Roll Out the Supercube Trucks
By Teona Baetu
MISSISSAUGA, ON — If you could pack 30 to 40 percent more into your trailer, would you? Walmart would. They’re moving ahead with their supercube trailer project, launched in 2012, because they found it lived up to its expectations: it lowers both greenhouse gas emissions and costs. (Save money. Live better.)
Special permit in hand, Walmart went ahead and tested its pilot project, a 60-foot, 6-inch-long drop-deck semitrailer pulled by a cabover tractor with a drome box, and found it reduced transportation costs by 24 percent and GHG emissions by 14 percent.
Now Walmart plans to expand its supercube fleet.
“Based on the early success of our pilot project, we hope to begin adding additional supercube trucks to the fleet as early as next spring,” says Michael Buna, senior transportation manager at Walmart Canada.
“We have confirmed that this truck will allow us to deliver the same merchandise using fewer trucks, in less time. This means faster delivery of merchandise to stores, less fuel, lower emissions and lower maintenance costs,” says Andy Ellis, executive vice president, supply chain and logistics at Walmart Canada.
When Ellis revealed the supercube trailer design last year, he unpacked a trailer-full of mixed emotions: some excitement, some concern, some confusion.
“Anything new in the transportation industry is going to cause some degree of inquiry, but getting the supercubes out on the road and getting the public opinion and getting the opinion of the industry is an important part of the process,” Ellis says. “Whether it’s a new truck, product, whatever— the important part is where people are going to see it, touch it, feel it and give us the feedback.”
At the time the supercube was revealed, contributing editor Jim Park said it reminded him of a concept vehicle he drove in the late ‘90s – a three-axle 60-foot semitrailer with a Freightliner Argosy COE tractor.
“It was a handful, especially in tight turns, even with a steerable third axle,” Park said.
But in the last year, Walmart completed 100 deliveries with the new trailer and found reception to be positive.
“The original idea was to design a truck that handled and behaved exactly like one with a 53-foot trailer and utilize the space available to deliver more freight to our stores,” Ellis explains. “The feedback we’ve had from our driver is that it handles exactly like a regular truck.”
One common complaint with COEs is that the driver sits directly on top of the engine and its vibrations, but Ellis says none of the drivers who’ve driven the truck complained about that.
Until they were phased out, Walmart almost exclusively used International COE tractors. They’re currently using a Freightliner Argosy tractor for the supercube pilot project, but say they’re considering other alternatives as well. In the meantime, they’re relying on available used COE tractors and working with various manufacturers to make new COE tractors available in North America – but they aren’t naming any names.
Nor are they talking engines, except to say that the Argosy presently in use has been re-powered with a 2009 diesel, presumably a Detroit. We understand, without confirmation from Walmart, that natural gas power is a strong consideration for future supercube trucks.
If all continues to go well with the pilot project, you’ll see the Walmart Supercubes in all regions across Canada over the next five years, and maybe even in the States – that’s something Walmart is considering.
A look inside the supercube:
• Trailer length: 60-foot, 6-inches
• Inside trailer height: 126 inches on the lowest deck, 100 inches on the upper deck
• Interior space: 5,100 cubic feet (53-foot trailer is 3,900 cubic feet)
• 62-inch kingpin setting
• Drome box: 7-foot-long, can carry four skids
• LED lights mounted in the trailer
• End-to-end aerodynamic skirts
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