Mack may be a critical part of one of the world’s most safety-conscious truck conglomerates, yet strangely the bulldog has been far from the forefront in the safety stakes. Until now! In a bold initiative, Mack Trucks Australia is partnering with technolo
Decades ago, not too long after Volvo bought the financially-stricken US truck maker White in the early ’80s, I asked a senior Volvo executive in Sweden if safety would be part of future product developments for White.
After all, Volvo’s commitment to truck safety was already firmly entrenched, whereas across the Atlantic, the attitude of America’s truck makers to safety was somewhat inferior to their continental counterparts. Vastly inferior!
There were those who even thought that if
Volvo pushed the safety barrow hard enough – particularly in development of stronger, safer cabs – it would actually encourage other US truck makers to follow suit. It was, however, naivety at its best.
Anyway, I can’t for the life of me recall the Volvo executive’s name, but there is absolutely no doubt that his response ran along the corporate lines that safety is a core part of Volvo’s product plans and yes, safety would indeed play a significant role in White’s future development.
Well, he wasn’t quite right. Whether he knew it or not at the time, Volvo would soon enough dump White altogether and basically did nothing to further develop the brand in safety or anything else.
What it did do, however, was eventually replace White with the creation of its own Volvo-branded conventional trucks specifically for the North American market. The modern derivatives of those trucks are models such as the successful
The technology is collision mitigation, not collision prevention.
VN series and typically, like anything carrying the distinctive Volvo slash across the grille, safety is indeed ‘a core part’ of the total package.
These days, you don’t have to trawl far into Volvo’s US website to find heaps of references to safety. Terms like ‘Volvo is Safety’ and ‘It’s a matter of life’ mix with statements citing Volvo’s dedication to supplying America’s highest standards of truck safety. Statements like:
• ‘We remain the only OEM offering driver-side airbags as standard equipment on our trucks’
• ‘We combine advanced engineering with active
and passive safety systems’
• ‘Our high-strength steel cabs have the highest strength-to-weight ratio, designed to protect the driver (and) built to pass the demanding Swedish Cab Safety Test’
• ‘To further protect occupants, the steering wheel collapses and the engine and transmission drop down and away from the driver’.
But here’s where Volvo’s foothold on the moral high ground in the US has, at times, appeared a tad shaky. Historically, America’s truck makers have not shared the commitment of their continental counterparts to implement – or even promote – safety functions as either a standard feature or a cost-effective option. And, for many years, that certainly included Mack.
So, given that Mack is a vital part of the Volvo Group, just how genuine have Volvo’s assertions of safety supremacy in the US been?
There’s no question Volvo does a great job of making safety a foundation quality of its own brand. But the simple fact is that the Swedish powerhouse took control of Mack way back in 2000 and, despite all Volvo’s advances in safety technology and megaphone mantra about the moral good of keeping drivers and road users safe, the Swedish giant has taken a long time to enhance Mack’s standing in the safety stakes. However, things are changing. Fast!
Following the earlier introduction of an electronic stability program marketed as Mack’s ‘Road Stability Advantage’, more recent initiatives have seen the introduction of further advanced safety options into the Mack range which take the bulldog significantly deeper into Volvo’s safety ethos.
Sure, as far as cabs go, it could be some time yet before Mack has a cab with crashworthiness standards comparable to Volvo’s US conventionals. Still, as Volvo Group Australia boss Peter Voorhoeve indicated earlier this year, Mack is well advanced with the development of an entirely new cab, and safety will “play a major part” in the design.
The apparent likelihood is that it’ll be at least another year or two before the new cab comes to market but, in the meantime, Mack is now in a position for the first time to offer comprehensive safety and crash mitigation systems equal to those available on Volvo’s US models.
Yet when it comes to the integration of electronic safety programs for US operations, it hasn’t been as simple as just adapting Volvo’s highly advanced European systems to its US trucks. Far from it!
For starters, Europe runs 24-volt electrical systems, whereas the US operates with 12
volts. It’s for this reason, perhaps more than any other, that Volvo teamed with leading US technology company Bendix, part of Germany’s giant Knorr-Bremse group, for the development and introduction of the systems it markets as ‘Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology’ and ‘Volvo Enhanced Cruise’.
