Comfort, safety & technology
By NATE HENDLEYConstruction Equipment Trucks
Are consumer vehicles influencing vocational trucks?
In addition to highlighting power, performance and durability, makers of vocational trucks are increasingly emphasizing driver comfort, safety, and vehicle technology — the kind of attributes usually associated with automobiles, not dump trucks, crane trucks, concrete mixers, and other off-highway work vehicles. So, the question seems to ask itself, “Are vocational truck manufacturers are taking design cues from the consumer car sector?”
Looking at Volvo’s website for its vocational truck lineup, it’s not hard to find such comments as, “For decades, conventional wisdom said vocational truck drivers and owners only cared about dependability. Considerations like safety, efficiency, comfort, and body design couldn’t be part of the decision when choosing a dump truck or mixer.” Of course, the webpage then outlines how Volvo’s most recent iterations of its VHD trucks meet these overlooked considerations.
Promotional material for other vocational trucks reveals similar content, with references to ergonomics, low-noise cabs, comfy seats, smooth suspension, remote diagnostics, collision avoidance systems and user-friendly instrument panels.
Industry pundits dispute the idea that vocational truck makers are imitating consumer car designs, however. They say the focus on comfort, safety and technology is simply a reflection of driver demand and industry trends.
“Sometimes it may appear as though the commercial truck industry is following the automotive industry, but International is committed to delivering industry-specific features that increase productivity, safety and comfort for our customers,” states Andy Hanson, director of vocational marketing at Navistar, parent company of International Truck.
Duane Tegels, powertrain product marketing manager at Volvo Trucks, offers a similar perspective.
“I’m not sure if we’re necessarily following the lead of the automotive industry. [Driver comfort, safety and technology] are kind of what or customers are requesting,” he states.
Clients are requesting such features and manufacturers are incorporating them on vocational trucks for a simple reason: “Driver comfort and productivity are integral to a safe and successful operation,” states Hanson.
Regardless of the inspiration behind such features, here’s a look at some vocational trucks built with comfort, safety, and technology in mind.
Released in November 2020, the HX520 and HX620 from International are well-suited for dump and heavy haul applications on construction sites. The new HX Series is intended to augment International’s HV Series of vocational trucks.
HX and HV trucks are all built with a view towards maximum comfort. Controls and gauges are close and convenient and “are also designed in a way which makes them easy to read and operate, allowing the driver to focus on the jobsite or road,” says Hanson.
Both series boast a comprehensive HVAC system and a low-noise cab, which helps “keep the driver comfortable, and comfortable drivers are more attentive and safer drivers,” he adds.
Additional comfort and safety features in both HX and HV trucks include a 2,385-square-inch windshield for heightened visibility, and front and rear Bendix air brakes. Fitted with a Cummins X15 engine, HX520 and HX620 models are capable of reaching 605 hp and 2,050 lb-ft of torque.
Both the HV and HX Series feature a customizable Diamond Logic electrical system. This system enables International dealers and technicians to “write custom logic within minutes to reprogram anything … all this programming is stored on International’s servers, making the programs recoverable and repeatable,” says Hanson.
OnCommand Connection, a remote diagnostics solution, is standard on the HX Series and some HV Series trucks. Next year, OnCommand Connection will be a standard offering on all International trucks. For added levels of safety, HX and HV vocational trucks will also feature a backup camera starting in 2023.
Introduced in early 2020, the website for Mack Truck’s MD vocational line says the vehicles were “engineered to put a premium on driver comfort and control.”
To this end, MD6 and MD7 trucks both boast an air suspension driver seat, a tilt/telescopic steering column, smooth suspension, intuitive dashboard design, standard air conditioning, power steering, cruise control and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Both trucks can offer 300 hp and 660 lb-ft of torque and are fitted with the Bendix Antilock Braking System and Geotab for telematics.
Mack’s longstanding Granite vocational line has equally impressive features, including premium seating, a user-friendly instrument panel designed to reduce driver fatigue and increase productivity, and an industry-first flat bottom steering wheel that the company says provides more space for the driver to enter and exit the cab.
Granite trucks, which can be used as mixers, multi-axle dump trucks and equipment/material haulers, also come with Command Steer, a steering-assist feature that reduces driver strain and enhances comfort and safety while improving maneuverability and maintaining directional stability.
Released this past September, the Plus series from Freightliner, a division of Daimler Truck North America, consists of improved versions of medium-duty and vocational models.
The series, which the company says was “built for next-level safety, simplified uplift and operator comfort,” includes the 114SD Plus and 108SD Plus vocational trucks.
Well-suited for construction, utility, and oil and gas duties, the 114SD Plus offers 525 maximum horsepower and 1,850 lb-ft of torque, while the 108SD Plus can achieve 380 horsepower and up to 1,250 lb-ft of torque. Both trucks include a multitude of “operator comfort features” as DTNA puts it, ranging from noise-reducing cab insulation to increased storage space, ergonomically designed seats, a redesigned dash with highly visible controls, and easily reachable electric door and window locks.
Safety features on the 114SD Plus include a 2,500-square-inch windshield for enhanced visibility, and wider door openings for hassle-free entrances and exits. The 108SD Plus offers wide door openings, and a low step-in height. Both trucks come with an optional Bendix Intellipark Electronic Parking Brake System that is designed to prevent the truck from rolling away.
Additional high-tech features on the 114SD Plus and 108SD Plus include the company’s Detroit Assurance suite of safety features that includes lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, side guard assist and active brake assist, as well as Detroit Connect. The latter is a suite of connectivity solutions such as Virtual Technician for remote diagnostics and Detroit Connect Portal for fleet managers.
Volvo literature describes the company’s VHD as “the most comfortable vocational truck on the market.” The series consists of the VHD 300F axle forward, VHD 300B axle back, VHD 400F axle forward and VHD 400B axle back trucks. VHD trucks can be used for dump, crane and concrete mixing purposes, and offer 1,900 lb-ft maximum torque. Interiors were designed with ergonomics and comfort in mind.
“We had a lot of clinics before designing the trucks,” says Ashley Murickan, product marketing manager for safety and connected services at Volvo Trucks. “We interviewed drivers, asked where they wanted switches positioned, where they wanted steering wheel controls positioned. We took all that feedback and designed [the VHD line]. If you notice, all the steering controls are at your fingertips and other switches, you don’t have to stretch for them.”
Other comfy offerings include seats with heating, cooling and massage options, a refrigeration box beneath the passenger seat for storing snacks and beverages, an insulated cab for reduced noise and vibrations, and LED headlamps for improved visibility.
On the high-tech front, Volvo Dynamic Steering (VDS) enhances driver productivity, safety, and comfort, says Murickan.
This assisted steering function means “you don’t have to strain your shoulders and arms [to steer]. You can pretty much steer it with one finger, although that’s not recommended,” he explains.
The VHD series also features Remote Diagnostics and Remote Programming for wireless software updates; Volvo Active Driver Assist (VADA), a collision mitigation system that emits audio and visual warnings; and Volvo Enhanced Stability Technology (VEST) to prevent rollovers and loss of control. A Position Perfect steering wheel system lets drivers to set the wheel to whatever height and angle they prefer.
Volvo was also the first manufacturer to install driver-side airbags on vocational trucks, a feature that continues in its VHD trucks. Also to be found in the cab is an optional infotainment system with seven-inch colour touchscreen, GPS and audio system, bringing yet more car feel to the vocational segment.