Diesel Power - - Contents - By KJ Jones

The fu­ture of diesel truck­ing

IN MY last col­umn, I men­tioned I par­tic­i­pated in The Diesel Tech­nol­ogy Fo­rum’s panel dis­cus­sion (with two GM diesel en­gi­neers) about the fu­ture of diesel cars and trucks. In that awe­some chat with Aud­ley Brown and Mike Se­grist, the fo­cus was pri­mar­ily on to­day’s small and light-duty diesel engines, and the cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks they power.

While meth­ods of mod­i­fy­ing those pow­er­plants, which dis­place no more than 7.3 liters of air and fuel, are typ­i­cally Diesel Power’s core top­ics, we are also con­scious of and re­port about (in our Torque depart­ment) big­ger diesel engines, too.

When it comes to big diesels made by Cater­pil­lar, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Cum­mins, and Pac­car, the ves­sels they power are of equal im­por­tance. Yes, I’m talk­ing “big rigs,” the 10-, 16-, 18-, 20-, and some­times even morewheeled trac­tor/trailer com­bi­na­tions that tra­verse the U.S. each day, de­liv­er­ing goods, hope­fully on time and in­tact.

As we love and take pride in our pick­ups, Ken­worths, Freight­lin­ers, Macks, Peter­bilts, and In­ter­na­tion­als are not only each and ev­ery driver’s “baby,” the rigs are their liveli­hood. They’re the tools with which road war­riors earn money that sup­ports their fam­i­lies, and I be­lieve those ve­hi­cles should be cel­e­brated.

Since 1982, Shell Rotella’s Su­per Rigs truck show has done just that: pay much de­served homage to hard-work­ing truck­ers and their ma­chines. I’m priv­i­leged to be part of the ex­pe­ri­ence each year and have a first­hand op­por­tu­nity to see (and even ride in) some of the most decked-out and pow­er­ful Class 8 trucks on the road.

A re­ally spe­cial treat came my way at Su­per Rigs 2018 (held at White’s Travel Cen­ter in Raphine, Vir­ginia), when I was in­cluded in a se­lect group of peo­ple who were given a chance to take a ride in the Star­ship Ini­tia­tive Truck, a Rotel­la­sup­ported, fu­tur­is­tic de­vel­op­men­tal big rig built by Bob Sliwa, owner of Air­flow Truck Com­pany.

The in­stinc­tive first-blush re­sponse upon see­ing Bob’s cre­ation is: “What kind of truck is that?” The trac­tor, founded on an In­ter­na­tional chas­sis, is high­lighted by a sleek, rounded, car­bon-fiber cab that some­what re­sem­bles a space­ship, or the bul­let trains that speed across Ja­pan. Star­ship (the rig’s short-form han­dle) is pow­ered by a 400hp (1,850 lb-ft of torque) Cum­mins X15 I-6 diesel en­gine and fea­tures a cus­tom-pro­grammed, 18-speed Ea­ton au­to­matic-man­ual trans­mis­sion that al­lows Bob to cruise (loaded with 39,900 pounds) at 65 mph, with the en­gine turn­ing at just a tick more than 1,200 rpm. This ef­fi­ciency (oh, yeah, there’s also a 5,000-watt so­lar-panel setup that sup­ports oper­at­ing ac­ces­sories like air con­di­tion­ing for hours, with­out hav­ing to run/idle the en­gine), cou­pled with Star­ship’s ul­tra­light com­po­si­tion and “hy­per­aero­dy­namic” de­sign from stem to stern, are qual­i­ties Bob and of­fi­cials at Shell feel are es­sen­tial for achiev­ing su­per fuel ef­fi­ciency with Class 8 big rigs.

And what is this su­per ef­fi­ciency? In a lay­man’s nut­shell, it’s Star­ship’s abil­ity to travel across the U.S. from San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia, to Jacksonville, Florida (2,300 miles), fully loaded, and av­er­age 8.94 mpg (the best at­tained dur­ing the drive was 10.2), com­pared to 6.46 mpg, the av­er­age for trans­port trucks in the U.S.

“Our goal with the Star­ship

Ini­tia­tive is to chal­lenge how the truck­ing in­dus­try is de­fined,” says Robert Main­war­ing, Tech­nol­ogy Man­ager for In­no­va­tion, Shell Lu­bri­cants. “Through this road trip, we were able to test a num­ber of tech­nolo­gies avail­able to­day to pro­vide in­sight into what truck­ing fleets and owner/op­er­a­tors could con­sider adopt­ing to help re­duce fuel use and emis­sions as they haul heavy loads.”

Will Star­ship Ini­tia­tive–style diesel trucks re­ally com­mand our high­ways in the fu­ture? I think the jury will be out on that for many more years. But be­ing able to see, touch, and ride in rigs that rep­re­sent the old and new ages of truck­ing at Su­perRigs 2018 is some­thing I am proud I was able to ex­pe­ri­ence. Both ends of the spec­trum. For sure.

Rep­re­sent­ing the early years of big rig truck­ing is a ’30s-era Mack AB model on dis­play at Shell Rotella Su­perRigs 2018. The Star­ship Ini­tia­tive Truck is its night-and-day coun­ter­part. Lit­er­ally light-years dif­fer­ent (with the ex­cep­tion of both us­ing diesel fuel), the Cum­mins-pow­ered, hyper-aero­dy­namic Class 8 trac­tor-trailer is to­day’s work­ing ex­am­ple of the rigs that may be in our dis­tant fu­ture.

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