Big Rigs, NASCAR, and Pickup Trucks - Editor's Desk
Haul on Sunday, Sell on Monday
Several decades ago, the phrase "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" became an adage in the automotive world. The phrase has a few different meanings, depending on whom you ask: One is that the moonshiners and bootleggers would modify their cars to try to outrun the police during Prohibition. If they succeeded, they would have moonshine to sell on Monday. That evolved into the bootleggers racing among themselves for fun. This drew an audience, and eventually became NASCAR. From there, "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" turned into a way for carmakers to sell cars: When people saw stock cars at the track, the cars served as a marketing tool to get people to dealerships, even if under the skin the race cars had little or nothing to do with what was sold in the showroom.
The phrase has another interpretation. There is a belief among some automakers that the racetrack serves as a test bed for technology. When it comes to trying out engine, chassis, and suspension components, the high demands of a race provide the ultimate tough test. A race means high-speed driving over long periods of time, and the cars are never treated with kid gloves. So once those technologies are proven at the track, some of them trickle down to cars.
Believe it or not, that same idea relates to trucks on the road today. If you look at the ways 3/4- and 1-tons are used, big-rigs and commercial trucks are the extreme versions of them. They run for hours at a time, under heavy load, and tow and haul far and beyond the capacities of what any pickup truck can do. For truck people, that can be the ultimate test bed, and it's benefited pickup truck owners in many ways.
One of the best examples of this is the exhaust brake. Originally known as the "Jake brake" when it was made by Jacobs Manufacturing Company, it was the compression-release engine brake used on big-rigs. The Jake brake opens an extra exhaust valve at the top of the diesel engine's compression cycle. Releasing this air prevents it from returning the compression energy to the crank, and this slows the vehicle down. Exhaust brakes now available on diesel-powered pickups are a quieter alternative inspired by the Jake brake. Here, a restriction in the exhaust manifold creates backpressure that slows the vehicle.
Another example is the air suspension on the 2014 Ram 1500, 2500, and 3500. Big-rigs have been using air suspensions for decades, making the trucks safer and easier to control. That technology has come to 1500 and 2500-series pickups, providing load-leveling and improved ride comfort. On the Ram 3500, the additional helper airbags improve how the suspension works when the truck is driven empty (the leaf springs can be tuned for a better ride when the truck is unloaded), and the bags fill up to bolster the load, whether towing or carrying payload.
There are many more cool technologies that would be of benefit to pickups. I'd love to see air-ride seats become an option on trucks. Heavy-duty pickups don't always provide the smoothest ride, so why not make sure the driver stays comfortable on the job? And what about the diesel/electric hybrid powertrain? I know all the downsides to this: You combine the two most expensive sources of power and put them into one vehicle. OK, so it's expensive. At some point, the price of that technology will come down, and then we can enjoy the benefits: all the advantages of having a hybrid around town (using little to no fuel in the city) and driving a diesel on the highway (excellent fuel economy and absurd amounts of torque at low rpm). Commercial trucks from several companies, and even trains, are powered by diesel/electric power. I hope pickups can also be in the future.
There is another technology we recently got to try out, based on a new type of fuel called DME. Dimethyl ether is a diesel fuel alternative said to be less expensive and cleaner burning than diesel fuel. It doesn't need a spark, and can be made from any hydrocarbon source containing methane—anything from animal waste to plant matter, biogas, and more. Also, the fuel can be stored at a lower pressure than liquified natural gas. No aftertreatment is required, it's considered non-toxic, and producing and burning DME results in 95 percent less CO2 than refining and burning diesel fuel. You can read more about DME and its use in big-rigs starting on page 72. We learned all about it, and how Volvo's big-rig division has embraced the use of DME. I also got to drive a big-rig powered by DME. This fuel has a lot of potential and could mean great things for smaller trucks, and it's a possible way to reduce our dependency on petroleum.