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The Future of Diesel Trucks: No Tranny, No Problem

 
Posted October 3 2006 10:22 AM by Edward A. Sanchez 
Filed under: What's New, Trend Observations, Just the big trucks

2007 Chevy Silverado HD

It seems there's a never ending power and torque race in Detroit among the Big Three with their 3/4 and 1-ton trucks. A decade ago, 420 lb./ft. was considered competitive and substantial. Today, a 3/4-1-ton with that torque rating would be a joke. Heck, even if they offered a half-ton diesel, that would just barely be the price of entry.


The current high-water mark for factory torque now stands at 660 lb./ft. with GM's new LMM Duramax. With some aftermarket upgrades, torque figures of more than 1,000 lb./ft. are not unheard of, and are even becoming somewhat common in aftermarket circles. The limiting factor in the diesel power race isn't so much the engine's potential for power production, but rather the transmission and drivetrain's ability to handle these copious amounts of power. It seems like we're rapidly approaching the 700 lb./ft. mark, and 800 lb./ft. is probably not far behind.  At what point will the transmissions have to be so bulky and heavy to handle the ever-increasing outputs, that the OEs will have to stop and completely re-think their diesel truck drivetrain strategy?

What I'm about to predict and propose is controversial and radical, I admit it. However, I don't think it's all that far-fetched, and in fact, the basic technology has been around for decades, albeit not in conventional automobiles. My prediction is that heavy-duty diesel trucks 10 years from now may not even have transmissions or drivetrains at all, the way we currently think of them.

What would you think of trucks that could put down close to 2,000 lb./ft. to the wheels at 0 rpm (talk about low-end torque!) Be super smooth and quiet, and the shifts would be so smooth, you couldn't even tell. In fact, the transmissions would be shiftless. Actually, there would be no transmission in the conventional sense. So, in sum, massive amounts of smooth, seamless power. Yes, they'd still be diesels, but of a whole different breed.

What I'm talking about is a diesel-electric drivetrain. Call it a hybrid if you will, but this one would be a little different. The diesel engine would run at a near-constant speed, with some variation for load and power demands. Diesels achieve their greatest efficiency at a near-constant load and speed. The engine would essentially act as a generator for two or four electric motors, one mounted in each wheel. To the average truck enthusiast, this probably sounds like un-American, commie-sympathizer talk.

But what could be more All-American than a good ol' diesel locomotive? Well, that's where this technology is from. The loads hauled by those big boys makes anything towed by pickups pale in comparison. Granted, you couldn't stuff a 186-liter (that's 11,360 cubic inches, for you traditionalists) V-16 diesel under the hood of a Silverado, or the correspondingly gargantuan electric motors under the chassis, but considering the scale of the loads they'd need to haul, you wouldn't have to.     

For decades, GM's Electro-Motive division was, and still is the industry leader in locomotive technology. It was only recently spun off from GM in 2005. Even so, it would be exciting and indeed revolutionary for these two giants to join forces on creating the diesel truck of the future. Maybe I'm just a madman babbling to myself, but if this is the future of diesel trucks, I say bring it on! I can't wait to see the 2020 Silverado HD Diesels!  



1 comments
idahobuckaroo
idahobuckaroo

A diesel-electric drivetrain with smooth shifts, really?  No thanks.  I agree the GM Electro-Motive division is impressve when your talking about trains, but who wants a train?  Not me, I'll fight to keep my Dodge Cummins going strong as long as I live. 

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