Obviously enough, these are highly advanced safety systems, similar to those offered on leading European brands, with the ability to take electronic control of braking and engine functions to mitigate or avoid a collision when circumstance and conditions combine to severely limit a driver’s control of a situation.
The latest evolution of the Bendix system is somewhat heroically labelled ‘Wingman Fusion’. This high-tech program has now been applied to Mack in the US and will be offered by Mack Trucks Australia early next year as an extension to the optional ‘Road Stability Advantage’ also developed by Bendix.
Make no mistake, this is a big and arguably overdue initiative by Mack on both sides of the Pacific. Well aware of the chasms separating the safety reputations of Volvo and its bulldog brethren, VGA boss Peter Voorhoeve has intimated several times at press events over the past year or so that safety functions will indeed become a more pronounced part of Mack’s offering. There may even be a driver’s side airbag when the new cab arrives.
It was, however, an upbeat statement by Mack Trucks Australia vice-president Dean Bestwick that highlighted the features and importance of the Bendix system in an era when integrated safety systems are increasingly viewed by major trucking companies and their customers as an important consideration in truck selection.
As Bestwick commented: “Mack Trucks Australia is extremely proud to offer the Bendix Wingman Fusion driver assistance system, a world-first for Mack Trucks and for the Australian and New Zealand conventional truck markets.”
Integrating the latest camera, radar and braking technology, he says the system provides “one of the most comprehensive and powerful driver assistance systems available on conventional trucks in Australia and New Zealand”.
To be offered on all Mack on-highway models, Bendix Wingman Fusion includes collision mitigation features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, information on following distance and stationary objects, blind spot alerts, and, as with some of the most advanced safety systems in Europe, Wingman Fusion – when operating in concert with Mack’s ‘road safety advantage’ system – has the ability to activate service brakes in emergency situations.
A model that misses out on the full Fusion system is Mack’s popular suburban specialist, the Metro-Liner. It is, however, available with Bendix’s ‘Blindspotter’ function, designed to dramatically reduce the risk of side-swipe accidents by recognising objects within a 120-degree arc on the passenger side of the truck and using an audible warning to inform the driver of an object within the blind area immediately beside the truck. “Blindspotter is a perfect aid for suburban applications,” Bestwick remarks.
The Swedish giant has taken a long time to enhance Mack’s standing in the safety stakes. However, things are changing. Fast!
Of course, the system adds considerable complexity to the truck and, at this stage, it’s unknown what cost the full Bendix Wingman Fusion and Blindspotter systems will add to the price of a Mack. There’s the whisper of a figure around $7,000, but right now it’s nothing more than a guesstimate.
Importantly, though, Bestwick makes the point that while the Bendix array of collision mitigation functions are a valuable aid, “this system will not replace an alert or skilled driver.”
It was a statement similarly emphasised by
Brett Nicoll, lead applications engineer for Knorr-Bremse Australia, during an impressive demonstration of the Bendix Wingman Fusion system at the Driver Education Centre of
Australia (DECA) facility in Shepparton (Vic).
“As good as these systems are,” Nicoll says, “the technology is collision mitigation, not collision prevention.”
In other words, while Bendix Wingman Fusion can certainly play a major role in facilitating a driver’s ability to avoid a collision, its primary design role is to minimise the risk and effects of a collision.
Consequently, both Wingman Fusion and Blindspotter are described by Bendix as ‘nextgeneration advanced driver assistance systems’.
WET ‘N’ WILD
It’d be hard to think of worse conditions to hold a safety demonstration than the wet and blustery spring weather streaking across the DECA skid pan and test track on the day chosen to showcase the features of the Bendix Wingman Fusion system installed in a Mack Granite.
Then again, it’d also be hard to think of better conditions to judge the effectiveness of a system designed to help drivers in emergency situations.
However, as Nicoll explained, the DECA facility plays a key role in testing of Knorr-Bremse and Bendix systems, adding that local development, calibration and testing of the Wingman Fusion programs in Mack started back in February this year.
Still, Mack is not the first American truck brand to work with Bendix on safety systems.
As Nicoll confirmed, Kenworth offered an earlier version, but Mack is certainly first in this part of the world to offer the new-generation Wingman Fusion package with the full suite of safety features.
