Let’s put this year in perspective. In January, just 12 months ago, the U.S. set a record for COVID-19 hospitalizations. Five months later in May, ACT Expo in-person attendance grew by 60% compared to the show that took place nine months earlier and the truck market was booming but hampered by supply chain shortages. And this month, ACT Research reflected on the strong year for fleet profitability, but noted stormy market clouds ahead.
It’s been a YEAR.
Yet the most amazing silver lining is that the trucking world produced some of its biggest headlines to date. We’re talking earth-shattering market developments like the actual cost of ownership benefit of running electric trucks starting to be realized and, oh yeah, Cummins buying Meritor. Selecting callouts for this year’s Best of 2022 was no easy feat. To help focus the selection, I turned to Fleet Equipment‘s continuing mantra as we enter our third year of all-digital publication and our 49th year of serving the trucking industry: A heavy-duty focus on the equipment.
So here’s a quick look at the year that was in heavy-duty truck headlines.
Sustainability takes center stage
Spoiler alert: Yes. The answer is yes. At least, in specific short-haul applications in the short term. There was plenty of talk of hydrogen fuel cell technology for use in long-haul, but it kind of feels like that technology is where battery electric technology was about four years ago. Of course, there was also talk of other hydrogen applications that could get the infrastructure ball rolling…
Sure, there was that other big Cummins headline, but I would argue that this one is far more impactful in the short term and even further out. One of the biggest truck equipment trends was the development of the decarbonization conversation–the idea that sustainability isn’t a “flip a switch” moment and that true decarbonization includes a bevy of equipment options, including more fuel-efficient diesel engines. Cummins charges into the ICE segment by creating commonalities in an engine platform that serves multiple fuel types. It makes the decarbonization process approachable for fleets who are ready to start chipping away at carbon emissions.
Electric trucks charge into the market
Freightliner rolled out its production series battery electric eCascadia at ACT Expo in May with an entire charging and data ecosystem to support it. The OEM also walked the charging infrastructure walk, installing a charging island in Portland near its headquarters. The OEM earned a hefty order of 800 Freightliner eCascadias from Sysco, a huge leader in fleet sustainability.
Volvo Trucks North America took the next step in its electric truck deployment, announcing the second generation of its VNR Electric regional haul truck. It boasts more range, faster charging and, perhaps most interestingly–more options. It’s the first glimpse we’ve had at the future of battery electric truck spec’ing and how next-gen componentry and options like different battery pack sizes could be tailored to applications.
Speaking of electric trucks tailored to applications, the Mack Trucks LR Electric refuse truck is a great reminder that not all battery electric applications involve hauling containers to and from ports. A host of municipalities have hopped on the battery electric refuse truck bandwagon. In 2020 both Republic in Hickory, N.C., and the New York City Department of Sanitation implemented pilot programs to put the truck through its paces and garnered attention from other refuse operations.
Diesel technology continues to drive the industry
Electric truck developments are exciting, but it’s important to remember that diesel trucks still rule the road, and fuel efficiency is of the utmost importance–not just for ROI savings but because it feeds into the aforementioned decarbonization journey.
This was huge for International. Not only does it bring an integrated powertrain to the OEM’s offering but it was also the biggest unveiling since Navistar was acquired by TRATON. The S13 engine, t13 transmission and brand new aftertreatment system shows off its global engineering pedigree and leverages International’s deep equipment data lake and solutions. International noted that when specified with the updated International LT Series aerodynamics package, the S13 Integrated offers up to a 15% gain in fuel efficiency, compared to its previous most fuel-efficient LT Series spec.
Fuel efficiency with an edge was the continued theme of the Western Star 57X–a next-generation on-highway truck that touted a 5.8% fuel efficiency gain over the previous 5700XE. It also brought a full suite of Detroit advanced driver assistance systems to Western Star’s highway trucks, offering the likes of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC to 0 mph), Active Lane Assist (ALA) includes Lane Keep Assist, Auto Stop, Lane Departure Protection and Steer Assist, and Active Side Guard Assist (ASGA).
Future tech on future trucks
It’s fair to call it the showstopper of ATA’s MCE this year, the Peterbilt SuperTruck stood center stage in the OEM’s booth and teased specs that will be released in early 2023. Here’s a taste of what’s to come: a “mild hybrid” powertrain developed in partnership with Cummins, a waste heat recovery system and a lightweight chassis for improved fuel economy. Jake White, Peterbilt product manager, took some time to walk us around the truck during the show–check out the video.
Fully automated truck operation. It’s been talked about for years and the stepping stones have been laid with current Level 2 ADAS systems, but is it a reality? Technology like the Aurora Driver integrated into the Kenworth T680 next-generation truck seems to point to the affirmative. Plenty of automated truck driving pilot programs are popping up and one of the most interesting developments is the notion of virtual driver choice. Aurora isn’t the only self-driving game in town. Fleets of the future might be able to spec the virtual driver they want behind their very real self-driving truck. But the questions that idea begs will have to be answered in another year. For now, it’s a look at what the future of trucking could hold.