Rocky Mountain Trucking LLC

Truck test drives were among the scads of fun things zapped by COVID in 2020 and 2021, but 2022 saw the good times rolling once again. 

There were some cool drive opportunities for sure in those pandemic years, and some cool product launches too, but it’s hard to social distance in a truck cab and just traveling to the truck was a nightmare (and in some cases impossible). The result was that I had to keep my CDL in my pocket more often than not, which meant more keyboard time. Booo…

Thank goodness for 2022’s return to some version of normalcy. Below are the test drive opportunities CCJ had this year, including some new and some refreshed products, a few electric and a few autonomous technology platforms. 

Going ‘driverless’ with Plus

Disclaimer: I actually drove this truck in late 2021 but it was 2022 before I had the chance to write and publish the recap. 

Plus is one of any number of autonomous trucking tech companies battling for elbow room at the table in a future of automated trucks.

Armed with a suite of sensors, the company’s first commercial driver assist platform, PlusDrive, is far from a “driverless” tool, rather an added co-pilot layer of safety technologies.

I took a turn at captaining the autonomous ship –  a PlusDrive-equipped Peterbilt – around Nashville, Tennessee.

Hyliion Hypertruck ERX

CCJ‘s Senior Editor Tom Quimby this Spring got some time with Hyliion’s Hypertruck ERX near its headquarters in Cedar Park, Texas. 

The Hyliion Hypertruck ERX is an electric range extender semi-truck powertrain solution using onboard power generation to recharge the batteries.

Hyzon fuel cell truck impresses with power and zero emissions

Another alt fuel truck recap from Tom; Hyzon announced last August that the drayage fuel cell truck, built on a 2022 Freightliner Cascadia chassis, would be the first zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) that Total Transportation Services would be operating with up to a 400-mile range. 

Peterbilt Model 536 with Cummins L9N natural gas engine

Hold your horses battery electric, natural gas still has a few things to say about emission reduction. Peterbilt offers two natural gas powertrain options in its medium-duty line: the Cummins B6.7N (as of March this year) and the L9N. My test truck was outfitted with the in-line six cylinder, spark-ignited, L9N for the horsepower bump. The B6.7N is rated for 200 to 240 hp and 520-560 lb-ft torque, compared to the L9N’s 250 to 320 hp and 660 to 1000 lb-ft torque. My truck was spec’d to 300 hp at 2,100 RPM and 860 lb-ft torque at 1300. 

Inside, the natural gas version of the Pete Model 536 looks just like the diesel version – mostly. The cab featured a methane detection system (natural gas engines emit unburned methane because catalytic converters operate less efficiently at low temperature). Otherwise, it’s the same. 

Watch: Test drive with Peterbilt’s Natural Gas Model 536

Peterbilt’s refreshed Model 579

When Peterbilt debuted its refreshed Model 579 last year it marked a fairly significant revamp – at least for Paccar, which has historically favored small refinements over full-blown reinvention. 

When the Model 579 burst onto the scene a decade ago, it was a signal that Peterbilt – one of the on-highway OGs – understood that fleets’ appetites for trucks were changing. The new (or updated) 579 manages to be both a new age tractor and old-school cool. 

Watch: More driving and details on Peterbilt’s new Model 579

Western Star’s 57X

Western Star last year shelved its aero tractor 5700XE after just a six-year run, and this year trotted out its replacement. The 57X comes loaded with heavy doses of technology – something seemingly at odds with the business models of the two groups Western Star hopes to capture. Small trucking companies and independents are the principal buyers of used equipment and often shun newer technologies, largely writing them off as gimmicky expensive gadgets for “steering wheel holders.” 

Watch: Ride along in Western Star’s new 57X

Kenworth’s W990 equipped with new 18-speed AMT

Paccar’s new TX-18 and TX-18 Pro transmissions show just how far AMTs have come, the most noticeable growth spurt being how smooth software-controlled shifting has become in a big rig—in this case, the Kenworth W990. Tom got some time with the models in Washington. 

Watch: Kenworth’s chief engineer on new TX-18 transmission and all-electric trucks

International LT gets next-gen update, new global powertrain

International’s on-highway flagship, the LT Series, is getting its first significant design tweak since its 2016 debut. The LT Series can be spec’d with the new International S13 Integrated Powertrain – a package that includes a 13-liter engine built from the 12.7-liter Scania Super 13 and a 14-speed transmission that has a high degree of commonality with Scania’s Opticruise. But the T14 obviously gets unique hardware and software calibrations specific for the North American market.

Freightliner revamps its M2 and SD models

Freightliner next year will roll out its new Plus Series – enhanced versions of its M2 and SD models, including the M2 106 Plus, M2 112 Plus, 108SD Plus and 114SD Plus. The M2 debuted in 2002 as a replacement to the FL Series and the SD followed in 2014. In the years since, the workhorse models have avoided noticeable design overhauls, and from the outside the Plus series doesn’t really look like a redesign/update has taken place at all. 

Watch: Freightliner preps enhancements for its M2, SD models

All-electric Kenworth T680E delivers a smooth, powerful ride

The T680E maxes out at 670 hp, while the conventional T680 equipped with a Paccar MX-13 12.9-liter diesel delivers up to 510 horses. The diesel-powered T680 does crank up to 1,850 lb.-ft. torque at the wheels while the all-electric version maxes out at 1,632 lb.-ft. Tom recalls being impressed with the power and ride quality. 

Driving recap of Volvo’s VNR Electric

I was able to get behind the wheel of Volvo’s zero emission VNR Electric for the second time since Volvo started taking orders for the unit in late 2020. This video includes a detailed breakdown on how you can tell the truck is ready to move in the absence of the familiar sound of a running diesel engine. 

Torc Robotics autonomous truck: safe, impressive and mostly boring

Torc Robotics autonomous truck is boring — and that’s the way they like it. In other words, the sensor- and camera-adorned truck had no issues taking a 78,000 lb. load on a nearly hour-long round trip to a pretend hub location, which required negotiating bustling traffic along two highways and surface streets. Tom experienced all the tech in play from inside the cab; just not the driver’s seat. 

Watch: Jacobs demonstrates cylinder deactivation and active decompression technology

Jacobs Vehicle Systems provided Tom with a closer look at how Cylinder Deactivation (CDA) and Active Decompression Technology (ADT) improves emissions, fuel economy and driver comfort in an International LT625.