Creature comforts: Driver needs are the focus of the latest cab and sleeper features from OEMs

Fleet Equipment

Mar 19, 2018

If the latest Class 8 on-highway models from truck manufacturers have one thing in common, it’s that the driver’s point of view was central to their design.   “We started with driver clinics several years before our new LT Series models were introduced,” says Jim Nachtman, product marketing director of on-highway trucks at International Trucks. “We interviewed hundreds of drivers and got their input on how they use our vehicles and about things like the location of controls and storage and sleeping areas.”   At International, driver centric design is driven by the OEM’s “DriverFirst” philosophy. “The initiative was inspired by drivers’ input gathered from clinics and studies of trends,” Nachtman relates. “It helps guide our engineers about the many touch points in a truck related to driver satisfaction as they create prototypes and finished vehicles.”   “When we set out to design new models, we collect recommendations and suggestions from drivers to develop new levels of comfort,” says Kurt Swihart, Kenworth’s marketing director. “Driver comfort through ergonomics, for example, drove the concept and development process for the T680. It helped optimize seat, steering wheel, dash layout, grab handles and side mirror positions.”   Every cab and sleeper design effort at Peterbilt focuses on driver needs, relates Wesley Slavin, the company’s on-highway marketing manager. “We develop a strong understanding of the driver comfort factor from driver interviews, product clinics and prototype testing and feedback,” he says. “It’s also not uncommon for the design team to spend time living in a truck to fully understand every aspect of driver comfort and to evaluate how drivers modify the interior of their trucks for additional insight into their comfort needs.”   Kelly Gedert, director of product marketing for Freightliner Trucks and Detroit, says the OEM has always focused on the driver experience. “Knowing that driver satisfaction is more critical than ever, we gathered feedback from customers to help steer the development of the new Cascadia,” she says. “In doing so, we created an environment for drivers that takes into consideration not only how they operate the vehicle, but also their lifestyle.”   “We relied on feedback from nearly 2,000 driver interviews to make sure the new VNL model aligned with drivers’ needs,” says Jason Spence, Volvo Trucks’ product marketing manager for long haul. “In addition, the chief interior designer of the new VNL model attended RV and boat shows for inspiration, and then went on the road, driving trucks, to see what worked and what didn’t. Going through the same steps drivers will led to a more comfortable, driver-friendly environment.”   Stu Russoli, highway product manager with Mack Trucks, says that understanding driver comfort was one of the key factors during recent efforts designing the driving and living environments in the company’s newest models. “Our design team surveyed drivers to learn their wants and needs and used that information to develop new interiors and sleeper environments,” he adds.  

