Wal-Mart debuts futuristic truck and trailer combination

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 218 views 

Wal-Mart showcased its futuristic truck Wednesday (March 26) at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, Ky., a month after the world got its first glimpse during a video aired at retailer’s sustainability milestone meeting in Bentonville.

The Wal-Mart truck prototype is a tractor-trailer combination that looks like a sports car married an aerodynamic train. The companies working on the project over the past two decades believe the concept truck is the future for sustainable logistics. The WAVE is the result of collaboration between the retailer and Peterbilt, ROUSH, Great Dane and Capstone Turbine. (See the video below of the new truck.)

Walmart Logistics said its trucks log millions of miles every year, so when it comes to sustainability and fleet efficiency, the goal is simple: deliver more merchandise while driving fewer miles on the most efficient equipment. As of last year, the company achieved an 84% improvement in fleet efficiency over its 2005 baseline.

“Wal-Mart is continually looking for innovative ways to increase our efficiencies and reduce our fleet’s emissions,” said Tracy Rosser, senior vice president of transportation at Wal-Mart. “The Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (WAVE) is a bold step in transportation technologies that, although not on the road in its current form, will serve as a learning platform for the future that will accelerate our progress toward our goals.”

Innovation is key to improvement, and the project aims to demonstrate a wide range of new technologies and designs Wal-Mart hopes will improve overall fleet fuel efficiency and lower the company’s carbon footprint. Although the prototype runs on diesel, its turbine is fuel neutral and can run on compressed or liquid natural gas, biofuels or other fuels, the company said.

Rosser said it’s important that Wal-Mart and its partners continue to work collectively on future innovations and challenge themselves to look boldly at fleet efficiency in new and different ways.

Wal-Mart and Peterbilt had collaborated on aerodynamic, hybrid electrification and alternative fuel projects in the past, each with incremental gains in fuel efficiency and emission reductions. The new concept tractor combines many of these projects in a single vehicle, Wal-Mart said.

“Peterbilt’s goals of producing the most fuel-efficient, aerodynamic, and lightweight trucks in the industry mirror those of Wal-Mart,” said Landon Sproull, chief engineer at Peterbilt. “Our combined efforts help build a business case for these technologies in the future, as well as support one of our best customers.”

The truck’s shape represents a 20% reduction in aerodynamic drag over Wal-Mart’s current Peterbilt Model 386. The company said by placing the cab over the engine, the truck’s wheelbase is greatly shortened, resulting in reduced weight and better maneuverability. 

Wal-Mart worked with product development supplier ROUSH to carry out the vehicle’s construction with detailed design specifications for optimum fuel efficiency. Tom Topper, ROUSH’s executive director of prototype services said the design is “revolutionary and truly world class.”

Wal-Mart said the truck is a hybrid designed to reduce the energy storage capacity for trucks to run on batteries alone. The company said with its distribution centers now located closer to metropolitan areas, transport vehicles have shorter transit times to their delivery destinations. These shorter trips reduce the vehicles’ average trip speed and create more opportunities to recover energy through regenerative braking. The generator and energy storage on the truck are scalable based on the range desired.

The truck also features a microturbine generator developed by Capstone Turbine Corporation. The company engineered the truck’s integrated hybrid drivetrain that allows the turbine to remain at optimum operating revolutions per minute (RPM), while the electric motor/energy storage handles acceleration and deceleration.

“We developed this microturbine hybrid electric drive system by assembling the best team of technology leaders in the industry,” said Steve Gillette, director of business development for Capstone. “We look forward to the day when these energy-saving features are standard offers for the market.”

The vehicle’s trailer, manufactured by Great Dane, is built almost exclusively with carbon fiber, including one-piece carbon fiber panels for the roof and sidewalls, saving nearly 4,000 pounds when compared to traditional designs, the company said. The trailer’s convex nose also enhances aerodynamics while maintaining storage space inside the trailer.

“This road-ready prototype trailer is a bold step in transportation technologies,” said Adam Hill, vice president of product and sales engineering at Great Dane. “We look forward to further collaboration with Wal-Mart to create more fuel-efficient vehicles of this type in the future.”

Investors seemed to approve of this more sustainable vehicle sending the share prices of some of the suppliers higher since the design was first revealed Feb. 17.

Shares of CapStone Turbine (NASDAQ: CPST) rose more than 4% to $2.15 on Thursday (March 27) after Wal-Mart showcased its futuristic truck. Capstone shares have risen 35% since the design was first revealed during the sustainability conference last month.

Peterbilt shares are up 5.8% over the past five weeks since the truck was first unveiled. The shares (NASDAQ: PCAR) closed Thursday at $65.92.

Shares of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) closed at $76.14, down 9 cents on Thursday. In the past five weeks the share price has risen 1.77%. Great Dane and ROUSH are not publicly traded.