The evolution of trucks, has until recently, been a gradual process. Take a truck from the late 1960s and compare it to a truck from the turn of the century – in 40 years there wasn’t much on the surface to distinguish between the two.
Sure, under the skin there have been many changes, but it was a gradual process and there were only a few major changes, the introduction of turbocharging and inter-cooling being the big ones. Until the electronic control of fuel systems, nothing much happened to engines until the emissions control regulations came into force, demanding significant changes.
Chassis-wise, we got air suspensions and radial tires, and then tubeless radials; other than that, the fundamentals remained the same.
Today it’s a different story altogether. I’m not going to talk about the emissions stuff, as it depresses me. I know it’s for the greater good of the planet. While in our case it means replacing trucks at much lower mileage than we used to, the fact remains, the newer trucks do pollute our environment less.
I’ve seen it with my own eyes. My pre-emissions glider will make my eyes stream if I leave it idling inside my shop for five minutes, whereas my post-emissions truck doesn’t have any effect whatsoever. Even leaving it running at 1,200 rpm for almost an hour as I tried to find a coolant leak had no effect, and my nose couldn’t detect any fumes, so they do make the world a better place.
Now that is a massive step forward in engineering, but it pales into insignificance against some of the stuff that’s become available in the last few years. There is extremely clever stuff out there, auto-shift transmissions being one. Love them or hate them, there are a couple on the market that can shift as well as the best drivers, no matter how good you are.
Now there are engines and transmissions that have a GPS function and know when to apply more or less power or shift gears in preparation for a grade. You have to be impressed by their capability. Lane departure and automatic emergency braking are also pretty clever. Again, you may feel that it’s too much control, and that you’re more than capable of doing that. But if that were always the case, there would be no truck-involved crashes.
These are just a few of the things that make a truck of today radically different from a truck of 10 years ago, and yet there are still more changes to come, the biggest of all being the electric truck. Now I don’t know about you, but I think they’re awful looking things. But they’re not meant to appeal to me. No matter what the performance and fuel economy benefits are, I don’t care, they’re ugly and I don’t want one –and many of you will agree.
We are tactile – as small children we played with physical things, building blocks, toy cars and trucks, bicycles, etc. But kids nowadays are into computers. They stack blocks on a tablet, they play video games and rather than going to the local hang-out to hook up with their buddies, they send instant messages, videos, and who knows what other new things that came out yesterday?
These kids are the target audience, both as drivers and more importantly buyers. Where we’re impressed by horsepower and torque, they’re impressed by bytes and code. Tomorrow’s drivers are a different breed, and the only way to attract kids into the industry will be by providing them with as much technology as you can cram into a truck.
A long time ago, transport was carried out by horse and cart, then a few crackpots started making carts powered by internal combustion engines and people laughed at them. More than 100 years later, we’re still using those ideas, albeit much improved on the original designs but still using the same principals. I truly believe that electric power is the new internal combustion engine, and diesel engines will become obsolete. I just hope I’ve finished paying for this glider before it happens.
A fourth generation trucker and trucking journalist, Mark Lee uses his 25 years of transcontinental trucking in Europe, Asia, North Africa and now North America to provide an alternative view of life on the road.