A shortage of drivers has been a nagging problem for the heavy truck market. In response to that, truckmakers and their suppliers are making vehicles that are more comfortable and easier to operate.
ZF Meritor LLC has made a clutchless manual transmission that eliminates hard-to-learn clutch pedal shifting. Navistar International Inc.'s new 9000i series has side-view mirrors that can be replaced using no tools. Peterbilt Motors Co.'s new 387 model features an instrument panel with two built-in cupholders. Typically, truck cupholders are mounted on a tray to the right of the driver.
'It felt like the instrument panel design was dictated by where the cupholders were placed,' said Louis Heilaneh, an industrial designer at the company.
But all the design improvements are no guarantee new drivers will come running.
'This is all aimed at helping fleet owners retain drivers, but it's probably never going to be enough,' said Bill Leasure, executive director of the Truck Manufacturers Association in Washington. Other factors, such as pay and benefits packages, probably will be more important over the long term, he said. But making the job easier and more comfortable for drivers is a good first step.
ZF Meritor's new FreedomLine transmission line will be available as original equipment on all the major truckmakers' models. The transmission will be on the road by the fall of 2000. It will be built in Laurinburg, N.C.
Transmission Technologies Corp., in Farmington Hills, Mich., also builds a line of clutchless manual transmissions. Marketed under the Spicer brand, the transmissions range from seven to 10 speeds and are used mainly for medium-duty applications.
In developing the International 9000i series, designers and engineers visited drivers at truck stops to find out what they wanted. International replaced its traditional vertical, two-piece windshield with a curved, one-piece model that tilts 22 degrees. It results in both improved aerodynamics and increased forward cabin space, said Roger Bailey, chief product engineer for the line.
Peterbilt designed its 387 with an eye toward aerodynamics. But the interior of the cabin was Heilaneh's main focus. Along with the cupholders, he helped design a one-piece headliner with openings for a forward-mounted storage compartment.
Under the hood, a feature as simple as the windshield washer fluid tank received an upgrade, with the new model sporting a 3.5-gallon reservoir.