Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Europe’s truck manufacturers liked to spring the odd surprise at the various annual shows. By ‘odd’ I mean those wonderfully futuristic concept trucks that looked great under the spotlights, before eventually ending-up in some dusty corner of the R&D department…or scrapped.
While concept trucks have rather fallen out of fashion with other truck makers, to its great credit Iveco continues to build them (and concept vans too) and not just to create a talking point for journalists. The latest one from Turin, called the ‘Z Truck’, was unveiled at last year’s Hannover IAA Show and is described as ‘The zero-impact concept truck that anticipates the shift to green energy and autonomous driving in long-distance haulage’.
Iveco’s long-haul prime mover of tomorrow runs on LNG (bio-methane), boasts a super-slippery aerodynamic profile, and produces virtually zero CO₂ emissions. And with one eye on the future, where autonomous control means the man or woman behind the wheel will become less of a driver and more of an ‘on-board logistics operator’ (no I don’t know what it means either), its cab interior has been freed from what Iveco calls the “traditional constraints” and so can be reconfigured to suit the various different uses it’s put to at any one time, like ‘human’ driving, automated driving, office work and resting.
For the record, Z Truck has no less than 29 patents covering its various features, many of which make good sense to me. Its bio-methane-fuelled Cursor 13 engine boasts 460hp and 2,000Nm of torque and, when coupled to a 16-speed automated transmission, is said to help the aerodynamic Z Truck consume up to 33 per cent less fuel whilst dramatically cutting CO₂ emissions and particulates too. And before you ask, ‘What’s that got to do with mainstream trucking?’ a similarly lean and green 400hp Cursor 9 LNG/CNG engine drives the recently launched Stralis ‘NP’ (Natural Power) prime mover, which is currently attracting a lot of interest in Europe.
Thanks to project partner SAG, Z Truck is fitted with an unusual concept aluminium gas tank that utilises what’s called Multi-Layer Insulation that incorporates a reflective foil to protect the tank from heat radiation. And as the tank has a square-shape profile it can also make the most of the available ‘packaging-space’ on the truck’s chassis. The upshot is that there’s room on Z Truck for two tanks (fillable by a single recharge), with a combined capacity of 1,200 litres, giving it a range of 2,200km – 60 per cent more than the current Stralis NP and even more than diesel-powered equivalents.
In line with Iveco’s avowed strategy to raise engine brake thermal efficiency (BTE) to over 50 per cent, Z Truck also has a Waste Heat Recovery system, which uses the hot gas that currently pours out of an exhaust pipe to create auxiliary power, either electrically or mechanically. Z Truck’s WHR system is based on a Rankine Cycle, basically a kind of steam generator, something Turin and FPT Industrial (the diesel engine maker within the CNH family that includes Iveco) have been doing a lot of work on. I understand that early evaluation trials have so far shown that while WHR works, the cost-benefit ratio isn’t there at the moment. Nevertheless, my money’s on the Italians to crack that nut…and eventually offer WHR on a production truck.
Inside Z Truck it’s a touch more ‘out there’. Designed by the CNH Industrial Design Centre, Iveco says it makes “a statement on how the future could be for truck drivers. It is shaped by its enhanced aerodynamics, by the improved safety and by the aim of creating a new living cab space.” In particular it foresees how autonomous driving will change the role of the driver, who Iveco reckons will spend less time actually behind the wheel. Thus, the interior concept enables the driver to reconfigure the cab layout according to what he or she is doing at the time, whether it’s driving (that’s ‘manually’, or autonomously), taking care of the paperwork, relaxing or sleeping.
The driving seat, steering-wheel system, pedals and control console together form a self-contained unit that’s suspended independently from the cab for the smoothest ride. On the move, information on the truck’s various functions (like tyre pressures and temperatures) is projected on the ‘smart’ windscreen, ensuring drivers get all the information they need, at the right time.
The air-con surrounds the driver’s seat with what’s called a ‘Climatic Bubble’, so the driver enjoys ideal temperature conditions without any irritating airflows. And when the vehicle is parked up, the sliding wall at the rear of the cab automatically extends by 500mm, boosting its living space and making it possible to enjoy all the amenities of the cab like the folding bed, shower, kitchen, fridge, sink and what’s described as an “entertainment wall.” Increasing the space inside a European truck cab, by whatever means possible, is something I’m definitely up for. And before I forget, there’s also a nice little safety touch on Z Truck – its pop-out cab entry steps make climbing in and out just that little bit easier.