Kenworth showcases its futuristic SuperTruck 2

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Updated May 24, 2024

Cab of Kenworth's SuperTruck 2The truck's aerodynamic design was enabled in part by the location of the powertrain, which fits between the frame rails. This also allowed the engine to be lowered and placed behind the front axle.One of the more unique trucks at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Las Vegas – a showcase of dozens of unique trucks – is Kenworth's SuperTruck 2, a joint investment by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) and Paccar.

Developed over a six-year period, Kenworth engineers leaned into a proven technology (diesel fuel) to power its futuristic concept. 

Kenworth General Manager Jim Walenczak said the goal was a 100% freight efficiency improvement over a 2009 Kenworth T660, one of the most fuel-efficient trucks of its time. The company exceeded that mark with an efficiency bump of 136% through a combination of improving fuel efficiency up to 12.8 mpg while reducing combination weight by more than 7,000 pounds. The result, he said, was the ability to haul more payload with an ultra-fuel-efficient tractor-trailer combination.

Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 is powered by a Paccar MX-11 engine rated at 440 hp and a TX-12 automated transmission. In addition, the truck features a 48-volt electric generator, creating a mild hybrid system, and leverages next generation lithium-ion batteries – batteries that are recharged through regenerative braking. This allows Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 to operate electric fans, electric steering, and power for electric coolant and HVAC pumps, which were previously mechanically driven. The hybrid system also provides an overnight engine-off hotel solution. In addition, the 48V generator powers the exhaust heater in the in-house developed close coupled aftertreatment system, which demonstrated CARB 2027 ultra-low NOx compliancy.

The mild hybrid based 48-volt auxiliaries and energy waste recovery gave the MX-11 a 55.7% engine efficiency, while a traditional modern diesel engine demonstrates around 47% efficiency – an improvement Maarten Meijer, Paccar senior engineering manager for advanced technology, called "a major step forward. To put that efficiency number into perspective, if this engine were to go into production, it would lead to a 10% fuel efficiency improvement. That’s an astonishing number.”

Inside the cab of Kenworth's SuperTruck 2The unique look of Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 features a “center driver” cab, along with a new sleeper compartment.

The aerodynamic design was enabled in part by the location of the powertrain, which fits between the frame rails. This also allowed the engine to be lowered and placed behind the front axle.  A reverse-splayed chassis allowed the engineering team to narrow the front of the truck and fully enclose the wheels within the bodywork. The entire hood and the chassis fairings were mounted directly to the cab, and they move with the entire cab as one unit.

A variable suspension system was developed to customize ride height and optimize aerodynamics -- Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 can be raised over rough roads to avoid obstacles, then brought back down when running over smoother interstates. A parabolic windshield not only improves visibility, it also smooths airflow.

Kenworth also eliminated physical mirrors altogether, further minimizing drag. The integrated digital mirror system enables enhanced rearview monitoring, with trailer tracking capability and night vision enhancements, technology currently available in Kenworth T680 models. The entire package results in a 48% reduction in drag as compared to Kenworth’s baseline truck. 

The combination tips the scales at 26,100 pounds – 7,100 pounds less than a typical tractor-trailer configuration (4,100-pound savings on the tractor; 3,000 on the trailer). New concept tires weighed 355 pounds less than similar tires currently on the market, and those tires also had an extremely low rolling resistance – measuring 4.2 on the CRR scale versus 5.0 for typical high-efficiency tires.

Less fuel was required with the more fuel-efficient powertrain, allowing Kenworth to bolt on a smaller 80-gallon fuel tank to go the same distance.

Designers were also careful to keep driver comfort in mind with a unique sleeper berth that features a bed that folds down over the sofa, providing a separate sleeping and sitting area. A tabletop rotates down while sitting on the sofa, allowing drivers to eat or work, then move the table to a different location without moving anything off the tabletop.

Kenworth SuperTruck 2 ground clearanceA variable suspension system was developed to customize ride height and optimize aerodynamics. Kenworth’s SuperTruck 2 can be raised over rough roads to avoid obstacles, then brought back down when running over smoother interstates. Combined, the sleekness means a 48% reduction in drag as compared to Kenworth’s baseline vehicle.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]. 
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