With the rapid evolution of heavy-duty truck equipment, we here at Fleet Equipment often wish we had a crystal ball or the ability to generate the 1.21 gigawatts that makes time travel possible to foresee the trucking industry future. While we’re still working on that, we have the next best thing: The opportunity to take a sneak peek at the latest equipment technology. At a recent global press event, ZF pulled back the curtain on its latest equipment advances, culminating in the debut of the Innovation Truck.
The Innovation Truck is a futuristic concept on wheels. A joint realization of ZF Friedrichshafen AG, ZF Lenksysteme GmbH—a joint venture of ZF and Bosch—and the telematics specialist Openmatics s.r.o., the tractor-trailer prototype, which measures 25.25 meters with semi-trailer and trailer, highlighted how OEMs, logistics companies and truck drivers can benefit from the innovative integration of advanced transmission, steering and telematics systems. The result is a truck that can be maneuvered into position remotely via an Android tablet app.
Standing outside of the truck, drivers can open the app, tap and hold either the displayed diagramed cab or trailer image and pull the cab or trailer left or right in order to steer and move the truck. Cameras installed around the truck provide visibility to the opposite side. At the event, ZF representatives passed around the tablet. Journalists took turns driving the truck, expertly cutting the trailer angle to keep the load within the cones as we backed the trailer into position.
The autonomously realized Innovation Truck is primarily based on three system components. The new ZF-TraXon automatic transmission system for heavy trucks is used on the input end—more precisely, the TraXon Hybrid variant, which has an electric motor integrated into the bell housing that delivers 120 kW of power and 1,000 Nm of torque. A dry clutch is installed in the hybrid module, enabling all hybrid functionalities to operate purely electric maneuvering. The system’s high-voltage battery has sufficient capacity to complete multiple maneuvers with zero local emissions.
Equipment advances are driven by trucking trends, which Fredrik Staedtler, head of commercial vehicle division, outlined at the event: Reduced CO2 emissions standards; total cost of ownership; reliability; connectivity; and globalization. “Volatile markets strengthen uncertainty. That’s a challenge that ZF is prepared for,” Staedtler said. “For OEMs and their key components, the focus is on cost. For suppliers, this raises the question of being cost leaders or technology leaders.”
ZF’s strategy is to secure a technological leadership position with benchmark products that offer competitive advantages. Added value comes from volume, Staedtler explained, allowing enough scope for differentiation. It was a theme that ran through a number of ZF’s unique prototypes.
The modular TraXon automatic transmission, for example, showed off the next step in automatic transmission evolution with a dual-clutch module. With this module and the “top three” gearshift strategy, the 11th and 12th gears utilized dual-clutch that shifts without tractive force interruption in the three highest gears. When driving the truck and focusing on the road ahead, it was a surprise to look at the display and see that the truck was already in 12th gear, as all three shifts are performed under load and are barely perceivable.
ZF also showcased new solutions for the cabin suspension. One system features an active roll stabilization system on the front stabilizer. A special control unit, which receives signals on the driving condition from sensors, controls the cabin suspension by means of a hydraulic actuator. The respective vehicle conditions are recognized within a split second and the driver’s cabin is then actively stabilized. Additionally, there was a prototype of its independent front suspension that also sported rack-and-pinion steering, making operation feel more like a nimble light-duty truck as opposed to a lumbering heavy-duty tractor.
So what does this mean for our North American market? Currently, ZF supplies shocks, clutches, chassis components and steering parts such as solo and tandem steering pumps, as well as steering shafts and gears. While several of the products shown at the event were in the prototype phases, there’s no North American release info available for products such as the TraXon transmission. However, at the tail end of the media event, news broke that ZF was in a preliminary, non-binding proposal with TRW Automotive Holdings Corp. If the merger were to come to fruition, it would create the world’s second-largest auto-parts supplier by sales. Only time will tell when ZF will bring its latest equipment solutions to North American shores.