An automotive influence on heavy-truck interiors

  • 13-Apr-2012 04:01 EDT
Cat CT660 interior.jpg

An automotive supplier helped Caterpillar achieve an upscale interior for its new CT660 vocational truck. The company also drew upon its expertise in designing off-highway equipment for ergonomics and human-machine interfaces that relay information quickly.

During the development of Caterpillar’s new CT660 Class 8 vocational truck, extensive voice-of-customer (VOC) efforts were employed. What was one of the main takeaways? “Customers told us that they wanted premium interiors,” said Gary Blood, Product Manager for Vocational Trucks at Caterpillar. “And part of the translation of that is they don’t want fake components in the interiors—that fake wood and chrome-plated plastic.”

Caterpillar worked closely with its interior supplier—a company with a “very heavy background in the automotive business”—from early in the development process to achieve a high-end interior. Blood refused to name the supplier, but noted that “they really understand the type of material selection [that is necessary], the kind of gaps that you control, what we call routing and clipping—what you do behind the dash to keep wires or tubes or anything from contacting surfaces.”

A quiet environment was another focus for Cat’s new truck. Use of a compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block was a significant contributor to achieving that goal. “How can that improve your sound attenuation?” Blood asked. “It’s the characteristic of that iron; it’s very stiff and it does not transmit noise like grey iron. It improves [by up to 30%] the reduction in interior noise.”

Caterpillar’s interior supplier also contributed, particularly by helping to limit buzz, squeak, and rattle (BSR)—“a real indicator of quality, whether you’re buying a passenger car, a pickup, or a Class 8 vocational truck,” Blood said. “It was really our suppliers that are in the automotive business that understood exactly what we were talking about—BSR, which is one level further down than NVH. This was a key focus of our endeavors in designing the interior.”

“If we’re headed on a path to [more car-like interiors] in the Class 8 vocational truck business, I’ll be the first one to stand up and say, ‘Yep, that’s the way we’d like to take it,’” Blood added.

For the development of its Freightliner Revolution Innovation Truck concept, revealed at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS), Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) exploited a technology partnership that its parent company, Daimler AG, has with Toray Carbon Fibers America for its passenger vehicles. Toray supplied carbon-fiber pre-preg material that was used in the construction of the Revolution’s hood, roof cap, side walls, and back wall. A special sandwich structure of low-density honeycomb material and carbon fiber helped to simplify the truck’s inner support structure and maximize interior space. The result, according to DTNA, is significantly more interior space and functionality than a day cab, at a lighter weight than a sleeper.

The Revolution is called a “crossover cab” because a convertible jump seat transforms the workspace into a sleeper for rest. “One of the things we tried to do with this truck is focus on single-driver environment, being a day-cab operation,” said Justin Yee, Manager of Vehicle Concepts for DTNA. “We gave the driver a work area, a desk, which makes their lives easier. We extended the cab 12 inches and put in a regulation 24-in size bunk. That’s the key—operationally it’s a day cab, but it gives you that flexibility in logistics, if you get stuck in a snowstorm or your load is delayed, this allows you to reconfigure your interior.”

LED lighting solutions are enabling interior designers to create a warm, welcoming atmosphere inside vehicles by employing the technology in various locations such as the instrument panel, headliner, center console, and doors. While the automotive industry has taken the lead in this area, particularly within luxury cars, that does not mean commercial vehicles cannot exploit the technology to the same end. In fact, many truck makers are already doing so.

Hella is working very closely together with many of the OEMs, and what we have seen from a heavy-truck perspective—and that carries over into the mobile homes and RVs—is that people are looking more and more for ambient lighting,” said Siegfried Tigges, Vice President of Canadian Aftermarket Sales/Mining/Heavy-Duty U.S. at Hella Inc.

The lighting supplier has developed whole-cabin prototypes so executives at truck makers as well as attendees at truck shows can “physically sit inside and actually see what ambient lighting does to your behavior, because you react to different colors differently,” Tigges said.

And LEDs offer practical benefits beyond just looking nice: they draw less power, last longer, and can be packaged more efficiently than conventional bulbs.

Peterbilt was one of several manufacturers at MATS that touted the LED-lit insides of their new trucks. The company explains that the all-LED interior lighting system within its new 579 heavy-duty truck has “strategically placed lamps throughout the cab and sleeper, reducing fatigue and providing an updated, contemporary feel.”

The 579’s sleeper features what the company claims is the industry’s widest use of LED lighting. The truck also employs a new amber, lower-door LED signature light.

Looking further out with its Model 587 Technology Truck, Peterbilt showed what is possible with blue LED light strips along the floor perimeter as well as other LEDs supplied by Grote. “It shows what’s capable with lighting,” Bill Kahn, the company’s Engineering Manager for Advanced Concepts, explained to SAE Magazines. “We want to go low power because the key to our vehicle is being able to do 10 hours of engine-off operation of the hotel loads while the driver’s resting without having to start the engine. The best way to do that is the batteries, so you don’t want to have a lot of power draw on them. LEDs are a very low-power solution, and they’re very flexible and small, so you can do some very dramatic lighting schemes.”

Another Paccar company, Kenworth, also boasts of all-LED interior lighting in its new T680 production truck. Explaining the extensive use of LEDs in the T680 to SAE Magazines, Jonathan Duncan, Design/Styling Manager, Research and Development Center, said: “They basically have a 15-year life cycle, at the least; you never have to service them. They’re also low current draw, and they’re a bright and warmer light—LEDs used to be only really cool lights, but now we’ve gotten them to where they don’t turn you blue when you sit under them.”

“We use them because they’re compact; they’re nice, slender light units that we can fit into a space and still have a lot of storage right above them,” he continued. “We also have an LED ambient light [in the center of the headliner shining down]. At night, when the lights are on, that just gives you a nice red wash over this area so you can see what’s in the cupholder, you can see some detail on the dash, and it’s easier on your eyes. You see it in a lot of luxury vehicles, and it really makes a big difference.”

Besides LEDs, glass fiber optics is another lighting technology that holds promise for truck interiors, according to Hella’s Tigges. “The benefit with glass fiber optics is that you don’t have big lighting elements any longer,” he explained. “You put the lighting to where you actually need [it]; this is what cuts down the weight of the cable, and therefore the weight of the total vehicle itself.”

Kenworth Chief Engineer Preston Feight made it a point in his MATS presentation revealing the new T680 that the heavy-duty truck “uses luxury automotive materials to create a [comfortable] driver environment.” An example? The seats are available in Ultraleather, which is said to be softer than vinyl and more durable than leather.

Kenworth employed the help of several automotive suppliers in the development of the truck’s interior, according to Duncan. “Continental does our gauges. Behr-Hella Thermocontrol does the HVAC system. Eaton provides some switches, and Inteva does the door pads—they’re a big automotive supplier,” he said. Gra-Mag, a joint venture between Grammer and Magna Seating Systems, provides the seats, as it does for Paccar’s DAF trucks in Europe as well, Duncan said.

Another Kenworth staffer stressed to SAE Magazines after the reveal of the T680 that “we did work with some suppliers that have automotive backgrounds, but one of our main goals was making sure that they were truck-worthy. You may hear someone throw around the term ‘automotive.’ It’s automotive style, but it’s still built to last 1.5 million miles that we’ve come to test all our vehicles to. We don’t want to come across like we’re doing just automotive; it’s heavy duty.”

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