International Truck Stop - Now stretch and relax

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Photo: This shot shows just how much longer (1.3m) the eXc cab was compared with a regular Topline 4-Series.

Europe’s long-haul truck drivers deserve bigger bedrooms. But their living room remains firmly fixed due to EU length laws, despite past attempts by truck makers to offer longer cabs.

Sixteen years ago Scania launched “The ultimate long- haulage machine” – their words. Unveiled at the 2002 Hanover Truck Show, their eXc concept tractor was based on a regular 4-Series cabover R Topline sleeper, but stretched an extra 1.3m behind the doors. Everything forward of the B-post was a normal 4-Series cabin, while behind it was a cavernous living room.

The eXc (the initials stood for ‘extended cab’) was the result of talks Scania had with drivers who slept at least four nights a week in their trucks. Speaking at the time, eXc project manager Johan Lundén declared: “These meetings showed that there is a gap between how drivers live in their vehicles today and how they would ideally like to live.” He then added, “Today’s Length restrictions resulting in relatively short cabs are the main constraint on improved comfort...The aim of the new [eXc] cab environment is to give the driver a better chance for rest and recreation between shifts behind the wheel, thus promoting active safety.”

What eXc certainly did was to finally offer European long- haul drivers, who regularly sleep in a box measuring 2.50 x 2.25 x 2.2m (or less), the kind of overnight space they could only dream pun intended. Unfortunately, the one problem with an eXc was that it couldn’t couple up to a standard 13.6m semi-trailer and still stay within the European Union 16.5m maximum length limit for artic combinations. Undeterred by that major stumbling block, and presumably hoping eXc had created sufficient interest to prompt Brussels’ bureaucrats to revisit artic length rules, a year later Scania put it into limited production, launching it on to the market as the Longline. Offered exclusively with its then most-powerful 580hp V8 engine, Longline debuted at the 2003 Amsterdam truck show where it promptly stole the show. After all, there was nothing else like it.

Photo: Longline attracted plenty of media interest at its official launch at the 2003 Amsterdam truck show.

Photo: Opposite side from the bed including armchair, washstand with sink, and extra cupboards.

Photo: The Longline bed featured a 2000 x 900mm sprung mattress, ensuring a great night’s sleep.

A unique Longline feature (as with the eXc before it) was the fact that its main 900 x 2000mm sprung mattress bed was located in-line along the extended side wall, and not across the rear wall as in a conventional sleeper cab. Being permanently fixed in place you didn’t need to un-make the bed during the day either. On the opposite side of the cab there was a separate armchair and foldaway table, while the rear wall contained a microwave, fridge and coffee maker – interspersed with acres of locker space scattered throughout the Longline’s elongated living area. At night you could watch a flat-screen TV (with DVD player) or listen to a powerful sound system. Yes sir, Longline had everything including the kitchen sink – actually a washstand with sink and running water, but you get the idea.

To keep you cosy Longline had extra insulation, while side windows behind the driver and passenger doors and dual, glazed roof hatches let extra daylight into the living area. Finally, to handle the greater cab volume, the heating and air- conditioning were also upgraded. I’ve slept in both eXc and Longline, and they were two of the best night-outs I’ve had in a European sleeper. The space inside was amazing, while the level of comfort was way beyond anything then available on the market. Yet once you were sat behind the wheel the Longline driving compartment was no different from any other 4-Series Topline tractor. It was only when you parked up, stood up straight (yes, you heard it right) turned and walked back into Longline’s 2.3m high bedroom/living room that you realised how things should be. I drove an eXc in Sweden with a regular trailer soon after it was launched, and Longline a year later in Germany with special dispensation to run at 17.74m, rather than the normal 16.5m. On the road you naturally had to allow for the trailer’s slightly greater cut-in on corners – and also remember you had a longer rig when backing into a parking space – but basically it was just another day in the V8 Topline office.

Sadly, despite all the positive press coverage on the two stretched Scanias, Brussels refused to budge on 16.5m. So unless they were prepared to run with a shorter trailer, Longline was never going to be on the shopping list of the average fleet haulier. After fulfilling its promise to build 50, Scania quietly dropped Longline in 2004 when the 4-Series’ successor, the R-Series, arrived. So is that the end of the Longline story? Actually no, because a number of specialist convertors in Holland have continued to build extended Scanias a la Longline based on the R-Series – and my guess is that it’s only a matter of time before they try doing it on a New Generation cab too. So the Longline concept, if not from the factory, definitely lives on.

Photo: Norwegian FH16 XXL demonstrator had a kangaroo logo on the side to show its heritage;

Photo: Latest stretched Aussie XXL Concept Cab broke cover at the 2017 Brisbane Truck Show; 

Photo: Latest Aussie XXL Concept offers superior sleeping space with a bigger bunk compared with a regular XL.

