Walmart and Peterbilt team-up for High-Tech Aerodynamic Truck

New truck looks right out of Star Trek

In this interview, the principle engineer or Peterbilt Motors, Bill Kahn outlines the advancements they have made in their new trucks for Walmart. The aerodynamics and green fuel capabilities give us a glimpse into the future of shipping.

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Transcript For This Video
Shawn Wasserman: Hello, I'm Shawn Wasserman with ENGINEERING.com, and I'm with Bill Kahn from Peterbilt, and he's going to talk to me about the new Walmart truck.

Bill Kahn: Thank you. What you see behind us, we've done multiple studies with Walmart to try to improve the efficiency of vehicles, but we only had incremental improvements because we pretty much pushed the diesel engine as far as we can from an efficiency standpoint.

They wanted double digit accomplishment or increases. What do we have to do to do that? You got to get out of the box. So they said, "Let's just start from the ground up."

And so, what we have is leading-edge aerodynamics and we have a turbine-powered range extending series hybrid. So basically, it's an electric truck with a turbine generator that can run on diesel, natural gas, LPG, kerosene; just about any fuel.

Shawn: So biodiesel as well then too?

Bill: Correct, and what that allowed to do is, since we don't have a radiator anymore, we were able to aggressively shape the front of the nose of the vehicle down on the lower end.

Up on top, we were able to save it because Walmart drivers only have single driver trucks. They usually just use the passenger seat for storage. Those combined, allowed us to shape the nose that we have a 20% more aerodynamic truck which directly relates to 10% improvement in fuel efficiency, and that's just from the aerodynamics alone.

Shawn: Wow. It looks more like a spaceship than it does like a truck. You could just see almost -- even almost like a smart car shape to it.

Bill: We've actually had motor traders say that they thought the headlights look like Angry Bird headlights.

Shawn: Yes, I can see that. Interesting.

Bill: And so then, we started talking about the power train because it is a turbine. We use the batteries on the truck to cruise, and then the turbine continually tries to regenerate the batteries, so it matches the duty-cycle of the Walmart operation.

They tend to cruise into towns from about 20~30 miles out, and then they start doing inter-city work. With that, we were able to actually operate the truck in electric mode so it's virtually soundless. And that also gives us an ability to regenerate electricity for the trip back outside of town.

Shawn: So can you talk to me about the safety features on the truck?

Bill: It's funny, we don't have ours on this truck yet, but the trucks that we drive today do have radar systems on them. They have lane departure systems on them, they have stability control on them, so a truck is a very safe operating deal and we can put that on this truck very quickly.

This is mainly an aerodynamic and power train evaluation vehicle, and so that's where we get some of the preliminary test results out of it, and then we can start doing those things and go ahead and incorporating the sensors on the vehicle.

I think the most important thing I'd like to mention is that everything you see on this truck is what we do every day at Peterbilt on our current trucks. We optimize aerodynamics down to the component level; be it the mirrors, the hood ornaments or the headlights. We look at constantly making our trucks lighter weight, because every time you save weight on the vehicle, not only does it improve fuel economy but it enables it to carry more load, and by doing that it reduces the cost of the products once it gets to the consumer.

Shawn: That's perfect, and we're all happy about that. Thank you very much.

Bill: Thank you.

Shawn: This is Shawn Wasserman with ENGINEERING.com, and this is..