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March 1, 2020 12:00 PM, EST

Meritor, Wabash Stay Focused on Now and When

John NelliganJohn Nelligan by Anneliese Mahoney/Transport Topics

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ATLANTA — Key executives from global commercial vehicle supplier Meritor Inc. and trailer manufacturer Wabash National Corp. said evolution and revolution are happening simultaneously in the trucking industry — and it is their job to keep track of both at once.

They made their comments during separate interviews with Transport Topics at American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance annual meeting in late February.

“We are having to make good decisions. We are spending more on research and development than we ever have before,” said John Nelligan, Meritor’s vice president of global sales and service, with the funds intended to evolve current products and develop new ones.

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“You really can’t pick one or the other. If you concentrate too much on the future, the customers today will be upset that you are not giving them what you need to. If you concentrate too much on today, you are taking a risk on your future,” Nelligan said.

During its fiscal 2020 first quarter ended Dec. 31, Meritor reported it introduced two electric powertrains, one electric suspension and seven core products.

In part, the focus was on fuel efficiency and reduced maintenance.

Meritor’s axles today are 4% more efficient compared with 10 years ago, he said, noting a half-percent gain in axle efficiency is worth $500 in fuel savings. 

Meritor also will be bringing out a lighter, single-piston air disc brake to “get them really competing with drum brakes a lot more” in linehaul operations, he said. Also with disc brakes, Nelligan said, “You don’t have to do as many pad changes in the life of it. You may have a better business case to put it on a trailer.”

At the same time, he envisions electrification taking hold in intracity distribution, with day cabs in shorter distance regional distribution and in port drayage applications.

He is optimistic, too, about longer range, more dramatic shifts such as oil companies funding electric-vehicle charging stations, or electric batteries that eventually can be composted safely once they reach the end of their useful life.

Closer yet is hydrogen that will power fuel cells on electric heavy-duty trucks, he said.

Nikola Corp. announced in 2018 that Meritor was its supplier of an advanced Class 8 independent suspension. Nikola intends to bring hydrogen commercial vehicles along with the necessary fueling infrastructure to market in 2023 — as well as heavy-duty, battery-electric trucks in 2021.

“Any time people start investing as much money as they are in this whole question there are breakthroughs. We will see change come faster,” Nelligan said.

At Wabash, the focus is on meeting demand for the many ways trailers are used to deliver freight and consumer goods.

Dustin Smith

Dustin Smith by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

“Our customers will continue to find better ways to serve the market in moving freight. And they continue to trust that Wabash is investing the right resources to find those solutions,” said Dustin Smith, group president of commercial trailer products for Wabash.

He pointed to a nearby medium-duty truck with a refrigerated truck body from Wabash on the TMC show floor.

“That is something Wabash wasn’t in the business of a year ago,” he said. The truck, an Isuzu NRR model, potentially could be used to support e-commerce and urban deliveries.

Also, Wabash’s DuraPlate HD dry van now features DuraPlate cell core technology. Its composite panel reduces trailer weight by 300 pounds per 53-foot trailer.

The move toward innovative products comes as trailer orders slid in 2019 compared with the all-time record level in 2018. They have started slow in 2020, too, at 15,000.

Smith said when it comes to electrification, “a lot of people are scrambling to get the right technology introduced.”

Wabash trailer with Carrier unit

Wabash trailer with Carrier unit by John Sommers II for Transport Topics.

Wabash also showed in its TMC exhibit space a 53-foot trailer with a refrigeration unit from Carrier Corp., which it ordered without the plug-in hybrid unit’s typical diesel engine. Instead, Wabash installed a module that consistently feeds electricity to the compressor from batteries installed under the trailer. As a result, the refrigeration unit, although on a trailer in motion, performs as if it is plugged in at a freight terminal because it is feeding off the battery pack.

Solar panels from eNow assist with charging during daylight hours, and shore power battery recharging occurs at night.

The trailer’s molded structural composite walls increased the thermal efficiency enough to lessen the number of required batteries.

Smith said the trailer would go into service shortly after the show.

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