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Heavy trucks and delicate circuit boards

Dec. 5, 2015
Trailer/Body Builders November 2015 editorial

THE NTEA Truck Product Conference used to be predictable—at least when the question and answer sessions rolled around.

At some point, after the chassis manufacturer representatives had finished their presentations, you could pretty well count on three questions being asked:

• When are you going to offer a fuel tank tap so that we can power auxiliary equipment?

• When will you offer a PTO opening on an automatic transmission?

• When will we able to get CAD drawings of your chassis?

Each of these questions has long since been addressed. The CAD drawing question appears especially quaint when we look at it in the light of what happened at the Truck Product Conference this year. No need for the audience to ask about it—chassis manufacturers answered the question before it was ever asked. Freightliner even dedicated an entire segment of its Truck Product Conference presentation to it, encouraging upfitters to take advantage of the CAD drawings that are available to use. And as this month’s cover photo depicts, CAD drawings were one of the focal points of the Freightliner exhibit. They were a common topic of discussion by other chassis manufacturers as well.

The CAD question illustrates that the manufacturers actually do listen and respond to the input they receive at this annual conference. It also symbolizes the growing importance that technology plays at all levels of the commercial truck business.

This year’s Truck Product Conference generally was a carryover year for most of the OEMs. But that doesn’t mean that the OEMs didn’t have anything to talk about during the three-day event.

Technology has no model year, especially today. Microsoft may have made it seem like there was with names such as Windows 95 and Office 2007, 2010, and 2013. But now it’s Office 365, a subscription service designed to constantly provide real-time updates. Technology in the work truck business has no model year, either. Companies are developing and implementing technology year-round to provide superior products and services for the benefit of all.

Listening to one truck manufacturer after another present what is new in the upcoming (carryover) year, it is striking how much we now depend on

electronics to design, produce, and upfit today’s commercial truck. Here are but a few examples of the electronic changes that truck OEMs announced this year:

• International will be offering hundreds of visual diagrams for its WorkStar and Durastar models. The diagrams will depict the locations of fuel tanks, battery boxes, and other components that frequently surprise by being exactly where the guys in the shop had been planning to install truck equipment.

• International introduced new apps for the company’s Diamond Logic electrical system.  Some are aimed at making life a little easier for dump truck operations. Others address the specific needs of ambulance drivers.  And for drivers who need to know whether or not the wheel chocks are in place, sensors will let them know.

• Western Star introduced a series of switches, power distribution system, and floor track—all designed to make equipment installations more convenient and perform more reliably. “Body builders are frustrated with wiring,” Western Star’s John Tomlinson said. “Learn about these changes and make use of them.”

• Ram also announced new programmable switches, high-amperage power points, underhood wiring for upfitters, and a solution to truck LED lighting conversion.

• Need to do a weight distribution analysis? Mitsubishi Fuso has an app for that.

• International’s performance engineering group will be able to tailor horsepower, torque, wheel sizes, and other variables to meet the custom requirements of the end user.

• Onboard diagnostics are providing new insights into how work trucks are being used. So are telematics systems.

• Crash mitigation systems. They are the here-and-now version of what ultimately is on the way: self-driving trucks. The availability of autonomous  commercial trucks may be here sooner than we think. “It’s coming faster than anything I have seen,” one OEM said, “and we are already there with the technology.”

But some of those old questions never seem to die, even if they aren’t asked. In the middle of a brief discussion about powertrain options, seemingly without provocation, one OEM representative wanted his audience to know this fact: “Our automatics,” he said, “always have PTO openings.” ♦

About the Author

Bruce Sauer | Editor

Bruce Sauer has been writing about the truck trailer, truck body and truck equipment industries since joining Trailer/Body Builders as an associate editor in 1974. During his career at Trailer/Body Builders, he has served as the magazine's managing editor and executive editor before being named editor of the magazine in 1999. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin.