Versatility is key

By Lars Krone and Volker Paulun
There’s hardly another type of vehicle that can be modified to suit an equally wide variety of purposes: be it for use on extreme expeditions, in rescue operations or for hauling goods – trucks are often indispensable. “tomorrow” presents some exceptional examples.

The loader

The loader
Versatility is key© Andreas Sutter (Lithium Storage GmbH)

It’s a real giant: weighing 58 tons (64 short tons) and with a payload of 65 tons (71.5 short tons), the eDumper is the world’s largest and most powerful battery-powered electric wheeled vehicle. The dump truck is used in the quarry of a Swiss cement factory and transports rock from a higher-lying extraction area to the lower-lying processing plant. The trick is that the fully loaded 123-ton (136-short ton) colossus recuperates almost all the electricity needed for the return journey while braking during these trips. This is expected to save 1,300 tons (1,430 short tons) of CO2 over ten years. The energy is stored in a battery consisting of four blocks with a capacity of over 700 kWh – by the way: weighing 4.5 tons (5 short tons), it is the largest battery ever produced for an electric vehicle.

Formula E star Lucas di Grassi explains the eDumper

The high riser

The high reacher

The population of major cities is growing rapidly in some cases. To solve the problem of the housing shortage, buildings are becoming taller and taller. But this poses a problem for fire departments: their existing vehicles are no longer sufficient. The Finnish company Bronto Skylift has developed aerial rescue vehicles specifically for this purpose. The top model, the F-HLA, achieves a rescue height of 112 meters (367 feet) – a world record.

  • Ready for use in just 40 seconds, e.g. for maintenance work on wind turbines
    Ready for use in just 40 seconds, e.g. for maintenance work on wind turbines © Bronto Skylift
  • Even folded, the Bronto Skylift is an imposing appearance
    Even folded, the Bronto Skylift is an imposing appearance © Bronto Skylift
  • The lifting platform is also suitable for rescue operations at high-rise buildin ...
    The lifting platform is also suitable for rescue operations at high-rise buildings © Bronto Skylifter

The heart of the rescue vehicle is the telescopic mast, which is constructed from a special ultra-high-strength steel – reducing the total weight to 77 tons (85 short tons) and enabling it to be used on normal roads. Remarkably, on site, the F-HLA is fully stabilized and ready for use in just 40 seconds thanks to the automatic outrigger function. More than 200 units have now been sold, including units in Bangkok, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Moscow and Taipei.

The permanent E-runner

The permanent E-runner

A truck from the Futuricum company shows that electric drivetrains are also suitable for freight transport. The 16-ton (17.6 short tons) truck, which is already regularly used by a parcel service in Switzerland, is equipped with a 690-plus-horsepower electric motor and has a battery capacity of 680 kWh. Special tires ensure particularly low rolling resistance. In August 2021, the vehicle succeeded in entering the Guinness Book of Records: At 1,099 kilometers (683 miles), the Futuricum manages the longest distance driven by an electric truck without intermediate charging.

The summit stormer

The summit stormer

The Mercedes Unimog has been impressing with its off-road capabilities for around 70 years – and has become a legend as a result. Thanks to its special and robust design with portal axles, a low center of gravity and all-wheel drive, the all-rounder can cope with slope angles of 44 degrees at the front and 51 degrees at the rear, gradients of up to 45 degrees and side slopes of 38 degrees, as well as water crossings of up to 1.2 meters (4 feet). For this reason, scientific expeditions also rely on the all-terrain truck time and again. This is also the case for a ten-person team that set off to Ojos del Salado in Chile in December 2019 – the highest active volcano in the world at 6,893 meters (22,615 feet). The vehicles for the trip to the notorious Atacama Desert were two Unimog U 5023s, which proved to be reliable companions on the scree slopes. One Unimog manages the ascent to 6,694 meters (21,962 feet). Never before has a wheeled vehicle reached such heights anywhere in the world.

