral transverse leaf springs, while single rear-wheel models have a redesigned rear suspension providing reduced loading height and improved cornering stability.
Revision of the wheelbase/length relationship of the van design has resulted in nine configurations with volume capacities ranging from 7,3 m³ to 19,6 m³. The chassis/cab line-up includes six wheelbase lengths ranging from three to 4,75 m, and GVM ratings covering the spectrum from 3,3 to seven tonnes.
The power unit selection supplied by Fiat Powertrain Technologies comprises 2,3- and 3,0-litre diesel or natural gas engines, offering power outputs from 80 kW (106 hp) to 150 kW (205 hp). Both engine displacements are available at the Euro-5b+ compliance level, using Exhaust Gas Recirculation, while the Euro-6 rated three--litre adds Selective Catalytic Reduction.
The Euro-6 engines are equipped with a new generation 2 000-bar pressure, common-rail fuel injection system, and all engines drive through six-speed transmissions, including ZF’s Agile automated unit.
Improved aerodynamics, push-button engine mapping, Smart Alternator kinetic energy recovery, low-friction interventions and operating logic control of the air-conditioning have resulted in a claimed average fuel economy improvement of 5,5 percent over the previous model Daily.
Four Euro-6 fully finished minibus variants will also be available off the assembly line in Suzzara, Italy, to cover the specific requirements of interurban, touring, urban and school bus operators. These buses will feature Electronic Stability Control, Lane Departure Warning, improved climate control and air suspension, and offer seating accommodation for up to 22 adults, 32 primary scholars or 32 high school scholars. A bespoke motor home conversion will also be available from this source.
Global FOCUS is a monthly update of international news relating to the commercial vehicle industry. It is compiled exclusively for FOCUS by Frank Beeton of Econometrix.
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