Heading out of Cairns early morning to avoid what passes for a rush hour in the north Queensland city, we were out on the road with the new Scanias. We have now reached a point where it is a no-brainer to let the truck drive itself as much as possible. The driver simply needs to handle the steering and, occasionally, take over on the accelerator and the brake. They can use all of their attention to look at what’s going on and make sure everybody in the truck and around the truck are safe and travelling as efficiently as possible.
This test drive included two trucks, the 620hp fitted with a V8 engine and a 500hp running the 13-litre in-line six engine. These are both prime movers which are likely to pull B-doubles. The 620 can expect to work this hard day-in-day-out, but the 500 is more likely to pull a variety of combinations, including a B double.
This engine reaches maximum power at 1900 rpm but it’s maximum torque at 3000 N metres is available from 950 to 1400 rpm. On these roads in northern Queensland, which are generally flat, the tachometer needle rarely moves outside that maximum torque band.
These trucks have adaptive cruise control (ACC) and with this comes an active prediction topographical interface. The topographical data is rarely needed on these flatter roads, but the ACC is ideal. The truck is travelling along a two-lane highway with traffic coming on and off it regularly. The ACC ensures the truck stays away from slower vehicles and can simply be switched off if an opportunity to overtake and get back up to 100 km an hour comes along.
As the truck passes through the smaller towns on the route it is very easy to get into a rhythm of engaging the retarder as you approach a slower speed limit. The Opticruise transmission understands there is a need to slow down and will change it down a cog or two to keep the revs high.
Once up to cruise speed, the eco-roll function starts to come into its own. These kinds of system are becoming more common on trucks, so we now have to look at the subtle differences between the different applications of this idea. They can often be too conservative and only wait until the conditions are absolutely perfect before disengaging the clutch. Others may be a little too aggressive and disengage the clutch when perhaps it would have been better to retain that element of control within the driveline.
Driving the truck in manual along an undulating section of the road, the truck’s coaching system will give tips to back off on the accelerator at a certain point and get the driver to make the conditions right for eco-roll to automatically come on and neutralise the clutch.
This is the point to which we have come with the modern electronic truck. We are not talking about whether or not we want automatic transmission, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping and so on. Instead, we are comparing all of these systems being fitted by the different truck manufacturers. In essence, the differentiating factors will be those of the software design used, effectiveness of any sensors involved and which parameters the manufacturer chooses to go with.
We can only judge the overall effectiveness of all of these different systems, especially when they are all working at the same time together, by the smoothness of the ride and the interaction of the automated systems. The driver has to remain alert at all times and in doing so should be saying to themselves, ‘the truck should be going up a gear or down a gear at this point, the accelerator should be backing off because of this car in front’, and noting whether the system does what is safe and effective at the right time.
One of the takeaways from this drive is how seamlessly all of the electronic control systems seem to work together, as one. All of the different systems are combining, talking to each other and assessing the situation to ensure safety, efficiency and effective driving.