LOUISVILLE, KY. Great Dane Trailers’ booth here at the Mid America Trucking Show is hosting the trucking industry’s first viewing of the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (AVE) “demonstration concept” tractor-trailer.

The one-of-a-kind combination was built for the retail giant by a large project team of suppliers led by Peterbilt Motors, Great Dane and Roush Engineering.

During a media preview last evening, it was explained that the AVE’s tractor is not “road legal,” but the accompanying dry van built by Great Dane with carbon-fiber construction is fully DOT-compliant.

Elizabeth Fretheim, Walmart’s director, business strategy sustainability-logistics, described the AVE as a combination that “features leading edge aerodynamics, an advanced turbine-powered, range-extending series hybrid powertrain, electrified auxiliary components and sophisticated control systems all in one package, developed in support of the company’s industry-leading sustainability program.”

She noted that besides the AVE, the retailer has built a number of prototype tractors in partnership with truck and component manufacturers

Fretheim said those projects included hybrid assist, wheel-end hybrid assist, full propulsion hybrid and natural gas-powered units and that in every case the “goal is learning from testing in a real-life environment to improve the technology.”

“We’re over 84% of the way to our goal of doubling fleet efficiency by 2015 compared to 2005,” she pointed out, “and both incremental changes and bold innovations like this will take us the rest of the way.”

“Our combined efforts help build a business case for these technologies in the future, as well as support one of our best customers,” remarked Landon Sproull, Peterbilt’s chief engineer.

The futuristic Pete’s microturbine hybrid-electric drivetrain was engineered by Capstone Turbine Corp. and described as “clean, efficient and fuel-neutral.”

According to Walmart, the AVE’s use of a hybrid powertrain allows the turbine to remain at optimum operating RPMs while the electric motor/energy storage system handles acceleration and deceleration.  It was noted that a longer-range version of this powertrain would feature a larger turbine and smaller energy storage system.

We developed this microturbine hybrid electric drive system by assembling the best team of technology leaders in the industry,” said Steve Gillette, Capstone’s director of business development.  “We look forward to the day when these energy-saving features are standard offers for the market.”

The tractor’s advanced aerodynamics provide a 20% reduction in aerodynamic drag over Walmart’s current Peterbilt Model 386, Fretheim pointed out.

Dean Mullinax, Great Dane’s executive vice president of engineering, said the trailer body is constructed almost entirely of carbon-fiber material to reduce weight by some 4,000 lbs and its convex nose shape enhances aerodynamics while maintaining  cargo capacity.

He noted that the use of carbon fiber extends to the van trailer’s solid, 53-ft one-piece floor, which “reduces weight without sacrificing strength or performance.”

In addition, Mullinax said the trailer is constructed with advanced adhesives that eliminate the need for most rivets and it features next-generation low-profile LED lighting from Grote that is more energy efficient and less prone to damage.

The Peterbilt-designed cab also boasts:

  • Centered driver’s seat that can rotate 180 degrees
  • Sliding driver’s door and fold-out steps for safety and security
  • Full size cab/sleeper” Flex Studio” with fold-out bed
  • Electronic dashboard with customizable gauges and performance data

Walmart’s Fretheim told FleetOwner that later this year the AVE’s real-world performance factors will be evaluated via testing on a track, as the concept tractor does not meet all the requirements for legal operation on the highway.

Other key players in the AVE project not mentioned above include Qualnetics Corporation, Allison Transmission, Transpower, New Eagle, Fiber-Tech Industries, Grote Industries, Inc., Laydon Composites Ltd., Isringhauser Seats, Graykon, LLC, Dometic Corp, RealWheels Corp, Corvus Energy, Parker Hannifin, Accuride, Milliken Chemical, SAF-Holland USA and Whiting.