Walmart Introduces Supercube Tractor Trailers to increase fuel economy, get trucks off the road

Promo image Walmart Supercube

Poor Andy Ellis. The Vice President of supply chain and logistics for Walmart Canada took the early morning redeye to Calgary for the Pathways 2 Sustainability conference to speak about "Corporate Contributions to Sustainability", only to be questioned about GMOs, wages and toxic waste. That's a shame, because he had a real story to tell about trucks.

Take Walmart's new Supercube transport trailer and tractor combo. It holds 30% more cargo than a conventional rig in the same length, and thanks to the streamlining, probably uses the same amount of fuel. This reduces the number of trucks on the road and the fossil fuels used per pound of freight transported.

It does it by dropping the floor of the trailer between the wheels (complicating loading; a scissors lift has to be built in) and by squishing the cab to a popular European design, the Cab Over Engine (COE). This leaves room to put in a dromedary box (drome) to add more cargo space between the cab and the kingpin. Ellis says he "hates the drome box" but was forced to use it to get the capacity and comply with Ontario regulations.

Modern Mechanix/Public Domain

No doubt he would have preferred to extend the trailer box forward of the kingpin, an idea that has been around since the 1930s, but just isn't allowed. There are other complications that come from being off-standard; air bags are needed to lift the floor to standard dock heights.

One result of dropping the floor is that there is now a continuous sideguard, like trucks have in Europe; I asked Andy Ellis about this and about the issue of cyclist safety. He said he was a recreational cyclist riding 300 km a week and understood the importance of safety as well as fuel efficiency.

The trucking industry is not impressed; unsurprisingly, "for-hire carriers don't like the extra-long trailer because it'd give a private fleet higher productivity that might put the for-hire guys at a disadvantage." The Ontario Trucking Association notes that its members have to use trailers that can carry all kinds of goods, not just the light stuff that Walmart sells, so they object to " preferential treatment given to Walmart Canada to haul 30 percent more freight than competitors’ trucks." But that's just whining; It makes a lot of sense to design the trailer to fit the cargo and get greater fuel efficiency, this thing isn't for everyone.

Walmart/Promo image

Then there is the issue of the COE cab. These take up less space, allowing for the drome, but eliminate the sleeping area, which is fine for the type of distribution that Walmart is doing. But they don't make the right mix of cab and engine in North America, so according to TruckNews:

The trailer is pulled by a Freightliner Argosy cabover glider kit with a refurbished EPA02 generation engine. A glider kit consists of a new chassis, complete with driveline and electrical system, that’s delivered without an engine and transmission. An older generation EPA02 engine has been installed into the tractor, which falls well short of current emissions standards for heavy-duty diesel engines.

So the prototypes of the Supercube are running on dirty engines that are pumping out a lot more nitrogen oxide and particulates than are allowed on a new rig, enough to negate all of the gains from running fewer trucks.

No doubt this is a temporary problem; if the test is a success, Walmart certainly has the schlep to convince a truck manufacturer to to put a clean new engine into a COE body. The trucking industry just doesn't like the idea of Walmart designing trucks that meet its specific needs for shorter runs carrying lighter goods.

But nobody should be complaining about putting more stuff in fewer, safer trucks.

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Tags: Alberta | Transportation | Walmart


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