In the automotive world, car and pickup bodies tend to get refreshed about every five years. Looks grow stale and dated, but style points are considerably less important in commercial trucking than they are to the person looking to drop $60,000 on a new C8 Corvette or Challenger Hellcat.
Peterbilt General Manager Jason Skoog, who called the styling on the recently re-announced 579 "bold," said the refresh was done on a pre-planned update cycle, and was well timed with Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions requirements changing for model year 2021.
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"We did the [Model] 386 in 2005, the 579 in 2012, and this is about the time for an update," he said. "We just felt like the big opportunity, once we really started designing here, was to take that aerodynamics to that next level."
On the power side, the new MX-13 engine gets a 2% fuel economy bump, while the MX-11 will see a 2.5% bump for the 2021 model year. As for the rest of Pete's updated Model 579, technology and aerodynamics do the heavy lifting.
The new 579, boasting a 7% fuel economy improvement over prior generation models, is the most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient Peterbilt model built to-date. The new Model 579 appears noticeably more narrow and the hood lower "and then on top of that, the aerodynamic mirrors that are a little bit shorter," Skoog noted. "They still provide great visibility. We didn't leave a lot of things unturned. We were looking at the shapes of mirror arms ... the dam below the bumper – we just tortured ourselves over the size of it because we want it to be as aerodynamic as possible but we want it to be functional for our customers at the same time.
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"You can't just change one thing and hope that's going to have an impact on aerodynamics. You have to look at aerodynamics as a system," Skoog added, noting airflow is continuously handed down the tractor and trailer until it reaches the end.
The truck also features an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) with integrated camera and radar technology, including collision mitigation, overspeed alerts and lane keep assist. Skoog noted the company considered lane centering technologies versus lane keeping but opted for keeping for ease of use.
"Lane centering is constant," he said. "Never stops. Lane keep, we felt, was less intrusive to the driver."
One of the more controversial elements of the 579's makeover is bound to be the 15-inch digital display that replaces a traditional analog gauge cluster. It's a pushback on tradition for a trucking brand that is among the more traditional players. But Skoog said he was confident that even the most ardent holdouts will be won over once they get behind the wheel and see how easy it makes pre-trip inspections, how easy it is to add gauge displays, and how the entire setup simplifies driving.
Peterbilt has been at the crossroads of form and function before, Skoog noted. Feedback from the debut of the Model 389, "was dicey to say the least," he said, "and look at what the Model 389 has been through the course of its history."
"I really believe that if you fast-forward a year, I don't think that the discussion on the change [to a 15-inch digital display] is going to be what it might be today for some people," Skoog said.