Enough with heavy truck cab interior comfort and convenience

North American truck makers have stepped up activities around cabin-centered technologies in recent years with a special focus on superior driver comfort and convenience features, safety technologies and infotainment. Their focus now is to provide a personalized driving experience - a combination of advanced human machine interface (HMI), driving assistance systems and seamless connectivity using telematics.

The rising driver shortage, increasing average age of drivers and general driver awareness on health, wellness and well-being are necessitating innovations in cabin-focused styling. Truck cabins will need to feature more driver-friendly features, as the opinion of drivers will become more critical in influencing truck purchase decisions.

Cabin Design Objectives

With the rapid increase in device count in truck cabins and the increase in distributed electronics, the development of robust multiplexed electrical and electronic architecture is important. This, along with enhanced intuitiveness in the HMI to reduce driver distraction and elevate driver performance, has become an important cabin-styling objective for leading American heavy truck OEMs.

In a highly competitive flat-world global truck market, OEMs are expected to leverage product differentiation by offering comfort and convenience in cabins to garner market share and increase revenue. Frost and Sullivan’s latest research indicates strong growth potential for larger cabins, especially in high-roof sleeper cabs and broader low-entry day cabs.

Improved ergonomics and the introduction of connectivity-driven safety technologies, such as vehicle to vehicle (V2V) and critical event alert through telematics, are key developments expected from Daimler, Volvo, Navistar and Paccar.

Frost & Sullivan research on cabin design features shows that the gap between OEMs is rapidly shrinking in terms of basic comfort, convenience and entertainment features.

More Inexperienced Drivers

The continuing driver shortage is expected to lead to the recruitment of a larger number of inexperienced drivers. This will result in the greater dependency of truck drivers on advanced safety systems, which makes it crucial to develop a driver-friendly human machine interface.

More fleets are expected to adopt telematics services, especially as they observe these intangible benefits adding value to their customer satisfaction.

The market penetration of telematics and connectivity technologies in new heavy duty trucks is forecast to reach 40 to 50 percent by 2018.

The proliferation of connectivity technologies is expected to escalate cabin design challenges for truck OEMs, as space constraints in the dashboard present a key design hurdle. With the increase in the number of devices in cabins, driver distraction is expected to be a key concern.

The capability to be a data input, as well as an output device, is making touchscreen an integral part of future cabins. The multi-screen capability will allow easy navigation between screens displaying routes and maps, camera outputs, delivery invoices, delivery schedules, e-mails and messages, prognostic and preventive maintenance information, entertainment videos and Internet browsing, to name a few.

Multi-function steering wheels are expected to receive a design facelift, as the number of systems and devices to be controlled while on-road is predicted to increase.

Personal Devices and Apps

Key developments are expected in integration of personal devices, such as smartphones and tablets, with onboard devices.

These will create a personalized driving experience, as drivers would be able to access and control the systems in the cabin, including entertainment, air conditioning, central locking, lighting and cargo temperature and also be able to communicate with their family, friends, fleet management and customers.

The development of branded apps can bring in a new revenue stream for OEMs.

Electrical and Electronic Architecture

With nearly every system in the truck getting encompassed by electronics and sensors, the current electrical and electronic architecture needs to be upgraded to handle the increased need for energy and be prepared to handle the new devices added during the product’s lifetime.

The cost involved for OEMs in independently developing software and hardware would be high and require longer product development time. This is likely to impact product pricing, as cost of ownership would be higher to compensate for the amount spent on research and development.

In addition, popular third-party apps running on personal devices will need to synchronize with onboard devices.

To handle this, OEMs will need to make their software compatible and open source to create interest among individual app developers, which consequently, will generate excitement for the product and appeal among drivers.

A common protocol or standard is a logical solution towards reducing product development lead-time and cost. Also, a single standard will provide a clearer roadmap for Tier-1 suppliers as onboard devices and app development are the core competency of suppliers.

Similarly, a common multiplexed electrical and electronic architecture running on an open software platform is foreseen, developed in cooperation between major European OEMs, critical technology developers and giants from the Silicon Valley, such as Google Maps for navigation. This unique partnership is anticipated to provide a platform for future innovations to be added easily, as plug-and-play features.

All of this implies that proliferation of electronics in cabins will increase exponentially over the next five to 10 years, requiring electronics-focused service and maintenance of cabin systems.

That begs the question: Are the maintenance managers ready for this?

Wallace Lau is a research analyst within Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive & Transportation business commercial vehicle research department. Frost & Sullivan provides in-depth research and best-practice models to drive the generation, evaluation and implementation of powerful growth strategies for a broad range of industries. www.frost.com.