Putting the various aspects of the system to test at DECA wasn’t difficult on a day of awful weather, but with the skid pan soaked by incessant rain and offering all the grip of a greasy snake, it was decided that a comparison run with the Mack’s roll stability system switched off would not be a wise move, even with outriggers extended to prevent the 40-tonne combination from rolling over. The justifiable fear on this day was that any turn under brakes could easily see the whole outfit simply slide completely off the skid pan and sink into sodden grass.
So, with the electronic stability program definitely on and entering the skid pan around 50km/h, Nicoll’s suggestion was to simply stay on the throttle and turn across a line of witches hats, and let the technology do the rest. And do it, it did!
Over the years, I’ve several times driven trucks with similar systems in various parts of the world and, while all have been amazing in their ability to take control of an otherwise fiercely dangerous situation, I can’t ever recall a more slippery and potentially catastrophic surface for a loaded truck and trailer combination.
Even so, performance of the Bendix stability system was outstanding, selectively braking the combination at exactly the right time on exactly the right wheels, yet allowing total steering control. Remarkable!
From the skid pan, it was on to DECA’s oval track to trial the effectiveness of the active cruise control function.
Basically, it meant setting cruise control at 45km/h or thereabouts, and allowing the onboard radar and camera to detect and warn of a stationary vehicle on the road ahead, automatically applying the brakes when the driver fails to respond to audible and visual warnings in the cab. Again, Nicholl said to ignore the warnings, keep your foot off the brake, and let the technology do its thing.
The stationary vehicle in this case was a large inflated bag with a life-size image of the rear end of a car. However, because the radar only detects metal objects, a metal plate was fixed behind the image of the car.
Anyway, on the first couple of runs the system worked perfectly, with the various drivers purposefully ignoring all the warnings before the system took over and applied the brakes hard to pull up a metre or so short of the vehicle. Collision avoided.
Then came my turn for a run. As fate would have it, the metal plate attached to the unseen side of the car had apparently fallen off and, at the last second, it became obvious the truck would not pull up in time to avoid hitting the dummy car.
But here’s the thing: it did pull up. Sure, it gave the inflated bag a reasonable nudge, but instead of ploughing into the car at 40 or 45km/h, the system effectively turned a potentially major impact into a minor collision.
“Like I said,” a reflective Nicoll noted, “it’s about collision mitigation, not collision prevention. When it’s all boiled down, it did what an alert driver would’ve done.”
The final exercise was out on the open road around Shepparton, where the Wingman Fusion system’s ability to warn and automatically maintain a preset distance from vehicles ahead was convincingly demonstrated.
Yet as undeniably impressive as the Bendix safety package on the Mack Granite was in this exercise, it’s fair to say there’s nothing particularly new about such advanced systems in this age of technological wizardry.
What is new, however, is the availability of such an advanced and effective system in a US conventional truck. To quote Dean Bestwick again, it is “a world-first for Mack Trucks and for the Australian and New Zealand conventional truck markets.”
Sure, it has taken time, but Volvo’s inherent safety ideals are finally making their way into Mack. And with a new cab in the pipeline, there’s more to come.
The Bendix Wingman Fusion driver assistance system, a worldfirst for Mack Trucks and for the Australian and New Zealand conventional truck markets.
Above: In cruise control mode, a dash-mounted display and audible warning alert the driver of the need to take immediate action. If the driver doesn’t, technology takes over
Accident about to happen. Fortunately, it was just a light nudge on a dummy car rather than a hefty whack on the real thing. In emergency situations, the system is invaluable.
Brett Nicoll, lead applications engineer for Knorr-Bremse and Bendix in Australia. Fine-tuning and testing of the Wingman Fusion system for Mack in Australia started back in February.
Above: Wet ‘n’ wild on DECA’s rain-lashed skid pan. Yet the Bendix-developed electronic stability system provided full steering control of the Mack Granite at 40 tonnes. Remarkable!
Centre: Bendix Wingman Fusion integrates the latest camera, radar, and braking technology. The radar unit is housed in the front bumper. Above: Blindspotter mounted on the passenger tank steps. Audibly warns the driver of objects in blind spots.