Freightliner Custom Chassis (FCCC): State-of-the-art in truck design?

This entry was posted Sunday, 11 October, 2009 at 10:00 am

Triangle Clean Cities hosted a tour of the Gaffney, SC Freightliner truck chassis facility, owned by Daimler (which to my surprise also owns Detroit Engines, Thomas Built buses, Winnebago, and a number of other giant engine and vehicle manufacturers). I traveled with Rich Cregar, a friend who has been helping us with servicing our fleet of Mercedes limos and buses and has taught a workshops at our Green Oil site in Durham. Rich holds a position of diesel instructor at Wake Tech (which just received a large national grant to teach alternative fuel systems) and a is a fellow at the Mackimmon Center at NC State. We also rode with Charlie Uhaus, an engineer who specializes in hydraulic systems and worked for Parker hydraulics and Cummins engines for years. Between the two of them, I was privy to two of the best, technically capable individuals to tour this plant and to some interesting conversations about the history for diesel engines.

My first inclination was that this would be a stale corporate tour that focused solely on the light to medium duty chassis going into Sprinter vans. But in fact the chassis were going into a range of vehicles, and the engineers we met were using the designs to test and implement a whole variety of hybrid and alternative fuel systems built by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA). I asked the engineers if they received a lot of support from Europe, as they had had these systems in operation longer. I was surprised they said “no,” but that a FUSO (another Daimler owned company) research facility in Japan had been more helpful and productive. The Gaffney facility was treated as a very independent operation from Daimler corporate/global, and we had a sense they were more autonomous than they may have liked, given how rapidly the market is shifting and how much resources are needed to achieve the darmatic changes to our transportation systems.

2010 Emissions

The tour started with a presentation to the Clean Cities representatives from Asheville, Charlotte and several organizations and cities in SC by Freightliner’s chief engineers. They first spoke to the 2010 emissions requirements of EPA of .2g NOx (down from 5g), and .1 g particulates (PM). Lots of acronyms were flung our way, including:

SCR- Selective Catalytic Reduction

DEF- Diesel Exhaust Filter

EGR- Exhaust Gas Recirculation

DCU- Dosing Control Unit

DOC- Diesel Oxidation Catalyst

DPF- Diesel Particulate Fluid (Urea)

All vehicles are required to have SCR and there are two systems that are competing for diesel truck markets SCR and Massive EGR. Massive EGR, which catepllar and Navistar have thrown their weight behind, reduces fuel economy but may be more reliable. SCR seems to be outcompeting EGR at this point, the upside is the better efficiency, and the downside is the need for urea recharges. Systems take exhaust from the engine, pass it through a particulate filter (DPF), and then through a urea DCU, then through an SCR, then an Exhaust Diffuser (a simple nipple on the tail pipe!). (See

Advanced systems have three levels of filter regeneration: active, passive and manual. The state of the art in NOx reduction is the Urea injection systems that result in engine life increases and a 5% improvement in fuel economy. Cost is $6700-7000 per unit, and roughly 3 urea tank fills are required per 15oK miles driven. Tanks come in 10 to 50 gallons and are attached to the frame where they can be filled like a gas tank. Urea gallon jugs will be available a truck service centers and dealerships throughout the US. Interestingly, VW TDI’s are using EGR NOx sponge absorption systems, however, all new systems will have use SCR (See

Hybrid/Alternative Fuel Systems

The engineers then presented on the specs. of the four models being produced at the plant:


Diesel Hybrid Electric,

Diesel Hybrid Hydraulic, and

All Electric (demonstration vehicle provided by Enova).

CNG systems have about a 200 mile range and are using 3600 psi fittings and Type IV tanks. Engines are switching from 5.9L Cummins to 6L IS GM. The Hydraulic and Electric were new and in prototype stage, though we were able to test-drive at the end of the day an electric UPS truck that had recently come off the line. CNG and Diesel Electric had been produced for several years and over 450 vehicles had been produced and were in operation. Maintenance statistics showed that their hybrids we highly successful performing at over 98%with no failures after 2 years. Incentives include:

  • Each has up to a $25K per vehicle savings,
  • $6K tax credit for Class 6 and $12K for class 7, and
  • $4,500-6,000 in fuel savings (plus Blue Skies).

