A momentous week for trucks: Walmart unveils “Jetson” truck and President Obama announces next generation fuel efficiency standards

What a great two days it’s been for the future of trucks. Yesterday, Walmart unveiled a prototype, concept next generation tractor-trailer truck that they have affectionately dubbed “Jetson.” This morning, President Obama laid out a timeframe for action on developing the next generation truck efficiency standards – standards that will improve the fuel efficiency of American trucks, bolster energy security, cut carbon pollution, save money and support manufacturing innovation.

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Innovation is critical to curb the growing climate pollution and fuel consumption from our nation’s freight trucks – which are projected to increase by 40 percent between now and 2040. But innovation is best supported by strong standards.  A well-designed efficiency program can speed the deployment of clean, energy-efficient technologies and the infrastructure to support their widespread use nationwide.

We have seen the success of this combination many times.  The trucking industry has delivered incredible innovation in meeting stringent standards for particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen, and the first phase of greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards. And through their own innovation, manufacturers are meeting these standards in advance of compliance deadlines, doing so for lower costs, and delivering substantial, real-world benefits.

The second phase of fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for trucks and trailers will build on this foundation of success. But they will also build on the innovation of companies like Walmart who are pushing the envelope. 

 The unveiling of Jetson, officially called Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (“WAVE”) came during a live webcast of Walmart’s annual Global Sustainability Milestone Meeting on Monday.

At first glance the prototype truck is simply cool looking, and explains why it got the nickname Jetson.  But it is also incredibly fuel-efficient. The tractor is super aerodynamic – in order to achieve the dramatic aerodynamics, the driver sits in the middle of the cab and the engine is under the cab instead of in front of it.  The entire cab lifts up to give access to the powertrain.

The trailer also benefits from advanced aerodynamics. And it is built “almost exclusively from carbon fiber.” Because of this, the trailer weighs 4,000 pounds less than a standard trailer, which would enable it to legally carry more product. The front end is also convex – which enhances the aerodynamics and increases storage capacity.

The power system for the truck is a revolutionary combination of a microturbine; battery storage; electric motor.

While some of the technologies in the Jetson truck may not be street ready in the next few years, Walmart sees value in pushing itself and its vendor partners – Peterbuilt Trucks, Great Dane Trailers and Capstone Turbine – just a little bit farther. And their efforts demonstrate the potential to truly revolutionize our heavy trucks and trailers. Doing this well will require a combination of innovative technology and strong, well designed efficiency standards.

The cleaner freight trucks being made in America today show that when our nation works together we can achieve lasting progress for our economy and our environment – through innovation and common sense policies to advance and secure the transformative cleaner freight trucks of tomorrow.