Shape of Things to Come

| May 01, 2012

Cover Story

Peterbilt’s new Model 579 blends need for economy with sleek styling

Photos by Brian Blevins, Story by Jack Roberts

I’m in Denton, Texas, at Peterbilt’s world headquarters and manufacturing plant this mild March morning to try out the company’s all-new Class 8 tractor.

For the better part of the past decade or so, many truck and engine manufacturers’ engineering resources and research and development dollars have been spent meeting the strict 2010 EPA diesel emissions mandates. That’s not to say truck manufacturers — including Peterbilt —haven’t made continual upgrades to their existing vehicles. But the emphasis has been on emissions technology.

Click here to view a photo gallery and video of this truck.

This is Peterbilt’s first all-new chassis and cab in 13 years and the sixth model to join the company’s stable of trucks. Andy Weiblen, the 579’s engineering manager, says the new truck takes everything that has happened to heavy-duty trucks during that time and turns it into a highly integrated technological marvel. Everything about the new truck was designed to make life easier and more productive for fleets, owner-operators and drivers. Advancements range from anti-idling solutions to simplified instrumentation to a new, optimized dash layout to the new Evolution driver’s seat.

The 579 is the sleekest, cleanest overall tractor design in Peterbilt’s history.

Weiblen says the five-year development cycle for the new truck was driven by the most intensive market/driver/fleet research ever conducted by Peterbilt. “One of our market surveys was to take a fully adjustable truck cab and sleeper to truck stops all around the country,” he says. “We invited drivers into the cab and sleeper and asked them to set any component in the mock-up exactly where they would want it if they were designing their own personal vehicles.”

 

 

The Paccar MX13 engine powered our test-drive vehicle.

 

 

Drivers could adjust armrests, pedals, interior cab width or seat positions — to name a few. The result, Weiblen says, was a database of thousands of real-world ergonomic data. “And we were able to use that information to design a truck that is remarkably comfortable for a wide range of drivers.”

Engineering evolution

The first thing that strikes you when inspecting this truck is how sleek the frontal design is. Erik Binns, on-highway marketing manager for Peterbilt notes that the company has been in transition over the past decade as aerodynamics have come to the forefront in fuel economy technology. But Peterbilt’s legacy was built with large, powerful, flat-nosed conventional tractors. “I wouldn’t say there’s been resistance, exactly, to our move toward aerodynamic vehicles,” Binns says. “But there’s a heritage there that appeals strongly to our customers. So we have a responsibility to honor that heritage in a way that says, ‘This is a Peterbilt,’ while giving our customers that absolute latest in modern design and technology to help them compete in the real world. It can be a challenge.”

If the 579 looks somehow smaller and more compact than most Class 8 tractors, it’s because this is the sleekest, cleanest overall tractor design in Peterbilt’s history. The nose on the new truck is 2 inches lower than anything else the company offers. And every sharp or flat edge has been rounded or smoothed off to facilitate airflow over, around and under the truck. The front windshield is higher and blends seamlessly into an air dam above the cab. The A pillars are noticeably thinner — optimizing both visibility and airflow — while details such as the cab marker lights were subjected to air-fluidity dynamics testing to achieve the ideal location and help the truck cut efficiently through the air.

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