Kenworth SuperTruck 2 is a conceptual 10-wheeler of the future

Modern automotive design makes more use of virtual reality every year, designers able to create and collaborate from far in 3D space. We’re wondering if American truck maker Kenworth took a different approach with its SuperTruck 2, the execs plugging engineers into virtual world playing Judge Dredd and Blade Runner 2049 on repeat with the instructions, “Give us a truck that fits in here.” And here you have it, the cyber-est of all Class 8 trucks, the latest product of the US Department of Energy’s public-private partnership to create more efficient freight haulers. Volvo, Daimler (which owns the Freightliner and Sterling brands), Navistar (International), Peterbilt and Kenworth (both owned by Paccar) signed on to the partnership, all but Kenworth having revealed their second-gen SuperTrucks over the past nine months, none of which have gone as far into the future as this one.

The goal for SuperTruck 1 was to achieve a 50% increase in freight efficiency compared to a 2009 baseline, the baseline in Kenworth’s case being a Kenworth T680 tractor, the goal for SuperTruck 2 another 50% improvement over the 2009 floor, for 100% in total. The term “freight efficiency” refers to freight-ton efficiency, a different metric than miles per gallon because it takes into account the weight of the truck; a lighter tractor-trailer can carry more weight before reaching the 80,000-pound legal maximum on most US highways.

Kenworth says it’s pulled off a 136% freight efficiency improvement compared to the 2009 T660. The achievement’s possible thanks to a 55.7% increase in engine efficiency from the Paccar MX-11 diesel mild hybrid and Paccar TX-12 automatic transmission, a 48% improvement in aero efficiency, and taking 7,100 pounds out of the tractor-trailer combination, allowing the combo to haul more weight. The company says the SuperTruck returns an average of 12.8 miles per gallon, a huge figure when truck fleet operators are ecstatic about just getting into the double digits.

Digging further, those advances come from the tech like the 48-volt mild hybrid system. The motor-generator drives ancillaries like the engine fan, power steering, HVAC pumps, and exhaust heater; Kenworth says the engine fan alone can drain 80 engine horsepower. Chassis rails that splay at the front put the engine lower between the rails and entirely behind the front axle, enabling an even lower front end than on the T680. Instead of mounting the hood and fairings to the chassis, they’re mounted to the cab, moving as one unit. Because Kenworth designed a trailer as part of the package, the air suspension raises and lowers the combination to reduce drag. The parabolic windshield and digital mirrors erase a huge amount of drag around the cab. Using 10 tires with lower rolling resistance, instead of the familiar 18 tires, reduces fuel use and allowed for a smaller, 80-gallon fuel tank.

Inside, there are lots of Tesla Semi vibes, from the central seating position fronted by a 15-inch screen. Kenworth moved the doors up by the driver, though, and because this is an over-the-road truck as opposed to the Semi’s daily delivery variant, the sleeper features novelties like a dinette area with a rotating table and a Murphy bed. Plus, when the driver shuts down, a lithium-ion battery charged by regenerative braking supplies overnight power needs.

The flip side of Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 is the question of how much can be commercialized and how soon. Although it doesn’t look like much would make it to the road any time soon, the company says it took production into account, resulting in “a systematic approach to developing futuristic yet relevant vehicles with technologies that have the potential to be refined and commercialized “