Feature-rich products

  The Freightliner new Cascadia, according to Gedert, incorporates features that were identified by drivers as important to their comfort. Included are an ergonomically designed wraparound dashboard and steering wheel controls. Larger living and storage spaces are provided to accommodate appliances and there’s a flat screen TV swivel bracket.   There’s also space for drivers to prepare meals, and an additional four inches of vertical hanging space in the wardrobe cabinet. Customizable options are offered for a double bunk, Driver Loft or upper Cargo Shelf. The Driver Loft includes a dinette/work table and opposing seating that can be folded flat into a full-size bed.   The International LT Series, Nachtman points out, features interior ergonomic aspects such as rocker switches positioned by frequency of use. Ingress and egress in the new model are addressed with a lower outboard bottom step and upper steps configured like a staircase. Entry to the sleeper is facilitated by increased clearance between the seats. Sleepers feature hanging cabinet options, microwave hold downs and refrigerator options, TV brackets and windows that open, as well as extra vents to enhance airflow.   The Driver’s Studio available with the Kenworth T680, Swihart relates, is equipped with a 76-in. sleeper, and a 180-degree swivel passenger seat and swivel table option set, which maximizes living space. The Driver’s Studio also features a full-size wardrobe for hanging clothes, multiple storage drawers, and a large storage space under the lower bunk. For dining, the model has a drawer-style refrigerator and space for a microwave. Also included are a swivel mount for flat screen TVs and an 1800-watt inverter with 120-volt sleeper outlets to power a range of electrical devices.   According to Mack’s Russoli, the OEM designed the Anthem model with new interiors, including features like analog gauges with needles, laser-etched rocker switches and HVAC knobs that are within the driver’s reach. Mack also incorporated optional steering wheel controls for cruise control, radio and Bluetooth. In addition, a flat-bottom steering wheel was designed to provide extra belly room when driving and to give extra leg clearance when sliding into or out of the driver’s seat. In the sleeper, a floor-to-stand-up ceiling design complements comfort upgrades, including a higher-output HVAC system, a drawer style refrigerator, a flat screen TV mount and a microwave prep package. The sleepers are also offered with a wide array of cabinet and bunk options.   Peterbilt’s Slavin says that the Model 579 features a cab designed around the driver, with everything in reach. The dash display has large, easy-to-read, operation-critical gauges and a multi-function steering wheel has convenient access to cruise and audio controls. The Model 579 sleeper holds an 82-in. mattress and has a flat screen television mount on a swivel and overhead storage spaces.   According to Volvo’s Spence, new Volvo VNL models are offered with a line of four sleepers, including a 70-in. model, that feature cabinets opening toward the back for more space, a reclining bunk for watching TV or reading and a table. Other details include electrical outlets for the top bunk, various storage arrays, and a larger refrigerator. The sleepers also have airline-style window shades and a new telescoping ladder for the top bunk that swings into place. The Volvo VNL has a new dashboard, which puts often-used controls within the driver’s reach, and has the OEM’s smart steering wheel with controls for nearly all functions at a driver’s fingertips. The smart steering wheel is attached to Volvo’s Perfect Position air-assisted, infinitely adjustable steering column, which enables drivers to tilt the steering wheel relative to the steering column.   Western Star trucks are standard with more space between the seat and steering wheel for comfort, and with ample legroom, according to Samantha Parlier, the company’s vice president of marketing and product strategy. Western Star’s Constellation cab and Stratosphere sleepers offer a walk-through design with a flat floor. Comfort features in the Western Star 5700XE include extra room between the kick panel and the clutch pedal and suspended clutch and brake pedals so drivers can stretch out.   Sleeper models include extra-deep cabinets along the back wall with moveable shelves. Western Star also offers a modular cabinet system that can be designed by the driver and rearranged as needed. Also offered is the Bolt Dine-A-Bunk system, which allows the driver to convert the sleeper area into a lounge with a table and seating.   “Western Star builds trucks to address the specific needs of customers, based on their jobs and our knowledge of their challenges,” Parlier says. “We know what will keep drivers satisfied, and look for features that make the driver experience better at all levels.”   Universally, the OEMs relate that feedback from drivers was central to the design of their recently introduced products. In every case, they add, it’s a combination of many small things that add up to overall better comfort for drivers.
Nussbaum Transportation and Prime Inc., were named the Best Overall Fleet in their respective categories in the Truckload Carriers Associations’ 2019 Best Fleets to Drive For Contest.   Hudson, Illinois-based Nussbaum took top honors in the small carrier category and Springfield, Missouri-based Prime received the honor for the large carrier category. Prime and Nussbaum have both been named to the Best Fleets Top 20 multiple times, but are winning the overall award for the first time.   Nussbaum operates a fleet of 400 tractors, combining both high- and low-tech solutions to create a balance across its programs. The company scored high in several categories including having an industry leading scorecard and mobile app, a simple, effective driver outreach schedule and a formal career path and certification program.   Prime’s fleet includes 7,200 tractors, but was noted for maintaining a personal touch despite it’s size. The company hosts a variety of committees, social groups and educational offerings, providing contractors with a range of options for personal and professional development. New for this year, the company implemented a new program in partnership with Missouri Good Dads, to help drivers build and strengthen family connections while away on the road.   Both companies were also noted for their safety and retention numbers as well as satisfaction scores well above 90%.   “For several years, these fleets have been catching our eye with their range of creative programs,” said Jane Jazrawy, CarriersEdge chief executive officer. “Each year they continue to expand on those offerings, so it’s easy to see why their drivers speak so highly of them, and why they’re achieving such stellar results.”   Best Fleets to Drive For is an annual survey, now in its 11th year, that recognizes North American for-hire trucking companies that provide the best workplace experience for their drivers. To participate, fleets must be nominated by a company driver or independent contractor working with them, after which they are evaluated across a broad range of categories reflecting current best practices in human resources.   From the nominated fleets, the top 20 finishers are identified as the Best Fleets to Drive For and are then categorized according to size. The highest scoring fleet in each category is named the overall winner.   The Best Fleets to Drive For survey and contest is open to any fleet operating 10 or more trucks, regardless of TCA membership status. Nominated fleets are evaluated in areas such as: Driver compensation, pension and benefits, professional development, driver and community support, and safety record. The award is offered in partnership with CarriersEdge and is co-sponsored by DMC Insurance and EpicVue.   “Year after year, the overall winners are truly changing the game,” said John Lyboldt, TCA president. “It’s imperative that fleets establish driver-centric offerings which attract and retain a skilled workforce, while establishing programs that improve the work-life balance for their employees. Prime Inc. and Nussbaum Transportation have done just that. Congratulations to both winners on this well-deserved honor.”