All of us, Charlie and Rich in particular, came away with the feeling that the Parker Eaton hybrid hydraulic was the ideal technology for trucks, particularly for those with lots of stop and go routes (delivery trucks, buses, shuttles, couriers). Three hydraulic systems have developed: 1) launched assist (10-25% efficiency improvement), 2) series hybrid (20-40%), 3) Advanced Series Hybrid (35-125%). These advanced systems capture 70% of breaking energy and use Optimized Engine Control and passive engine breaking. The efficiencies were enormous, approaching 65-125% in storing breaking energy. This means that the delivery drivers engines can shut down for very extended periods with enormous fuel savings.

The hydraulic system has two accumulator reservoirs and line systems that operate where the drive shaft would normally be connecting the transmission to the differential. Energy from the engine drives the vehicle, but also builds up in the accumulator, as does breaking, releasing the energy at the time of acceleration (where most energy to propel a vehicle is used). Charlie stated that they what is needed to make these systems state of the art is a high quality, hydraulic fluid filter system, as the lines can become contaminated over time.

These hybrid systems are relatively simple and low maintenance. Importantly, the hybrid electrics do require relatively sophisticated inverter/controller computer for “dual mode” on the engine side. Indeed, during the test drive, Rich complained that the Electric Clutch Actuator (ECA) on the hybrid electric was just not correctly adjusted, causing a jerky shift in gears. Freightliner is using a 340VDC Hitachi Lithium-ion battery with a 7-8 year life and 44KW Eaton motor generator with an added weight of 600 lbs (See

The cost increase is $28K above the base price of which about a third of that cost is in the batteries. The systems include fuel economy indicator, and critical to their success was a driver training program and improved instrument panel to collect data on: routes (idle time, trip time, average mpg, max. speed) and drivers, and include a downloadable USB connector. Variables are route, driver and base system. New systems include and idle off feature that adds 8-9% efficiency improvement, hill hold ABS system and threshold recharge. AC systems do not disengage when in electric mode and with proper driving, the HEV can improve fuel economy 40%, reduce 96% particulate emissions and 65% of NOx.

An all electric system with a diesel generator (sic. train engines) may be the second smartest system, as it reduces maintenance, allows a plug in option and simplifies things. However, the Freightliner engineers stated that the emissions requirements of a diesel generator are unknown and they had not moved forward on this system because EPA has not ruled as of yet. The demonstration vehicle was provided by Eova (See DesignLine, an Australian company, is building these systems with their hyper efficient buses manufactured in Charlotte, and it will be interesting to find out when we run our tour of their facility (See

Interestingly, the engineers stated that all the hybrid systems needed a smaller engine than the 6 cylinder Cummins they were using. A 4 cylinder was needed, as the systems were so efficient, they did not require such a large powerhouse. Such engines exist but are not being made in the U.S. Both hybrid systems can be used for PTO’s and Auxiliary Power Generator (APG) for idle reduction. Engine off will not work if rolling.

Rich, Charlie and I also came away from the tour realizing that Freightliner still had a ways to go in refining the technology, were reeling from the diversity of options they had offered the markets and were needing help in advancing the technology. They also needed more prototypes in the field, which got me thinking about setting up a joint program with the engineering and environmental schools in the Triangle.

Biodiesel options are available on all the systems, and include: a oil/water separator, tank and fuel line heaters, and new fuel senders. The engines are warranted only to B20, yet with these additions, running very high levels would be easy.

Zero Waste Facility

In the afternoon, we took a tour of the plant and its assembly lines, where they showed us the parts system and unique ways they had improved production efficiency for all the variables and options available for assembling the chassis and cabs. The plant and its three lines can produce 85 chassis per day at 100% capacity. When we visited they were at 65% capacity. Since adding the hybrid, electric and CNG products, there has been no change in production time, due to efficiencies gained and the use of a pre-assembly system, pick carts and other line innovations. They had an in-house dynamometer to measure the engine performance and emissions, and operate their paint ovens during early mornings to reduce peak loads.

The facility had just gone zero waste, after about a year of behavioral modification and design changes. The program to go Zero waste was impressive, and will actually turn a profit in Oct. 2009, as the income from the waste recycled will generate more income than outlaid for implementation. This is quite an achievement given how conservative a community and worker base it is from which they pull. But they have also outreached to the local high school, and from surveys, they found that the program has affected workers in their lifestyles at home.

However, we did see a wall full of vending machines with high fructose, corn syrup products, that led me to believe they still may have a way to go in uniting ”green” with “healthful living.” The engineers did say they were looking for interns and TFF will try to connect them with students from Duke and NCSU. In addition, they voiced an interest in adding roof-top PV systems and pushing the envelop in greening their operation. Their tour was excellent and we recommend it to anyone in the fields of alternative energy, green transportation and environmental management.