Future Truck Program rolls on

March 1, 2003
THE Future Truck Program was initiated by the Technology and Maintenance Council's Board of Directors in 1984 as Tomorrow's Truck Committee, with the

THE Future Truck Program was initiated by the Technology and Maintenance Council's Board of Directors in 1984 as Tomorrow's Truck Committee, with the purpose of bringing the unified voice of the equipment user to vehicle manufacturers and the end goal of influencing future truck design.

At the time, this was a shift in focus from TMC's traditional approach, which concentrated on solving problems as they arrived.

The program was based on the premise that equipment users knew vehicles best, since they used them. Traditionally, manufacturers only had performance data through warranty period. TMC believed that equipment users really knew best about equipment limitations and shortcomings.

The program became a TMC Committee, reporting directly to Council's Board of Directors. TMC's Future Truck Committee promotes activities that improve transport equipment, its maintenance, and maintenance management by influencing future equipment design through collective user input. TMC believes the method is more effective for fleets than relying on direct fleet-to-manufacturer relationships, and it achieves industry standardization through broad consensus.

Nineteen years after the formation of the program, it is still going strong.

“I think it has achieved a lot of things since 1984,” TMC technical director Robert Braswell says. “It has had a lot of disappointments, too, because some things are maybe unachievable until the technology gets better.”

  • Million-mile engine. Engines more than doubled service life from early 1980s, while drain intervals increased, and valve adjustment became a thing of the past.

    “Part of that was due to electronic controls, which were basically mandated by EPA emissions standards,” Braswell says. “But a lot of it had to do with working in partnership with engine manufacturers with fleet experience. Fleets used to do overhauls. You don't do overhauls like you used to. You're not overhauling an engine at 400,000 miles.”

  • Fuel economy increased significantly, with MPG improving from 4.5 to 6.5 by the early 1990s and good prospects for continued improvement, thanks to growing use of electronic controls and aerodynamics.

“Fuel economy improvements over the last 20 years have been phenomenal, not just from engines, but also from all of these different aerodynamic devices, better specification of components, more lightweight components, and reduced rolling resistance,” he says. “All of this is not necessarily just because manufacturers built a better product but because fleets are truly the systems integrator when it comes to building a truck. The customer basically tells the manufacturer based on their experience, ‘This is our spec. This is how we want to put it together.’ Learning from that field experience helps manufacturers deliver a better product overall for all their customers. There are a lot of different aerodynamic devices, but through TMC we've identified certain aerodynamic devices that will give you more bang for the buck. Those lessons learned stem out of Future Truck and out of TMC, and are fed back to the whole development mechanism.

“Often manufacturers really only care about the product through the warranty period. That's where they have their data, because of the way their systems are set up. The customers working through TMC can feed back the experience beyond warranty and give their suggestions.

“Now, it is a complicated thing. There are so many different systems within the vehicle. The beauty of TMC is that you have volunteer members that are well-versed in certain areas and they work within those areas, and that's where we get a better product, because the people that know are working to better the industry from beyond just their own parochial interest. If there's a good product out of it, it's all because of those volunteer members, on both the fleet side and the manufacturing community.”

  • J1587/J1708 standards simplified the on-board datalink. Proprietary solutions for data communication were avoided, the industry shared common protocols and connections, and a joint SAE/TMC effort saved fleets millions of dollars.

  • Programmability of engines for efficiency and control.

  • Several manufacturers introduced new models featuring improvements directly attributed to Tomorrow's Truck papers: Volvo VN, Kenworth T600/T2000, and Freightliner Century Class.

The disappointments

  • Brake systems are still maintenance sensitive, and there has been little improvement in S-cams.

    “There have been evolutionary improvements, but there are other ways it can go, too,” Braswell says. “Will air disc brake revolutionize that? Is the cost justifiable? Is the maintainability there? These are the issues.

    “Air disc brake has a lot of potential, but until you get the timing issues resolved … And how do you do that? Do you need ECBS (Electronically Controlled Braking Systems)? And if you do get the ECBS, can you eliminate the pneumatic overlay for the triggering? That could really save fleets maintainability and make it more cost-affordable. Or are you just going to have both overlaying systems and just make it more complex and not necessarily get all the benefits? Those are the things that Future Truck can wrestle with — where it gets complicated towards achieving the goal.”

  • The run-flat tire was not achieved.

  • Cab durability still needs improvement. Fleets still report the same problems in TMC surveys.

  • Cooling system durability: Smaller underhood profiles due to aerodynamic designs put more pressure on packaging and radiator sizes.

  • Connector chaos: Too many variations, and reliability and durability remain troubling with electrical systems.

  • Unintended consequences of design improvements to aerodynamics have made maintenance more difficult, also increasing workload of braking systems.

