You've probably noticed that the number and availability of commercial airline flights has decreased from say, ten years ago. When we travel by airplane, we are essentially freight (in case the flight attendants' attitudes didn't tip you off); and us being freight, it makes sense that airlines can increase profits by having fewer flights and using bigger planes packed with more people.
Well, the same holds true for actual cargo freight. So Walmart Canada came up with something they hope will drop their shipping costs and even reduce traffic, at least in theory: Make a bigger truck. Working with an Ontario-based company called Innovative Trailer Design, they commissioned what they're calling the Walmart Supercube, which holds 30% more cargo in the same footprint.
Most freight trucks lug a standard 53-foot long trailer. The Supercube's is 60 feet long, yet the overal vehicle length is the same because they use a squashed cab that puts the driver right up at the front. The interior floor of the Supercube's trailer is lower, and there's a built-in scissor lift inside to help loaders stuff cargo into the far reaches.
Furthermore, see that box behind the cab?
That's not the driver's bedroom—it's a "drome box," or dromedary box, which holds an additional 10% of cargo and can be independently unloaded. "We've taken that air gap between truck and trailer and put more freight in there," ITD president Benny Di Franco told supply-chain magazine Canadian Manufacturing. You might wonder why they'd bother designing a secondary box, and here's the answer: In a situation where you have priority cargo, or where you need to get the tractor back into action immediately with a new load, you can detach the tractor and quickly unload the dromedary box without having to go through the entire trailer. ("Dromedary" is a type of camel, by the way, and the box is presumably meant to reference the camel's hump.)
Walmart had to get special permission to run the trucks from Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, who granted them special permits for a pilot program of two tractors and four interchangeable trailers. "the consideration was that the roads are congested and that this could help take trucks off the road," says Canadian Transportation & Logistics magazine.
"We don't anticipate there being any significant difference in fuel consumption," says Andy Ellis, Walmart's Supply Chain & Logistics SVP. Ellis also points out that if it turns out the larger truck is a long-term fuel saver and traffic reducer, Walmart plans to share their findings. "We've always said that sustainability is not a competitive advantage. We'll share the knowledge and technology put into this truck with anyone who's interested, just as we've shared the knowledge gained from our sustainable fresh food distribution centre in Balzac, Alberta."
The Supercube was recently unveiled at Canada's Fall 2012 Transportation Sustainability Conference, and press photos are currently few. Trucking and industry magazines are expected to have features on the 'Cube come December, when we'll likely get a better look at the thing both inside and out.