On Nov. 6, Walmart Canada took the wraps off a radical new tractor-trailer design it says increases cubic capacity by roughly 30%.
The ‘supercube’ trailer was designed and built in Ontario, in partnership with Innovative Trailer Design. The trailer itself is 60.5 feet long, 7.5 feet. longer than the industry standard. A lowered floor and 126-inch interior increases trailer capacity by 28%, offering 5,100 cu.-ft. of storage, and a drome box mounted to the back of the cab adds another 521 cu.-ft. of carrying capacity. The trailer is pulled by a Freightliner cabover.
The tractor-trailer doesn’t exceed existing length or weight restrictions.
Andy Ellis, senior vice-president, supply chain and logistics for Walmart Canada, introduced the design to stakeholders at the 2012 Transportation Sustainability Conference.
“The conference provided us with a chance to showcase the supercube trailer not only with supply chain and transportation professionals, but also with other retailers,” Ellis said. “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, Alta.”
Walmart’s supercube trailer was built under a special permit through a pilot program at the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario. The MTO is granting permits for four trailers, and two tractor units, and Ellis said the first of those vehicles was set to begin making deliveries as early as Nov. 12.
Shipments of low-density cargo could benefit from the improved productivity, Ellis pointed out.
While Walmart is more than happy to share the design with other shippers and carriers, the trucking industry hasn’t exactly greeted the new configuration with enthusiasm.
The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) held a carrier meeting prior to its annual convention Nov. 8 to discuss the new configuration. Numerous concerns were discussed about the manner in which the new trailer was brought to market and the oversight – or lack thereof – that could occur going forward.
In a statement, the OTA board of directors declared: “The proposal to allow the longer trailers is not something the trucking industry has been advocating for or promoting. Therefore the proposal does not enjoy the support of the trucking industry that previous changes to Ontario’s allowable truck configurations did. (The move, for example, to 53-ft. trailers or the controlled used of LCVs).”
OTA also objected to the shipper, in this case Walmart, being granted a permit to operate the trailers when, in reality, they’d be pulled by third-party carriers.
“Our members are very uncomfortable with this proposal as it currently stands,” said OTA president David Bradley. “The proposed issuance of special permits to a shipper is a major game-changer for the industry; it completely turns the whole approach to monitoring and managing truck safety on its head. This must be changed.”
Asked to explain the issuance of a permit to Walmart Canada for equipment that would ultimately be operated by a third-party, for-hire carrier, and fall under said carrier’s CVOR, MTO spokesman Bob Nichols said it simply didn’t happen that way. He said the supercube pilot will follow the tradition of past pilot projects, especially when it comes to who is responsible for the trucks and trailers.
“There is no change as to how these permits are being handled,” Nichols told sister publication MM&D. “The permits for this limited pilot will be issued to Walmart’s carrier and not to Walmart.”
However, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ontario Registrar of Motor Vehicles and Walmart Canada Corp., obtained by Transportation Media, seems to imply otherwise. It reads: “The Registrar of Motor Vehicles, by authority of Section 110.1 of the Highway Traffic Act, agrees to issue Special Permits authorizing Walmart to operate extended semi-trailers on Ontario roads and highways.” The end of the document reiterates: “This MoU will remain in force as long as Walmart holds Special Permits.”
Nichols told MM&D that the trucks and trailers won’t be allowed on Ontario roads until the details of the pilot have been finalized.
Not to be lost in all this is the fact the supercube is a very compelling alternative for transporting lightweight product. Benny Di Franco, president of ITD, said his company enjoyed working on the project.
“When they came to us, we said it’s a no-brainer. It’s fully doable and a great idea. We haven’t changed anything within the laws. We’ve just allowed more capacity in the trailer without getting any longer,” Di Franco said.
Among the more interesting innovations: the trailer comes with a scissor lift capable of handling 15,000 lbs, so a forklift can be used to stock the front section of the trailer. A bogie airbag lift system raises the height of the trailer to meet the standard loading dock height of four feet.
Inside the trailer interior, a fully welded and sealed lightweight all-aluminum flat floor with anti-slip surface minimizes trailer weight while providing a safe and low-maintenance surface. Flush-mounted LED lights in the ceiling with a timer switch at the trailer entrance provide excellent visibility for loading and unloading freight.
The drome box can contain four skids and rolls to the rear of the truck frame so it can be loaded by forklift. The trailer itself weighs 14,590 lbs, about 3% more than a conventional trailer.