Freightliner Custom Chassis finds inspiration in cars, RVs, and trucks

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Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. is drawing inspiration from on-highway trucks, cars, and even recreational vehicles in a variety of new systems available in 2022 Model Year walk-in vans.

And one of the first changes to greet drivers will be in the form of a customizable digital driver information display.

Optiview displays will offer drivers warnings about hidden dangers behind — and even above — the vehicle. (Screen capture)

“Optiview instrumentation, which was originally introduced into our motorhome product … it’s all digital, there’s no analog information,” said product manager Mike Stark, during a recent update for the Work Truck Show.

And that means added flexibility.

Drivers will be able to toggle through available screens using fingertip controls on the global steering wheel currently found in Freightliner’s over-the-road trucks. The end result, he added, is “at-a-glance information of what the driver wants to see or needs to see.”

Rather than inundating drivers with information, the streamlined display will generate warning lights in a specific location as situations occur. The digital designs will also make it possible to integrate GPS mapping and rearview camera images without requiring a second monitor.

Warnings about objects to the rear and overhead the vehicles will come through the RoadWatch safety system that will be active at speeds between 1 and 10 mph in forward or reverse. When not moving, the visual alerts will still show, but audible alerts will be muted.

Drivers will toggle through the various digital displays using controls mounted on the steering wheel. (Screen capture)

A related 360-degree camera will integrate a rear microphone as well, so drivers will be able to hear ambient noise behind the vehicle when reversing.

Lane departure warnings, also similar to those from the passenger car segment, will trigger warnings if the van strays from a lane when turn signals are not active.

The updates are not limited to warnings alone. Freightliner Custom Chassis is also introducing active collision mitigation systems that will work with hydraulic brakes, although those will come next year.

“Thus far, these kinds of systems have not been available, engineered, or developed for the medium-duty market,” Stark said.

The MT50e electric walk-in van is scheduled to begin production in the third quarter. (Screen capture)

Battery-electric vans

Freightliner Custom Chassis is in the midst of developing battery-electric models as well. But the MT50e chassis, in development for the last couple of years, will still draw from many trusted features.

“It’s the same frame rail structure, it’s the same cross members, it’s the same front axle, suspensions that we see today,” Stark said, referring to the proven systems. “We’re also maintaining the ergonomics, the payload, the cubic capacity in a walk-in van product that we have today.”

The first five customer demonstration trucks are in the midst of testing, and full production is scheduled in the third quarter of this year.

The walk-in van will support 6,000 payloads, and initially come with a 178-inch wheelbase. The 226 kWh battery capacity will drive a Dana eS9000r e-axle, offering a range of 170 to 200 miles, depending on factors such as regenerative braking and auxiliary loads linked to things like air conditioning.

With a DC fast charger, it will realize a full charge in three hours. And the Proterra batteries will carry a warranty of eight years or 150,000 miles. An AC charger is in the works, too.

As in the combustion-powered walk-in vans, these vehicles will tap into the added flexibility that comes through digital instruments.

An “efficiency” ring around the speedometer will be green if a driver is doing great, but glow yellow if they should find ways to tap into regenerative braking. Tiles of other related information will offer views of things such as the battery state of charge, available energy, and trip odometers.

Hit the turn signal, and the display will show an image from the left or right side of the vehicle.

“A lot of this information is on passcar vehicles,” he said.

But Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. is finding ways to put it to work.

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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking,, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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