Annual meeting

New issues were discussed at TMC's Annual Meeting and Transportation Technology Exhibition March 11-14 in Ft Lauderdale, Florida. The theme was “Driving Truck Technology — Vision to Reality.”

Some of the most intriguing sessions:

  • More electric power, less emissions, less idling.

    “There is a whole lot of interest in the advanced propulsion system in medium-duty and light-duty markets, and even heavy-duty to a certain extent,” Braswell says. “Some of it was precipitated by ever-increasing admissions standards — most recently 2002 and mostly notably 2007 in the future. People are thinking, ‘Well, maybe there's another way to achieve these things besides continuing to modify just diesel.’ There's interest in diesel hybrid electric. There's interest and support from the Bush Administration on hydrogen fuel-cell technology. Maybe some things with natural gas will be revisited.

    “But the idea of alternate propulsion is now attracting some attention — particularly with fleets like UPS and FedEx. I think that's really an interesting way to go. You'll see, especially on the light-duty side, the big guys — Ford, GM, Dodge — coming out with some kind of a gasoline hybrid electric very soon. They already have plans for 2004-2005 pickup trucks. This could translate into the medium- and heavy-duty markets. I think diesel will be around for a long time, but this whole idea of advanced propulsion is very interesting.”

  • Connector chaos. “The weakest link is the connector,” he says. “What's the best connector? We don't have one. Packaging connectors on the electrical side is an issue.

    “I think there is a real debate whether we need the so-called 42-volt electrical system. I think even the manufacturers are starting to revisit that. That's a misnomer, from our point of view. It's really a 36-volt system. You can't find a 42-volt battery anywhere. They don't make such an animal. If you go to an auto parts shop, it's a 12-volt battery. In Europe, they have 24-volt batteries. The convention has always been to name the electrical system based on the storage battery. If you're a technician and you hook up a volt meter and it says 12.0 volts, that's a dead battery. It's really a 12.6 battery. Now they have these new electrical systems, these new 42-volt so-called systems. They decided to name the electrical system after the charging voltage instead of the storage-battery voltage. I never got a straight answer as to why they decided to do that, other than a consortium at MIT wanted to do it that way.

    “This is a classic example of where you're getting confusion for no good reason. Because now, if they continue with that convention — and this is a Future Truck request — don't make it more complicated than it needs to be.

    “Going forward, you're going to have technicians look and say, ‘OK, I've got a 42-volt system and a 12-volt system. Now, the 42-volt system is supposed to charge at 42, but I'm looking for a 42-volt battery that will make it. But on the other hand, I'm doing the exact opposite on the older systems. It's a disparity in nomenclature that doesn't make any sense at all. Are they going to convert all the 12-volt systems into 14.4-volt systems and start calling them that? I doubt it. I don't think you'll ever see the battery guys sell 42-volt batteries when they're really 36-volt batteries. It's hard enough for a technician to do his job without this kind of silliness. That's a Future Truck request: Keep it simple for the technician and customer.”

  • Tires. “You're always looking for a better tire,” he says. “The run-flat tire is something we've asked for a long time, and you're starting to see it in the passenger-car side. Maintaining tire pressure is a big problem for the industry. Whether that's achieved or solved by an automatic inflation system or by the run-flat tire, I don't know. Under-inflation is the main problem, and that's primarily a maintenance issue. They blame it on retreads a lot. But it's all tires. Inside duals are getting the least attention, and they're the ones that perhaps go the most.”

The history

TMC's Future Truck Committee directs the program by identifying equipment user agenda for future truck design; establishing benchmarks for various aspects of equipment (reliability, maintainability, etc); communicating user needs to industry; and partnering with others to further its goals.

The committee creates task forces to develop position papers on user needs and expectations for future vehicle designs. These task forces state what users want, leaving manufacturers to determine how, through their own efforts, SAE and TMC recommended practices, and other industry standards development.

There are currently seven active task forces: future electrical, future tire, future propulsion, future cab, future trailer, future technician, and future LMV.

The first Tomorrow's Truck Position Paper was published in 1985 through the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to best reach vehicle engineers at that time. A technical paper was presented at SAE Truck and Bus in 1985, with a follow-up paper presented in 1987.

The first papers asked for million-mile engine life; cooling systems to last life of engine; improved durability of most vehicle systems, especially electrical/lighting; braking systems that are less maintenance sensitive; better entry and egress of vehicle; and improved tire life, fuel economy.

A 1962 truck reliability study showed that the most common failures (in miles to repair) were electrical (7,885), engine (12,799), fuel (13,884), cooling (13,949), body/chassis (15K), lubrication (16K), and brakes (32K).

A 1999 TMC reliability survey showed the probability of system failure per year: tires, tubes, liners and valves (64%), lighting (29%), brakes (18%), cranking (16%), charging (11%), HVAC (9%), fuel (7%), powerplant (4%), cooling (3.5%).

The survey revealed that 46% of responding fleets have 1-5% of their vehicles out of service due to unscheduled maintenance. This equals about 18,000 TMC member fleet vehicles, accounting for as much as $5 million annually (based on modest $300 per maintenance event).

In the big picture, TMC members want heavy-duty Future Trucks to have a service life of 10 years/One Million Miles for all vehicle systems. For LMVs, the design goal is 250,000 miles or 25 years for all vehicle systems.

TMC fleets have said they are willing to pay up to double the cost for twice the service life and reliability.

With this understanding, service life expectations can be shortened if the overall cost of operation is lower by operating the so-called “throw-away truck.” In this case, a trouble-free truck with X-cents per mile of cost guaranteed is OK in a shorter time/mileage frame. But TMC believes this approach must apply to the vehicle as a total system.


Electrical requests from members:

  • Connector standardization.

  • Better grounds. As much as 60-70% of electrical failures are ground-related, surveys and studies show.

  • Color-coded wiring standards need to be industry-wide.

  • Improve reliability, durability, maintainability, and serviceability under all operating conditions.

  • Minimize the number of electrical interfaces.

  • All circuits should have adequate electrical protection in case of fault.

  • Harnesses should allow for installation of additional equipment.

  • Cable/harnesses should meet needs of the application intended.

    Trailer requests from members:

  • Reduce overall weight by 20%.

  • Target trailer full use life of 20-plus years.

  • Do not adversely affect maintenance costs.

  • Do not reduce reliability, durability to achieve weight reduction.

  • Cost should be acceptable to user.

In the long term, smart trailers must be backwards compatible; five-year/500,000-mile trouble-free service for all suspension, brake, and running gear systems; better aerodynamics without sacrificing cube; better security systems; improved corrosion prevention; better durability of paints/finishes; long-life lighting standard.

The future

Looking well into the future, these are the long-term fleet user goals for equipment on Future Trucks:

  • 2004: EBS for trucks (currently under test under the IVI); remote control of reefer climate.

  • 2005: Turbocompounding on engines; camless valve activation on engines;

  • 2006: hybrid vehicles in use ($87-million market); frontal aggressivity regulations (tractors); side under-ride regulations; alternative fuel mandate for private fleets (vehicles less than 8,500 lb).

  • 2007: engine emissions regulations; EPA requires 15ppm diesel fuel; regenerative braking systems in trucks capture more than 50% of braking energy; “electric” truck available, no belt-driven accessories (currently in development).

  • 2009: tare weight of tractor-trailer combinations reduced 20%; rollover avoidance technology available.

  • 2006-2010: automatic fire protection systems in heavy trucks; resonant macrosonic synthesis (RMS) refrigeration compressors available-acoustic compressor; magnetic refrigeration and thermoelectric refrigeration possible; advanced materials (fireproof liquid crystal polymers, carbon/aramid fibers used in commercial vehicle construction); hydrogen-fueled vehicles become cost competitive with petroleum fueled vehicles; Mach 3 transport in operation; tilt rotor aircraft in shuttle runs; first segments of intelligent vehicle/highway system open; truck stop electrification (shore power for trucks) underway on large scale; electric vehicles in use.

  • 2012-2015: trans-atmospheric aircraft enter service; recyclable plastic components used in making 50% of a passenger vehicle; ceramic engines in commercial vehicles, require no cooling system; autonomous (driverless) cars on smart highways.

  • 2016-2018: fuel cell vehicles in use; autonomous (driverless) truck convoys using electronic “tow bars” in use.

  • 2020: alternate forms of freight movement, e.g. air freight (perhaps lighter-than-air), high-speed marine vessels, pneumatic tunnels, erode trucking market share; fuel cell trucks become commercially viable.


The long-term projections for various scenarios of the environment in which we will be operating:

  • 2005: Dow Jones Industrial average reaches 15,000.

  • 2006: Last coal mine closes; trucking industry freight volume hits 8.2 billion tons; $446.2 billion gross revenues for the industry; US industry will need 155,000 mechanics (up from 137,000 in 2001).

  • 2011: Software will be able to repair itself.

  • 2012: Machine learning — computer programs learn by trial and error to adjust their behavior — becomes common; worldwide air cargo business triples over 1998.

  • 2015: World population reaches 7.2 billion; computers evolve to have almost human-like intelligence.

  • 2017: Human knowledge exceeded by machine knowledge.

  • 2020: Computers overtake humans in overall intelligence; earliest date forecast for 50% of ultimate oil resources expended, decline in production thereafter; truck traffic doubled over 2000 — consultants say as many as 62 million more vehicles on highways in 2020.

  • 2020: Half of all goods sold electronically.

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.