Some of the world’s best truck journalism comes out of India, and while it rarely contains a direct North American angle, I do take note of what they write over there. I know some of the Indian motor noters, and we share an enthusiasm for trucks and other things mechanical. So when Eliott Lobo, who writes for Autocar Professional in India, shipped me a friendly e-mail a couple of months ago saying I might be interested in a piece he’d written for the June issue of that magazine, I was keen to look.
Sure enough, it’s a cool story in its own right — who would have guessed that a monocoque truck chassis could be built? — but it also involves a Canadian company doing well in Europe. That’s Ontario’s Magna International and its European subsidiary, Magna Steyr. Which assembles, by the way, the Peugeot RCZ, Mini Countryman station wagon, and the rather prestigious Aston Martin Rapide.
Not incidentally, Magna’s body and chassis systems operating unit, Cosma International, is much involved in the new Peterbilt Model 579 and Kenworth T680 introduced earlier this year. It builds complete seat systems for the new trucks plus ‘cab-in-white’ stampings and assemblies made from aluminum and steel (including design and development), composite products (hood, roof and exterior trim), and interior trim as well.
Eliott unwittingly gave me a preview of last month’s IAA show where Magna displayed its ‘first to market’ lightweight steel frame. The frame, intended for use in European long-haul transport but with possible applications elsewhere, weighs a very significant 30% less than conventional frames. It was developed by Engineering Center Steyr (ECS), Magna Powertrain‘s research and development center for truck engineering, in co-operation with Cosma. And it’s ready to be brought to market.
“The significant reduction in weight has been achieved by replacing the standard type chassis frame with a unique steel monocoque structure, while maintaining the same or better technical performance and improving transport efficiency”, says Franz Dorfer, general manager of Engineering Center Steyr.
In Eliott’s excellent story, he noted that the good old "…C-profile steel frame with crossmembers goes all the way back to the ladder-type chassis in Gottlieb Daimler’s Phoenix, which hit the roads in October 1896. Built sturdy to handle increasing loads over the decades, any weight-reduction potential this design might have offered has long been exhausted with the use of high-strength steels."
Aluminum and carbon fiber have also been explored, more so in the trailer world, but so far nobody’s come up with a way to beat the cost and durability limitations of those two materials in a truck or tractor. So if anything is to be done, it’s likely going to be on the design side of things, not materials.