Build More Flat Floor Cabovers

Frankly, I’m surprised more manufacturers don’t do it. ‘Do what?’ I hear you ask Down Under. Build more flat-floor cabovers, that’s what. Given the fact that every night hundreds of thousands of European long-haul drivers are bedding down for the night in a truck (and I reckon 99.99 per cent of them will be doing it in a cabover prime mover) you’d think that all of Europe’s truck makers would be keen to make their cabs as easy to move around in as possible.

And what better way to ensure effortless cross-cab access and boost the size of your bedroom than by removing the engine hump and replacing it with a perfectly flat cab floor? Yet so far, only three of the major players, Mercedes, Renault and Scania, actually offer one. DAF, Iveco, MAN and Volvo heavies have all still got the ‘hump’, albeit of modest height on their flagship models.

The big mystery to yours truly is why, despite the obvious driver appeal of flat-floor cabs, none of the other European truck makers have followed suit. Doubtless they have their reasons. Flat-floor cabs aren’t without their own drawbacks, the most obvious being is that you have to mount them higher up above the chassis to provide sufficient clearance for the engine underneath, particularly if it’s a big banger.

As flat-floor cabs are generally taller than their non-flat rivals their size can be a problem when it comes to squeezing into tight delivery spots. For the record, the overall heights (with normal, small roof deflectors fitted) of the Actros, Renault T High and Scania Highline are 3.97m, 3.97m and 3.93m, respectively.

Naturally, the higher up the cab, the more steps you’ll need to climb to get into it. Where non-flat floor rivals generally make do with three entry steps, all the above-mentioned ‘flatties’ need four. And with one more step it’s harder to ‘layer’ them, so the entry-step layout can become more like a vertical ladder than a sloping, progressive stairway.

That said, Scania has managed the trick well on its S cab. As with its previous prime mover range, it’s scalloped out the edge of the cab floor where it meets the bottom of the door, thereby creating a recess that allows you to see the top step more easily and place your foot on it without having to lean outwards to spot it.

Riding so high, flat-floor prime movers provide great forward vision on motorways. However, in towns and busy urban areas the higher up the driving position the harder it is to spot objects within the classic close-in blind-spot areas immediately in front and around the nearside corner of the cab.

So much for the cons, what about the pros? Aside from the obvious driver appeal of being easier to move around inside, and the extra headroom they provide when you’re standing up, high-mounted flat-floor cabs tend to have a lot more storage space, both inside and out, not least in terms of extra external lockers.

Fitting two beds into a flat-floor cab is also easier and the unobstructed space (thanks to there being no engine hump) beneath the bottom bed means there’s more than enough room for slide-out lockers and fridges. And being so tall it also means the airflow over a 4.0m trailer (the de facto maximum height limit in continental Europe) can be sorted a lot easier with just a small top deflector, if that.

So will we see any more flat-floor cabs appearing in Europe soon? Frankly, I think it’s unlikely. Indeed I doubt whether DAF, Iveco or MAN want to spend a lot of money on creating a unique flat-floor version of their existing heavy-duty truck cabs just so they can say they have one, especially when those same cabs have core structures (‘Body-in-White’, for example) that are arguably approaching the end of their lifespans.

It’s much easier to create a flat-floor cab when you’re designing ‘from new’, like Scania, Renault or Mercedes. As for Volvo, one can only assume they weren’t prepared to make the current FH cab any taller than it is just to have a flat floor.

Against that backdrop, there’s something else bubbling away up here that could affect the future design of long-haul cabs, flat-floor or otherwise. The European Commission wants to relax the rules governing the overall length of semi combinations to allow more room for improved aerodynamics (both at the front and back) to save fuel and reduce emissions. A more aerodynamic ‘long nose’ sloping cab might also help improve driver vision as well, as offering better crash protection for vulnerable road users. Only it’s anyone’s guess when those new rules will become law.

According to one manufacturer I’ve spoken to, the most optimistic timeline for adoption by the European Union’s member states of a revised EU Directive on truck dimensions would be 2018. There would then be a three-year moratorium before it could go ‘live’. So the earliest opportunity for any truck maker to launch a longer, more aerodynamic cab would be 2021.

However, as the new EU directive won’t be mandatory I can’t see many of those truck makers who’ve launched new cabs within the past 10 years hurrying to do so, especially when the average lifespan of a truck cab these days is closer to 20 years. But for those whose cabs are already getting somewhat long in the tooth, sometime around 2025 might be a good time to launch a new long-haul prime mover cab that takes advantage of the revised EU rules. And who knows? When those new cabs do appear they might even feature a flat floor, and right-hand drive too.