Cummins-Peterbilt SuperTruck

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This is no ordinary test drive. We weren’t evaluating a new model or trying out some new option. This series of videos looks a truck developed by Cummins and Peterbilit and host of their suppliers that is more of a showcase for emerging technology than a package we might one day go out and buy. 

The two companies say they are often asked by truckers how much such a truck would cost. That’s an impossible question to answer as many of the “new” components and technology on this truck were literally handmade. It’s a one-of-a-kind truck right now, but one of the project’s objectives was to move this experimental technology to the production line as it was validated.

While one of this truck’s hand-sculpted fairings might have cost $10,000 to build, in a few years it will be part of a production truck with a $250 price tag.

Still, the sum of the SuperTruck’s parts did produce some dramatic results. Today when we talk about percentage of improvement, we’re used to hearing single digit numbers, usually on the lower side of 5. Often, it’s fractions of a percent. The Cummins and Peterbilt SuperTruck project produced almost unheard of gains of 86% in freight efficiency over a 24-hour duty-cycle, a 76% improvement in freight efficiency on an 11-hour drive-cycle and more than a 22% improvement in the thermal efficiency of the engine.

Those terms may sound somewhat nebulous, but they are meaningful. Freight efficiency (or ton-miles per gallon) is a measure of how much freight can be moved over a given distance by a given amount of fuel. It’s a more descriptive measurement than miles-per-gallon because it accounts for the amount of work being done with the fuel consumed.

In lay terms, Cummins and Peterbilt succeeded in moving more freight (by lightening the truck and trailer) over a given distance on less fuel (by reducing the amount of fuel consumed by the truck and trailer) in an 11-hour driving cycle (a typical day’s driving in a highway application).

The companies also saw sizable gains in a 24-hour duty cycle, which is more representative of a sleeper operation with hotel loads on the system as well as in-cab climate control. Like before, they accomplished all this using less fuel than a current truck would use in a similar situation.

The gains in thermal efficiency speak to the engine’s ability to convert the chemical energy contained in a gallon of fuel to motive power at the driveshaft.

To learn about the SuperTruck’s energy saving features and how the engineers accomplished those whopping gains, check out the four videos in this Ultimate Test Drive series.