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When using the driver support system, improvements in fuel consumption of up to 10% were noted immediately. Variations in fuel consumption were also dramatically reduced from 15%-20% to around 5%, indicating a much more consistent driving style.” –Scania Group, detailing the benefits of new technology packed into its redesigned R-Series line of trucks

Though the trucking needs of Europe and North America are very different, truckers on both sides of the pond (a trite euphemism for the Atlantic Ocean) share very similar desires as to vehicle performance expectations.

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Right at the top these days is fuel economy – yet fuel economy improvements are demanded without sacrificing vehicle performance and power, while giving fleets trucks that allow even its most rookie drivers to gain maximum fuel efficiency.

Those are tall orders for any truck OEM, regardless of which side of the pond they reside upon. And yet they’re all doing it – North American and European truck makers alike.

One manufacturer in particular, Scania, is nailing the tricky combination of fuel economy, performance, and simplicity so well at the moment that it bagged Europe’s “International Truck of the Year” award for 2010 its redesigned R-Series line – a makeover Scania says focused on ways to drive fuel efficiency gains without skimping on power, performance, driver comfort, and other factors.

[Below you can view a video of Hasse Johansson, former head of Scania’s research and development team, accepting the award – and also listen to jury chairman Gianenrico Griffini of Italy’s Tuttotrasporti magazine explain why this truck won; in a word, for improved vehicle “efficiency."]

One of the big reasons the R-Series garnered “truck of the year” honors wasn’t for slick styling, big engines, or other “iron related” features. No, it’s the technology that caught the eyes of the judges – specifically the Scania Driver Support (SDS) system onboard these vehicles.

[Here’s a quick overview of what SDS is and what it does.]

SDS is system designed to give truck drivers real-time feedback and tips on ways to refine their driving style in order to improve both fuel economy and safety. It continually analyses data from various sensors on the vehicle to monitor driver performance based on parameters developed through information gathered from Scania’s vehicles operating in Europe, as well as on extensive field tests with operators.

The goal of SDS is to encourage the driver to keep an eye on his style, making him aware of mistakes and potential improvements – allowing him or her to use the vehicle and its controls as safely and efficiently as possible. Here are some of the metrics the system follows and analyzes:

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Hill driving: Evaluates how the accelerator pedal and vehicle’s momentum are used in varying topography.

Anticipation: Heavy accelerations and decelerations, as well as the interval between accelerating and braking, are used to assess how well the driver anticipates different situations.

Brake use: Evaluates the frequency and harshness of brake applications as well as efficient use of the auxiliary brake system (meaning Scania’s retarder and exhaust brake components.)

Choice of gears: Matches gear selection and engine revs to save fuel.

The system also provides “tips” to the driver, displaying a “score” continuously in percentages for each category, enabling the driver to monitor progress on the trip computer. The driver can choose to receive a total score or split the score into the four categories.

It works like this. After driving over a hill, for example, a hint may be displayed: "Next time, release accelerator pedal before top." At the same time, a star rating from zero to five will appear. The picture shows a half-star rating. The driver who does everything right will get an encouraging “Exemplary Driving” note in the display.

Scania noted its SDS system is standard on all vehicles specified with an electronic braking system (EBS), range-splitter gearbox (12- or 12+2-speed manual or with Scania's automatic Opticruise tranny) and Scania's brake retarder.

[Here a ride and drive showing how the SDS works in everyday trucking life over in Europe.]

As noted in the quote at the start of this story, Scania calculates that when drivers use the SDS system, improvements in fuel consumption of up to 10% were noted immediately, with variations in fuel consumption reduced from 15%-20% to around 5%, indicating a much more consistent driving style.

Helping drivers of ALL skill ranges improve, especially in terms of obtaining to fuel economy across their working day, is critical to trucking fleets everywhere – especially when it comes down to controlling costs. Scania’s research, for instance, determined how costs break down for the typical European long-haulage operator:

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• Salaries 33%

• Fuel 27%

• Vehicle 14%

• Repair and maintenance 9%

• Administration 7%

• Tyres 3%

• Other 7%

So, at the end of the day, the driver’s skills have a decisive influence on at least 40% of a fleet’s ongoing costs. Scania believes that, in a truck driven 200,000 kilometres per year (nearly 125,000 miles), it can save a fleet some 6,000 Euros ($8,347) annually while cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 16 tonnes per year (due to reduced fuel consumption, largely).

Yet a dashboard display with pretty colors and numbers can’t do it all – which is why Scania spent a lot of time and effort developing a new version of its Opticruise transmission that can achieve all the fuel economy gains fleets want, while allowing drivers to keep both hands on the wheel and their full attention on the road.

[Here’s an overview of Scania’s Opticruise for you to peruse.]

The latest version of Scania’s Opticruise comes either fully automated or in manual format. But it’s the fully automated version – using an electro-hydraulic clutch control for maximum precision – that offers maximum fuel savings.

Scania believes an automated gearchanging system benefits drivers and operators in several ways. Besides improving comfort and eliminating the need to watch revolutions per minute (RPMs) and change gears, it enables the driver to devote more attention to handling the vehicle and to other traffic. Even an untrained driver can achieve substantial fuel savings compared to manual driving, the company stressed, while wear-and-tear is reduced on the clutch and other powertrain components, increasing service life.

Scania said its Opticruise got a big-time makeover for the new R-Series. After with four years of development, the concept of a standard mechanical gearbox remains, but the system has been extensively modified, said Scania, with improved mechanical components, entirely new software, and a fully automated clutch option. Here are the highlights:

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• The automatic clutch has a high-precision electro-hydraulic control system, an industry first that offers exact clutch control even without a clutch pedal.

• Maneuvering mode provides extra fine clutch control, accelerator resolution and smoother engine control, for example during sensitive shunting.

• The automatic clutch is disengaged briefly during gear changes, making shifts faster and smoother.

• Comprehensive electronic protection keeps clutch wear to a minimum.

Other new features on Opticruise, available on Scania's 8-, 12- and 12+2-speed gearboxes (the latter also with overdrive), includes: a “hill-hold” function that is standard on the fully automated version; a new shift strategy strives to maintain speed uphill without fuel penalty; gear-changing that adapts to individual driving style, the load and the inclination of the road; and a new “power mode” for extra performance.

[Here’s an Opticruise ride and drive, showing how the system works in everyday use.]

All of this technology – the modified Opticruise transmission and SDS system – all combines to give the driver better tools with which to achieve maximum efficiency, both in terms of fuel economy and vehicle safety.

Scania packed a lot of other goodies into its retooled R-Series – new interior materials, new aerodynamic tractor side skits that improve fuel economy up to 0.6% compared to previous models, high-pressure headlamp cleaners, etc. – but it’s the technology being placed at the driver’s disposal that really will make the biggest difference over the life cycle of the vehicle … especially in terms of fuel efficiency.

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