The speed truck

The speed truck

2,400 hp, 6,000 Newton meters, a weight of 4.5 metric tons (5 short tons) and yet a power-to-weight ratio like a Porsche 918 Spyder – the Volvo Iron Knight’s key data are impressive. And so is its performance: the white giant reaches 500 meters (1,640 feet) in just 13.71 seconds and the 1,000-meter (3,280 foot) mark at an average speed of 169 km/h (105 mph) in 21.29 seconds – no other truck can do that. Theoretically, the Volvo truck, whose diesel engine delivers 540 hp as standard and has undergone a powerful performance enhancement with four turbochargers could reach a top speed of around 300 km, but the straight section of the test track was too short. The Iron Knight “only” reached 276 km/h (171 mph).

The giant crane

The giant crane
Versatility is key© Liebherr

With a lifting capacity of up to 1,200 tons (1,320 short tons), the Liebherr LTM 11200-9.1 is the world’s most powerful mobile crane and comes into its own when things get really heavy and high. This is because the nine-axle behemoth (all-wheel steering, drive motor of 686 hp and 3,000 Nm plus a crane motor of 367 hp and 1,720 Nm) can reach a lifting height of up to 188 meters (617 feet) with its eight-section telescopic boom. These cranes are used, for example, in the installation of wind turbines or the construction of radio towers. However, they also made spectacular appearances during scaffold erection on Cologne Cathedral or during the construction of the “Elbphilharmonie” Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg.

The container king

The container king

The fast loading and unloading of containers is essential for the transportation of goods. Sideloaders play an important role here. The Baumann GXS 500 is considered as the largest of its kind. Thanks to its nearly 300-hp Cummins diesel engine, it can lift up to 40-foot containers with a payload of 50 tons (55 short tons) and haul them swiftly from points A to B. The GXS 500 is the largest of its kind. The transverse mast (it weighs 18 tons/20 short tons alone) and its small turning circle allow it to operate in tight spaces. The low center of gravity enables the GXS 500 to stack containers up to three times the height of the vehicle itself. To help the driver keep an overview while stacking, its cab can also be raised and lowered.

The electric firefighter

The electric firefighter

Water or foam is still used for extinguishing fires, but electricity is used to get to the operation. Austrian specialists Rosenbauer, who claims to be the world’s largest supplier of firefighting equipment, has developed an all-electric range of emergency vehicles for this purpose: Tanker, rescue vehicle and ladder truck. The latter uses three electric motors: two in the Volvo base vehicle for the traction drive and one for the turntable ladder. The energy comes from two or three 66-kWh lithium-ion batteries. The small version is predestined for urban operation. Rosenbauer calculates a consumption of 20 kWh per operation (5 km/3 mi approach and departure, one support operation, three ladder movements, 30 min. of light mast operation). According to Rosenbauer, an operation in a rural area (30 km/19 mi to and from the site, two support operations, five ladder movements and 60 min. of light mast operation) costs around 52 kWh. With the large battery pack, the electric fire service could therefore be deployed three times in a row before it needs to be recharged. In an emergency, there is also the option of using a diesel generator as a range extender in order to generate electricity. However, during a test operation in Berlin that began in the fall of 2020, this was needed for less than ten percent of the approximately 800 missions.

The loadmaster

The loadmaster
Versatility is key© Goldhofer

Admittedly: When it comes to heavy haulers, it’s not the truck that’s the star, but what it pulls. This was also the case with the “heaviest road transport of all time”. A 535-ton (590- short ton) transformer had to be transported to the Nuremberg inland port in Germany, where it began its sea journey via Antwerp to its destination in China. The transport trailer from the German specialist supplier Goldhofer consisted of two carrying modules with 10 axles each. Each axle had 16 tires – so in total, the load was distributed over 320 tires. A side girder bridge model G2 K600 was mounted between the axle modules, literally gripping the transformer. The overall pack size: 63 meters (207 feet) long, 7.45 meters (24.4 feet) wide, 6.10 meters (20 feet) high and a total weight of 875 tons (965 short tons). Also massive: planning the nearly 20-hour trip at walking pace took several months.

Video clip of a similar transport