TEST DRIVE: Harmony inside Swedish steel
THE New Truck Generation launch for Scania is a major step forward.
While there is no revolutionary advances in aesthetics and ergonomics, the matching of driver with all aspects of the truck through advanced Artificial Intelligence has produced a truck that works intelligently with the driver without telling him or her what to do.
The matching of truck and driver has the harmony of a symphony.
For Scania, the Australian launch of the New Generation series of trucks is company's biggest outing for a decade or more so little wonder Sydney was regaled with all the Swedish bunting, flags and razzamatazz a week ago.
The Scania event will also be (unless one of the other manufacturers have a well-kept secret up their corporate sleeve) the major launch of all things truck in Australia for 2018.
The New Gen Scanias are far more than a fiddle with a few specs and minor evolutionary changes.
An investment of AU$3 billion and 12 million kilometres test driving over a 10 year development period has produced a truck that looks to the future and satisfies the needs of today.
I swing into the cab of the six cylinder G500 after doing a bit of a wander around the trailers, counting the wheels and all that stuff you do before you take off on a run.
The truck and B-double set of Freighter curtain- sider trailers grosses 56 tonne.
I ask Alan McDonald, long time Scania driver-trainer and my minder on this leg, to go easy on the info overload until I settle into the truck, sort out how the trailers are running and get a feel for the outfit as we drive through the traffic of the industrial suburb Preston.
Stylistically the design of the new truck seems to me to be a little retro, almost reminiscent of art deco invoking memories of those large wireless sets of the 50s.
But this is a highly stylised cab with the dignity of the European tradition.
When you step into the driver's seat you are wrapped in another world, an ergonomic, high-tech environment with a combination of digital and electronic interfaces all designed for a harmonious interface between truck and driver. And the harmony absolutely sings.
G500 Liverpool to Gundagai
Driving the Hume.
Four lanes all the way to Melbourne, and half an hour down the Hume, I look across at Alan McDonald and say "Okay, take me through the cruise control.”
"Easy peasy,” he says and talks me through.
Click the button on the bottom instrument bar of the steering wheel and click up the toggle and we are in cruise control, simple as that.
We're doing 96km/h so click-click up to 100 and road speed gradually increases to that limit. The resume memory works through shutdowns as well as cancellations.
On the right-hand side of the instrument bar across the bottom of the steering wheel is a similar switch, the downhill speed control. Click that on and automatically the read-out on the seven-inch monitor in front of the driver displays that the cruise control is set for 100km/h and down-hill speed retardation at 105 km/h.
On the right-hand side I click back to make a down- hill ratio of 100-103 km/h.
And it works, like a dream, so easy.
Before applying the auto downhill retardation, a jab of the brakes would disengage cruise control and you pull the retarder on by pulling down the right hand wand.
A suitable agreeable growl as the R4100 retarder holds the truck in descent.
With the auto descent retardation operating, the truck automatically handles most long descents, automatically switching on retardation holding the road speed at 100km/h, occasionally sneaking up to 101-102 for short periods.
On steeper declines, with a finger, click back the speed on the main cruise control to under 90km/h and the downhill limiter pumps the retardation horsepower in proportion to the descent, the retarder growls and a safe speed is maintained.
This is fingertip driving, feet become superfluous.
You could drive from Sydney to Melbourne using only your left index finger.
After a while I was counting the clicks. Into a steep decline a dozen clicks down and the retarder growls holding the truck back.
Coming into the dip at the bottom of the drop, you click the dozen clicks back up and you're away and the truck is pulling up the incline.
As the truck approaches a crest, another strange event happens. The revs are coming back, being an automated transmission you expect it to drop a gear even though you would let it lug over the crest in manual.
But it doesn't change, lets the engine lug back to under 1000 rpm for a few seconds before rolling over the crest, with the Opticruise mimicking driver best practice. How did it know the crest was close? you ask yourself.
Apparently the truck does know the crest is close, using a combination of on-board smarts and what Scania calls 'Active Prediction Operational Interface'.
The truck, with no input from the driver, is chatting away to satellites and mapping systems calculating altitudes and estimates how far to the crest make gear-shifting decisions.
This truck is intelligent.
No ifs and buts. Artificial intelligence it may have, but the truck knew as much about driving the Hume as I did and I am absolutely sure did a better job of selecting the correct gears for fuel economy all the way.
I wheel through Marulan following the go-this-way-go-that-way signs and grab a cuppa at the road house.
Back on the road and settling in for a drive.
The comfort levels and the driving ability of this truck is quite amazing, it is a revolutionary step forward.
Perhaps too easy for inexperienced drivers and when I make this point to McDonald, he answers with a knowing nod of the head, as though he has some stories with other drivers that he was not about to relate to me.
On down the Hume, we headed to Gundagai where I stepped out of the G500 and into the NTG V8 R620 so that I might draw a comparison between the two new trucks.
The full road test on Scania's 620 horsepower big banger will be in the next issue of Big Rigs.