While technology is heating up the car manufacturing industry, it’s also transforming Class 8 tractors.
Last week, we explored how consumer excitement over new transportation technology is influencing production, and how this demand from drivers is improving range, affordability, and environmental impact for consumer cars.
For trucks, it’s the combined interests of commercial truck makers and Congress driving the development of new big rig technology. Freight transportation stakeholders are frantically testing every option that might lead to greater tractor efficiency and convenience.
The actual truck drivers, however, have a different perspective on technological additions and “improvements” to the main tool of their trade. We’ve got truckers’ take on transportation technology and why they feel drivers are being hurt, not helped, by the way these advances are being applied to trucks.
Off with the Electronics
When it comes to their choice of a rig, truckers feel, “the older the better.” The less tech in a truck, the more reliable it is. “The fewer electronics in it, the better,” said one driver.
“I knew a trucker who wanted to buy a 2002 Peterbilt 379 with a CAT engine,” said Montway’s Fleet Safety and Compliance Manager. “There were 45 people ahead of him to get it.” She also showed me a gallery of 1997 to early 2000s trucks listed for sale. “That’s what truckers consider reliable equipment,” she said.
Truck drivers report that when electronics click on, trucks break down a lot. Features that have become standard in modern trucks, like cruise control, reactive braking, and collision avoidance, aren’t conveniences when they’re not worth the problems they eventually cause.
When the “Check Engine” light comes on, truckers have to stop and take the time to figure out what’s wrong. But truckers report that in these modern trucks with technological features, more often than not, the engine light will go on from a nonessential electronic issue, not a problem with the engine.
When truckers have to repeatedly figure out what’s wrong, especially for false alarms caused by nonrelated functions, it keeps them from being able to do their jobs. Time is money, especially for a trucker.
For technology to benefit instead of bothering truckers, the electronic extras simply can’t be connected to the function of the truck.
Truckers become very familiar with their vehicles, not only because they spend a lot of time in and with them, but because the truck itself is literally their livelihood. We know that because Montway has very close and strong relationships with all our car shipping carrier partners.
It was simpler to figure out what was wrong with older trucks. Many maintenance issues could be taken care of by the trucker on his or her own. Trucks could also be serviced at almost any truck stop off any interstate. This is no longer true today.
Trucks with new technology not only need specialized equipment for diagnosis and repair, they often can only be fixed by the dealer. The new models are so advanced and diversified, many repair shops don’t carry the right equipment.
“So many of these new trucks are in the shops every day with def and sensor issues, the nation’s flooded with them,” said one driver.
This is another reason truckers prefer older, more generic vehicles, that don’t require special trips or individualized parts to fix every minor issue.
“The cost is too high,” said one former truck owner. “This is their money-maker. They cannot afford to have it break down and not be able to fix it immediately.”
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Truckers feel new technological changes aren’t tested enough before being made integral parts of their trucks functionality. They see the technology changing from month to month, which is actually pretty accurate.
According to Overdrive, “Many major OEs have either recently wrapped up a project or are currently testing one.” As these designs and data are developed, they’re quickly rolled into the next generations of Class 8 tractors.
For example, Freightliner used its Revolution concept truck to test features that were later integrated into the Cascadia Evolution.
“The next generation isn’t on the road yet. Manufacturers need to reach out to today’s truckers,” suggested Montway’s Fleet Safety and Compliance Manager. She explained that the majority of experienced drivers on the road now aren’t looking to complicate the way they operate or make changes to familiar skills.
Bet on Tech–for Tomorrow
Truckers aren’t opposed to technology overall, but they want–and need–it to be straightforward and user-friendly. And truckers insist today’s advancements need to be tested for longer and from more in-depth and real-world perspectives before drivers have to take them out on the road.
Eventually, the furor over futuristic features phase will need to pause for practicality, especially with drivers’ resisting untried technology, and we’ll start seeing trucks that are better suited to the drivers for whom they are designed.
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