If Walmart has its way, it will change the look and powertrain of 18-wheels trucks as we know it.
Walmart showcased its futuristic truck March 26 at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, Kentucky.
The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience is a tractor-trailer that combines leading edge aerodynamics, an advanced turbine-powered range extending series hybrid powertrain, electrified auxiliary components, and sophisticated control systems.
Walmart said this all in one package has been developed in support of the company’s sustainability program.
In a first step launched in 2005, Walmart announced its goal to double fleet efficiency by 2015. Walmart trucks log millions of miles every year, so when it comes to sustainability and fleet efficiency, the goal was simple: deliver more merchandise while driving fewer miles on the most efficient equipment. As of last year, the company had achieved an 84 percent improvement in fleet efficiency over its 2005 baseline.
“Walmart is continually looking for innovative ways to increase our efficiencies and reduce our fleet’s emissions,” said Tracy Rosser, senior vice president of transportation at Walmart. “The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience is a bold step in transportation technologies that, although not on the road in its current form, will serve as a learning platform for the future that will accelerate our progress toward our goals.”
Walmart stated the new truck project aims to demonstrate a wide range of cutting edge technologies and designs Walmart is considering in an effort to improve the overall fuel efficiency of its fleet and lower the company’s carbon footprint. Although the prototype currently runs on diesel, its turbine is fuel neutral and can run on compressed or liquid natural gas, biofuels or other fuels.
The prototype is the result of collaboration between, amongst others, Walmart, Peterbilt, ROUSH, Great Dane and Capstone Turbine. Walmart proudly stated almost every component on this vehicle is cutting edge and showcases innovations of the future that will drive increased efficiencies.
The retail giant described the various aspects of its Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience as follows:
Tractor: Walmart and Peterbilt have collaborated on aerodynamic, hybrid, electrification and alternative fuel projects in the past, each with incremental gains in fuel efficiency and emission reductions. The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience tractor combines many of these projects in a single vehicle.
“Peterbilt’s goals of producing the most fuel-efficient, aerodynamic, and lightweight trucks in the industry mirror those of Walmart,” said Landon Sproull, chief engineer at Peterbilt. “Our combined efforts help build a business case for these technologies in the future, as well as support one of our best customers.”
Aerodynamics: Designers used extensive computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis to optimize the truck’s styling. The truck’s shape represents a 20 percent reduction in aerodynamic drag over Walmart’s current Peterbilt Model 386. By placing the cab over the engine, the truck’s wheelbase is greatly shortened, resulting in reduced weight and better maneuverability. Walmart relied on product development supplier ROUSH to carry out the vehicle’s construction with these detailed design specifications.
“We work every day with customers from the automotive and aerospace industries, all of whom have a laser focus on maximizing efficiencies through improved aerodynamics,” said Tom Topper, ROUSH’s executive director of prototype services. “This design is revolutionary and truly world class.”
Range Extending Series Hybrid: Range extending hybrids are a synergy between electric trucks and series hybrids, and their design reduces the energy storage size required for trucks to run on batteries alone. With Walmart Distribution Centers now located closer to metropolitan areas, transport vehicles have shorter transit times to their delivery destinations. These shorter trips reduce the vehicles’ average trip speed and create more opportunities to recover energy through regenerative braking. The generator and energy storage on the truck are scalable based on the range desired.
Turbine Power: The truck features a microturbine Range Extender generator developed by Capstone Turbine Corporation. The company also engineered the truck’s integrated hybrid drivetrain solution. The use of a hybrid powertrain allows the turbine to remain at optimum operating revolutions per minute (RPM), while the electric motor/energy storage handles acceleration and deceleration. 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, director of business development for Capstone. “We look forward to the day when these energy-saving features are standard offers for the market.”
Fuel Neutral Capability: Turbines by their nature are fuel neutral and produce very low emissions without the need for aftertreatment. Turbines are also appealing because of their few moving parts, low maintenance requirements and lighter weight.
Component Electrification: With automobiles moving to electrified accessories such as power steering and air conditioning, this truck scales those systems up for use on a larger vehicle. These electrified components are used only when needed and at peak efficiency.
Charge Mode: When keyed on, the truck automatically detects the state of charge of the batteries and starts charging them, if needed, using the turbine engine. Charge mode can be manually selected if an operator wishes to “top off” the batteries prior to shutting down.
Electric Vehicle Mode: For use in urban areas, the truck will run on electric power alone until the battery state of charge hits 50 percent. At that time the turbine will automatically start and begin charging the batteries.
Hybrid Electric Mode: For maximum range, this mode runs the turbine continuously, only shutting down if the batteries run out.
Trailer: The vehicle’s trailer, manufactured by Great Dane, offers a host of fuel-saving features. The trailer body is built almost exclusively with carbon fiber, including one-piece carbon fiber panels for the roof and sidewalls, saving nearly 4,000 pounds when compared to traditional designs. The trailer’s convex nose also enhances aerodynamics while maintaining storage space inside the trailer. Other special features of the trailer include special low-amperage LED lighting strips, composite trailer skirts, aerodynamic disc wheel coverings, a Posi-lift suspension, and a one-piece, fiberglass-reinforced floor panel with a 16,000 pound forklift rating.
“This road-ready prototype trailer is a bold step in transportation technologies,” said Adam Hill, vice president of product and sales engineering at Great Dane. “We look forward to further collaboration with Walmart to create more fuel-efficient vehicles of this type in the future.”
Walmart said key partners in its Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience – in addition to Peterbilt Motors Company, ROUSH, Capstone Turbine Corporation and Great Dane – 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, Inc. and Whiting.
“The creation of this showcase vehicle was only made possible through strong collaboration with our partners, and we thank each of them for their valuable contribution,” said Rosser. “It’s important that we continue to work collectively on future innovations and challenge ourselves to look boldly at fleet efficiency in new and different ways.”