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Cushier rides becoming standard fare in work trucks

Freightliner Plus medium duties latest to ladle on the luxury

Want to recruit and retain truck drivers? Give them a comfy ride that reminds them of what they drive in their off-hours.

Daimler Truck North America is the latest to apply this thinking with the new Freightliner medium-duty M2 106 Plus, M2 112 Plus, 108SD Plus and 114SD Plus debuting in the third quarter of 2023. 

They are not all-new vehicles but refinements are substantial. The segment-leading M2’s new grill and air intake give it a family resemblance to the market-leading Class 8 Freightliner Cascadia.

White Freightliner 108SD Plus chassis cab
The grill of the new Freightliner 108SD Plus resembles the larger Freightliner Cascadia. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

The new trucks feature three interior trim levels — Pro, Rugged and Elite. Gun metal gray hard trim pieces adorn the Rugged and Elite dashes with bright-finish bezels and leather-wrapped steering wheels. The range-topping Elite includes wood grain trim.

Rugged, one of three interior trim levels for the Freightliner M2 Plus
If you didn’t know it was a truck, you might think the Rugged trim interior of the Freightliner Plus medium-duty M2 was a passenger vehicle. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

A 5-inch electronic display allows the driver to cycle through functions — trip and fault information, safety information warnings, and power takeoff (PTO) engine control — via steering wheel-integrated buttons like the Cascadia.

Improved cabin insulation and thermoplastic olefin in the door panels contributes to conversation-holding quietness and reduces squeaks and rattles. A new integrated map pocket made of the plastic is strong enough to bear 300 pounds and serve as an additional grab handle.

Moving functions to new locations

An all-new electrical architecture opened the way for numerous improvements.

For example, radio speakers were moved from the dash to the door panels where most cars have them.

“That was a key piece of customer feedback, how poor the audio quality was in its former position,” said Greg Treinen, DTNA product marketing manager for vocational market segment development.”

Electric door and lock switches relocated from the B-pillar onto the door “which seems most intuitive,” Treinen said. “Most vehicles have those switches on the door for easy access.”

The rewiring created 2 ½ times more space for programmable switches, more tactile to the touch and backlit for easier reading.

Switches in the Freightliner Plus series medium-duty trucks.
Rewiring created 2 ½ times more space for programmable switches, which are more tactile to the touch and backlit for easier reading. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

For truck equipment manufacturers, software and electrical connectivity is easier with connection points under the cab and behind the driver seat.

Wires and hoses in the electrical hookup of the Freightliner Plus medium duty trucks.
Truck equipment manufacturers, will find easier software and electrical hookups with connection points under the cab and behind the driver seat. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

Borrowing from the Cascadia

All-LED interior lighting comes standard. Seat foam and contours from the Cascadia improve ergonomics and comfort for drivers who spend much of the day in the truck. Seats travel fore and aft an additional 2 inches.

“Customers are definitely asking for the more automotive feel,” Mary Aufdemberg, DTNA general manager of product strategy and market development, told FreightWaves. “The features we’re bringing to them they have experienced in their cars, so it’s a very familiar feeling.

“A lot of these features are just the nature of customer expectations. Driver expectations do change over time. Cars change.Trucks should absolutely change.”

When Kenworth overhauled its medium-duty trucks in 2021, they, too, carried over features from the Paccar Inc. brand’s Class 8 models. That included a cab nearly two-thirds of a foot wider with a standard height of 63 inches. A raised roof cab added 4 inches.  

A customizable 7-inch high-definition digital display controllable from the steering wheel was based on a 15-inch version standard in the Kenworth T680, refreshed in 2021..

Mack Trucks returned to the medium-duty market in 2020 with looks resembling the brand’s heavy-duty Anthem model. The MD shares comfort and ergonomic design features from the on-highway heavy-duty model..

Talking to customers about a comfy ride

DTNA has several customer groups that offer input into product redesign. When the DTNA Western Star 49X debuted in 2020, it offered touches suggested by loggers operating the Canadian wilderness. 

At Kenworth, more than 500 people participated in design studies, helping the brand define dimensions and ergonomics.

“We’re talking to our customers all the time,” Aufdemberg said. “It’s embedded into our DNA. For this cycle, we wanted to focus on the driver experience because that’s what our customers are sharing with us.”

Demanding Detroit Assurance 

One customer demand was for the Detroit Assurance 5.0 safety system that debuted on the 2020 Cascadia.

Active Brake Assist and Lane Departure Warning are standard. Side Guard Assist, which alerts the driver when an object or pedestrian is unseen on the right side of the truck, is optional. 

Sideguard Assist illustrated to show worker is seen by the truck's side radar.
Side Guard Assist, which alerts the driver when an object or pedestrian is unseen on the right side of the truck, is optional on the Freightliner Plus medium-duty trucks. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

Adaptive Cruise Control automatically adjusts cruising speed to maintain a safe following distance. It will be available when production in Mount Holly, North Carolina, begins in the third quarter of 2023. DTNA is discontinuing the current M2 and SD models over time.

“We have customers that have the M2 as well as the Cascadia,” Aufdemberg said. “They said, ‘Hey, we want that same type of performance in our medium-duty product.’”

Tracking safety performance

Through the Detroit Connect Suite of Connectivity Systems, fleets dispatching Plus Series trucks will get several bits of key information to help reduce downtime. 

  • Minutes after a fault event, the Virtual Technician remote diagnostic service informs fleets of the severity of the fault as well as when, where and how to best fix the issue.
  • Remote Updates use secure over-the-air programming to make engine parameter and other updates.
  • Detroit Connect Analytics provides automated analysis, identifies driver behaviors and trends, and provides insights on saving fuel and safety performance data.
  • Safety Event Viewer notifies fleets on how safely drivers are operating and flags collision mitigation events by time, date and location of an event. It records the vehicle speed at the time of the event and how long the event lasted. Safety Event Viewer comes standard with Detroit Assurance with Active Brake Assist 5.

Choice of engines

The Plus series offers heavy-duty engine choices to meet on-road or vocational needs.

The 114SD Plus features the DD13 Gen 5 diesel engine with rapid torque to get payloads moving quickly. ThermoCoasting prevents cooldown during a running aftertreatment regeneration that removes carbon build up from the diesel particulate filter catalyst. It also reduces the need for regens while parked.

Check out the Freightliner medium-duty Plus Series trucks

The Detroit DT12-V transmission is built for vocational performance, durability and low-speed maneuverability on the worksite. Its Off-Road Mode features aggressive shifting for sustained momentum. A Hill Start Aid prevents rolling back on steep grades. 

Technology in the sibling Western Star vocational 47X and 49X trucks includes Rock-Free Mode to reduce downtime caused by wheel-stuck situations. Paver Mode allows a dump truck to shift from neutral to drive without pressing the brake pedal to ensure a steady flow to the paving machine.

The Plus series lineup also features the Cummins B6.7, L9 and X12 diesel engine options. The L9N and ISX12N natural gas-powered engines are available for the first time with Detroit Assurance safety features. Cummins will take over global production of medium-duty engines for Daimler Truck in coming years.

Eaton manual and Eaton-Cummins joint venture Endurant automated manual transmissions are available along with Allison automatic transmissions.

“For me, first and foremost is Detroit Assurance on the Plus Series as well as putting Detroit Assurance behind the Cummins engine,” Aufdemberg said.

Illustration of Active Brake Assist on the Freightliner Plus Series of medium-duty trucks
The Freightliner 108SD Plus with standard Active Brake Assist and Lane Departure Warning. (Photo: Daimler Truck North America)

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.