Will All Trucks of the Future Have a Central Seat?

2024 kenworth supertruck 2
Will All Trucks of the Future Have a Central Seat?Kenworth
  • Kenworth SuperTruck 2 concept, developed over a six-year timeframe in collaboration with a Department of Energy (DOE) program, previews a number of innovations that aim to improve freight efficiency.

  • Powered by a diesel hybrid engine, the concept truck features a redesigned cabin layout focused on improving long-distance trucking operations.

  • The concept semi has achieved a substantial reduction in weight while improving aerodynamic and fuel efficiency.

The Tesla Semi may have prompted some eye-rolls with its central seating position and blinding interior screens in place of mirrors when it was first revealed in 2017.


But Kenworth's latest concept truck, dubbed SuperTruck 2, has doubled down on both features during its reveal this month, and has improved aerodynamic efficiency.

Is this what the semi trucks of the future will really be like?

Looking like a prop from a Jerry Bruckheimer sci-fi film, the SuperTruck 2 was developed over the course of six years in a partnership with the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SuperTruck program and PACCAR.

But it's not electric. The aim of the program was to enhance freight efficiency while using a diesel engine as the main source of power.

"The goal was a 100% freight efficiency improvement over our 2009 Kenworth T660, which at the time was arguably the most fuel-efficient truck in the industry," said Jim Walenczak, general manager of Kenworth and PACCAR vice president. "We surpassed the performance of that model to improve efficiency by up to 136%."

2024 kenworth supertruck 2
The truck features a central seating position, along with screens having replaced mirrors.Kenworth

Kenworth was able to reduce the combination weight by some 7000 pounds, while also improving fuel efficiency by up to 12.8 mpg while using a PACCAR MX-11 engine producing 440 hp, paired with a PACCAR TX-12 automated transmission. The truck can also be called a mild hybrid, as it uses a 48-volt electric generator with lithium-ion batteries, relying on regenerative braking. The energy collected powers a number of systems including the power steering, HVAC pumps, the electric fans.

This may not sound like much at first blush, but the electric fans alone can require up to 80 hp.

The result, among other things was engine efficiency of 55.7%, at a time when typical diesel engine efficiency is only 47%.

"Reaching 55.7% was a major step forward and could only be done by applying new technologies that had not been explored until today," said Maarten Meijer, PACCAR’s senior engineering manager for advanced technology. "To put that efficiency number into perspective, if this engine were to go into production, it would lead to a 10% fuel efficiency improvement. That’s an astonishing number."

The engine itself is positioned lower and behind the front axle, while the shape of the cabin has resulted in a 48% reduction in drag compared to Kenworth's baseline model, helped by an adjustable suspension system that can be raised and lowered depending on terrain. The truck's combination weight, meanwhile, is 26,100 pounds, or some 7100 pounds lighter than the typical tractor paired with a trailer.

2024 kenworth supertruck 2
The interior of the cabin has been rethought as well.Kenworth

Of course, the wraparound windshield is great for aerodynamic efficiency. But it's just one part of the entire aerodynamics and lightweighting package, which even included the tires where the engineering team has been able to shave off 355 pounds compared to tires currently used by trucks of this type. And the tires themselves feature low rolling resistance, measuring 4.2 on the CRR scale compared to the usual 5.0 rating.

Now, about that central seating position.

"At the start of the project, we asked ourselves, ‘What does the next generation vehicle for long haul transportation look like?’ What we produced pushes the limits in reducing aerodynamic drag while it also incorporates a new powertrain," said Joe Adams, Kenworth chief engineer.

It remains to be seen just how practical the new "center driver" cabin layout will turn out to be in the real world, if it makes it to the production stage.

When Tesla rolled out its Semi prototype a few years ago we heard from some drivers that the central seating position may not be especially beneficial when it comes to seeing the edge of the truck's footprint during maneuvering at slow speeds, while bright screens that remain in the driver's field of vision, in place of mirrors, are not advantageous at night.

In Kenworth's case the wraparound design of the windshield certainly buys the driver a greater field of vision, especially around the bottom part of the cab.

Of course, this cabin layout is not exactly imminent in production Kenworth trucks next month or next year, so possible ergonomic quibbles will be addressed in due time. But at the moment it looks like a number of companies are at least thinking about the concept of a central seating position in the next generation of trucks.

Will we see battery-electric long-haul trucks become popular in the 2030s, or are they likely to remain diesel for a few more decades? Let us know what you think in the comments below.