Kenworth SuperTruck 2 hints at future

In News7 MinutesBy Gavin MyersJune 13, 2024

Kenworth has showcased its SuperTruck 2 demonstrator vehicle at the ACT Expo in Las Vegas last month, a project developed over six years in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s SuperTruck programme. The SuperTruck program was designed to challenge truck makers to improve freight efficiency using a diesel engine as the main power source. The project was the result of a joint investment by the DOE and PACCAR.

“The goal was a 100% freight efficiency improvement over our 2009 Kenworth T660, which at the time was arguably the most fuel-efficient truck in the industry. We surpassed the performance of that model to improve efficiency by up to 136%,” said Jim Walenczak, general manager of Kenworth and PACCAR vice president.

This was realised through a combination of improving fuel efficiency up to 18.3l/100km, and a reduction in weight by around 3175kg, enabling greater payload capacity with an ultra-fuel-efficient tractor-trailer combination.

“The result was the ability to haul more payload with an ultra-fuel-efficient tractor-trailer combination,” Walenczak said.

“SuperTruck 2 provided us with the opportunity to investigate new technologies at an early stage. We learned what worked and what didn’t. As a result, we are able to commercialise new technologies much quicker than we would have otherwise.”

Joe Adams, Kenworth’s chief engineer, said that while the “unique look” of the Kenworth catches most of the attention, the powertrain and driver amenities are just as impressive.

“We started with an ideal aerodynamic shape when we started the design of SuperTruck 2,” he said.

“At the start of the project, we asked ourselves, ‘What does the next generation vehicle for long haul transportation look like?’ What we produced pushes the limits in reducing aerodynamic drag while it also incorporates a new powertrain. But, with everything Kenworth, we wanted the SuperTruck 2 to embody ‘The Driver’s Truck’. The result was a systematic approach to developing a futuristic looking, yet relevant vehicle with technologies that have the potential to be refined and commercialised.”

From an engine and transmission standpoint, Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 utilizes a PACCAR MX-11 engine, rated at 440hp, which is driven through a PACCAR TX-12 automated transmission. In addition, the truck features a 48V electric generator. This creates a “mild” hybrid system and leverages next generation lithium-ion batteries. The batteries are recharged through regenerative braking. This allows Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 to operate electric fans, electric steering, and power for electric coolant and HVAC pumps, which were previously mechanically driven.

The SuperTruck 2 also features a “center driver” cab, along with a new sleeper compartment, designed to resemble a bullet train.

“We wanted to push this beyond just a demonstrator truck,” said Jonathan Duncan, Kenworth’s design director. “We wanted to show something dynamic and what the future of Kenworth might look like. Our headlamps take up the entire front fender of the truck. It’s striking – you can’t miss it as it’s going down the road.”

The aerodynamic design allows for a 48% reduction in drag compared to Kenworth’s baseline vehicle, and the layout is powertrain agnostic, supporting zero and near-zero emission solutions like fuel cells and hydrogen tanks.

Enabling more payload was a critical element in the design for the Kenworth engineering team, which also utilised a design specific trailer to go with the tractor. The combination came in at 11,838kg.

“These savings would give a fleet the option of running lighter with the same amount of goods they’d normally put in a trailer, or they could add more payload,” said Adams.

The driver-side door has a large opening, and the extendable bottom step supports a stairway-like entry and exit. Inside, SuperTruck 2 features PACCAR’s 15-inch digital display, with a configurable gauge layout, advanced driver notifications, and a user-friendly menu navigation.

Once behind the wheel, drivers have a view like nothing else in the trucking industry. “We made the windshield very parabolic in plan view and smooth to the flow. We also went one step further and eliminated physical mirrors altogether, minimising drag,” said Duncan.

“The integrated digital mirror system enables enhanced rearview monitoring, with trailer tracking capability and night vision enhancements, technology currently available in Kenworth T680 models.”

The truck is trialing a bed that folds down over the sofa, providing a separate sleeping and sitting area.

“Working in the trucking industry is very exciting. There are major challenges ahead as we continue to advance vehicle performance, all while keeping in mind the goal to be a carbon neutral society by 2050,” said Adams.

“This will require tremendous technology changes in the trucking industry and partnering with the DOE on the SuperTruck 2 program was a tremendous opportunity to consider what will be possible as we look toward the future.”

“I’m very proud of this project,” added Walenczak. “Kenworth just celebrated its 100th anniversary, and SuperTruck 2 builds on Kenworth’s history of providing value to its customers.

“This project represents Kenworth’s innovation to ensure that our company’s future and our customers’ needs remain at the forefront. This truck is an important milestone for us – to look forward and see where we might be going in the future,” he said.