Volvo also flirted with extended sleepers in Europe. For a brief time from 2009, its FH Globetrotter XXL cab, originally developed for the Australian market and stretched by a more modest 245mm, was sold up here. The main target market was Norway (which has a longer 17.5m artic length limit) so hitching it up to a 13.6m trailer wasn’t a problem. Admittedly it sold in modest numbers – some XXLs were even sold to UK operators running with short tank trailers – but once again it highlighted the attractions of a longer cab. While XXL had the same roof height as a standard XL Globetrotter, its extra 1.5m3 inside permitted a full metre-wide sprung mattress bottom bed, compared with the XL’s 850mm wide bunk. I drove an XXL- cabbed FH16.700 in Norway (where they only sold it with the 16-litre lump) and once again it was a non-event, there being little difference in handling from a normal 16.5m combination, though I certainly appreciated the wider bed at night.

As many New Zealand Trucking magazine readers will know, the Aussie Globetrotter XXL cab was phased out down-under when the current FH range (with its new cab) arrived in 2012. People tell me it’s been sorely missed. But hark! There’s good news for antipodean COE tractor operators. At last May’s Brisbane Truck Show Volvo Trucks Australia unveiled a new FH XXL Concept Cab some 200mm longer than the current XL sleeper. Speaking at the launch, VGA vice president Volvo Trucks Australia Mitch Peden declared: “Showcasing the FH XXL cab signals our intention to bring this project to commercial reality.” How long before that happens I can’t say, but it’s definitely a case of watch this (enlarged) space.

Meanwhile, if length rules mean you can’t build ‘em longer, one way to squeeze a quart into a pint pot is to have a ‘pop-out’ sleeper extension. Back in 2000 DAF claimed a “Breakthrough in cab design” with its Xtreme Future Concept tractor that featured a slide-out rear extension from the cab. However, years later the folks in Eindhoven told me that the concept raised a number of engineering issues, not least dealing with a large aperture in the rear cab wall to accommodate the slide-out pod. “From the point of view of cab strength, we don’t see chances for the slide-out cab extensions in the short- run. These will need totally different new cab reinforcements.” Iveco also considered pop-out sleeper pods – it being one of the ideas that came out of the Glider project, its stunning concept tractor shown at the 2010 Hanover show. But again,nothing came of it.

As far as we know no one’s offering a pop-out extension on a European sleeper. That’s not to say you can’t get one. Over in the States, Lippert Components, a leading supplier to the truck, emergency vehicle, trailer, RV and marine industries, has developed its own extending rear pod called the Super Slide In-Wall Slide-Out system for US Class 8 trucks that adds an impressive extra 16 cubic feet when deployed. And closer to home (that’s yours, not mine) visitors to the 2015 Brisbane Truck Show would have spotted an Aussie-spec International ProStar tractor featuring a neat slide-out rear ‘kitchenette’ extension (rather than a bed) consisting of a fridge, coffee maker, microwave and extra storage cupboards. However, once again the show tractor was designed primarily as a concept for the truck show – not least to help draw attention to the reintroduction of the International brand in Oz, as well as to gauge the level of interest in the slide-out feature. So far it’s not warranted further development.

Photo: Aussie spec International ProStar concept tractor with its extending kitchenette pod at 2015 Brisbane Truck Show.

If pop-out sleepers were to be tried in Europe, the fact that our artic combinations tend to be closely coupled (not least to stay within the overall 16.5m limit) means you’d probably have to unhitch the trailer at night in order to use one, then pull it back in the next morning before coupling up again and hitting the road. I’m not sure how many drivers would want to do that. So until Brussels significantly relents on artic lengths, no truck maker is going to build a low-volume, niche market, stretched sleeper that can’t be used with a normal trailer. The goal is to build lots of normal length sleeper cab tractors that meet the mass-market (and regulatory) needs of as many EU countries as possible.

Ironically, the European Commission IS planning to relax artic length laws – by some 80cm – but it’s to accommodate a so-called ‘aero-nose’ on a tractor to improve fuel consumption, cut CO2 emissions, and also give drivers better all-round vision and provide an improved collision impact zone. Tantalisingly, within the EU proposals are two specific references that “...the potential gain in the volume of the cab should improve the driver’s safety and comfort”, while adding, “The revision of Directive 96/53/EC [the EU rule covering vehicle weights and dimensions] does indeed provide the possibility for manufacturers to extend the cab space for drivers when elongating cabins.” To put it frankly, I can’t see drivers being at the head of the queue when it comes enjoying an extra 80cm. Moreover, as aero-cabs aren’t likely to appear on European roads much before 2022, if not later, and when they do they won’t be mandatory, I’m not optimistic we’ll see bigger sleeper cabs in Europe for a long, long, long time.