Safety, emissions, fuel economy and productivity are driving development of advanced truck technology at the global commercial vehicle division of DaimlerChrysler AG (DCX), which is the parent of Freightliner LLC and also provides Dodge with the Sprinter light-duty commercial van. For three weeks in late September, DCX invited journalists from around the world to its commercial vehicle (CV) research and test facility in Papenburg, Germany to witness firsthand just how those forces will shape the company's trucks, buses and vans in the near future.

“Six years ago we held our first ‘Technology Days’ at Papenburg, and over half of the technologies we showed then are now commercial products,” said DCX commercial vehicles spokesperson Othmar Stein. “This time we've assembled 50 new things to demonstrate.”

With increased traffic volume throughout the world's major cities, pressure to continue decreasing truck and automobile accidents is behind DCX's development of both active and passive advanced safety systems. One of the most dramatic is an emergency braking system scheduled for commercial introduction in Europe next year. Based on the company's current Telligent vehicle proximity sensing system, it automatically applies full emergency braking if it senses a stopped vehicle directly in front of the truck and the truck driver does not respond to audible alarms. Engineers also showed an enhanced version of the system that identifies road surfaces and adjusts emergency braking distances for wet or icy conditions. It can also identify obstacles on the road other than cars, including pedestrians and cyclists.

A number of electronic stability control devices were on display for both heavy-duty trucks and light vans. The heavy-duty stability control actually interacts with a steer-by-wire system to automatically add steering control to brake and engine control in emergency braking situations that might otherwise result in a jackknife.

On the light-duty side, DCX showed a number of stability control enhancements for the Sprinter that actively adjust suspensions to prevent rollovers and deal with crosswinds. Company engineers are also testing a trailing-arm and air suspension for the Sprinter rear axle that in test rides on the track showed improved vehicle handling when the van was loaded to capacity, as well as a smoother, quieter ride. The air bags also allow a driver to lower or raise vehicle height for easier loading.

Based on the premise that reducing fuel consumption also results in reduced engine emissions, DCX engineers are working on a wide variety of technologies to address both issues. At Papenburg, they assembled a demonstration fleet that included diesel-electric hybrids in buses, vans and medium-duty trucks, including a Freightliner Business Class M2. The hybrid system in the Business Class is expected to cut fuel consumption in delivery applications by 20 to 30%. Freightliner has already received an order for 70 of the hybrids and expects to begin production next year.

A hybrid FedEx delivery van jointly developed by Eaton Corp. and Freightliner was also on display, as was a DCX bus powered by fuel cells. An entire range of heavy-duty tractors and medium-duty trucks using SCR (see sidebar) to reduce diesel emissions while increasing fuel economy was also made available for journalist to drive.

Among the most intriguing technologies for increasing truck productivity were three systems designed to make it easier and quicker for drivers to back up and hook up tractor/trailer combinations.

The first uses ultrasonic sensors in the front and rear of a tractor to indicate closing distance when backing up.

The second has a rear-facing camera with an in-cab monitor and a joystick mounted on the seat armrest that gives the driver control over both steering and throttle. When backing under a trailer or around a corner, right or left inputs to the joystick are translated by the system into steering controls. The monitor shows the driver exactly where the combination will go if it maintains its current course.

The third element in this productivity trio is an automated fifth wheel that couples or uncouples at the push of a button, retracting or engaging landing legs as necessary. Air and electric connections are also automatic, being routed through connectors installed in the kingpin.

While not all of the technologies on display at Papenburg will make it to commercial production, “We do not develop any fanciful concepts just for their own sake,” said Andreas Renschler, the new board member and head of the commercial vehicle division at DCX. “On the contrary … [these are] innovations which will soon be a reality on our roads.”