Active Chassis Control Technologies

Safety technologies like driver information and warning systems that were discussed in my previous column are driver-in-the-loop type safety systems, which inform and warn the driver of an impending safety risk. While these are considered evolutionary technologies for augmenting and enhancing the safety of heavy-trucks, the truly revolutionary safety technologies called active chassis control systems assist the driver by actively controlling the chassis systems to elevate the safety value of the host trucks.

Active chassis control systems reduce the burden on the driver by proactively and actively detecting impending instabilities and taking corrective actions to bring the vehicle towards stability. These systems require little driver training but can act as a driver retention tool in a market that until recently was facing severe driver shortage. Moreover, these systems are built upon sensors and actuators that are standardized and have been tested and validated through extensive automotive applications.

Of all the emerging active chassis control systems, electronic stability control and automatic collision mitigation systems offer the highest degree of safety benefits. The common thread linking these two technologies is the integration of safety technologies that offer multi-dimensional safety benefits at a cost that is lower than the incremental cost of adding the constituent safety technologies.

An ESC system, such as the one being offered by Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, LLC, can significantly enhance a truck’s stability while accelerating, cornering, and braking, thereby enhancing the yaw, roll, and longitudinal stability of the vehicle. It automatically corrects oversteer and understeer to keep the truck on the road and avoid tripped-up rollover accidents. Automatic collision mitigating systems, such as the On-Guard system offered by Meritor WABCO, integrate disparate safety technologies such as adaptive cruise control and stability control systems featuring active braking. The net value proposition to the fleets is the availability of a comprehensive safety system that offers protection from multiple vehicular instabilities. Both market participants in the active chassis control systems market will experience higher levels of penetration and opportunities to augment the value proposition of these advanced safety technologies.

Electronic braking systems, which are already installed in heavy-trucks in Europe, are not expected to be introduced in North America until 2013. The robustness and scalability of the ABS technology platform and its applicability to offer a solid foundation for several active chassis control systems at a much lower cost than electronic braking systems will prevent the speedier introduction of electronic braking technology.

Frost & Sullivan recently published a study titled: North American Fleet Managers Desirability and Willingness to Pay for Advanced Heavy-Truck Technologies. This study focuses on the managers of the largest for-hire and private Class 6-8 truck fleets involved in both on-highway and vocational applications. The findings from this research indicates that the advanced active chassis control systems are increasingly figuring in the wish-lists of North American fleet managers. This creates the need for amassment of the key skills and resources required to maintain and service these advanced safety technologies that hold the potential of greatly enhancing mobile resource safety and uptime.