The Top 5 Benefits of American Truck Design

by Andrew Bell

usa-truckThe early 1980’s saw a relaxation in American commercial vehicle law that specified the maximum total length that mobile assets could be. Federal law was altered to allow for an unlimited total vehicle length, meaning that manufacturers now had license to produce larger, more spacious and more powerful trucks than before.

This drove a paradigm shift still very much evident in American trucking today. Semi-trucks in the early to mid-20th century had tended to be of a ‘cab-over’ design, meaning that the cabin of the truck was situated directly over the truck’s engine in order to maximise the amount of space that vehicles had for stock within the legal limits. This model is still prevalent throughout Europe, China and Australia.

The completely dominant form of semi-truck in the USA is now the ‘conventional’ truck however. This simply means that the cab is situated behind the engine, which projects in a nose-like style as pictured. This shift in trucking design has brought with it a series of advantages not available to cab-over trucking, and we have listed what we feel are the top five benefits associated with the American conventional semi-truck below.


5. Manufacturing cost

The manufacturing process for conventional trucks is significantly more straightforward than cab-over style production, and correspondingly keeps production costs and times relatively low. Due to this and the fact that cab-over trucks are now completely out of vogue, it was actually impossible for us to do a meaningful comparison in prices between the two models, as major manufacturers in the USA no longer offer the cab-over style. In any case, because of the more accessible engine and less compact structure of the vehicle, this type of truck is much less complicated to produce relative to the cab-over style, resulting in a saving of tens of thousands of dollars for the customer.


4. More comfortable interiors

One area where the USA’s conventional trucks really shine is in the comfort department. Firstly, the positioning of the cab behind the engine means that the ride tends to be notably smoother and quieter for the driver when compared to the European cab-over, in which the driver is positioned directly over the truck’s noisy engine.

In addition, US trucks tend to boast impressively large interiors to ensure the comfort of their drivers. Indeed, many conventional trucks are capable of accommodating one or more bunks, as well as additional conveniences such as microwaves, TV’s, fridge freezers and toilets. These additional furnishings seem more sensible when you consider the relative of size of North America. Texas alone spans over 690,000km (roughly the entire size of France), and US trucks are often required to cover a far greater distance than their European counterparts, meaning that long haul truckers can be required to partake in many days of driving to and from their destinations.


3. Better on rough terrain

From the plains of Texas, to the hills of Tennessee, the terrain in the US is some of the most richly varied and most barren in the world. The American conventional truck is correspondingly well equipped to deal with these conditions, typically sporting more reactive suspension and a more rugged design philosophy to cope with the challenge of trucking anywhere from the glacial landscape of Alaska right down to the arid deserts of Mexico. Ultimately, the placement of the cab and the surrounding framework means that the conventional truck style is able to drive for longer without incident, and is less likely to break down on a range of challenging terrains.


 2. Easier to maintain

The straightforward layout of the conventional truck means that engines are generally more accessible and easier to tinker with, being distinctly separate from the driver’s cab and in their own spacious compartment. This point ties in nicely to benefit #3 – when you’re a long haul trucker miles from civilisation, the last thing you would want is an inaccessible engine. Indeed, many cab-over engines are only accessible by tilting the entire front face of the truck forward – along with the cab itself, making the process of upgrading or fixing far more involved and arduous. In contrast, the conventional layout allows engines to be easily upgradable with less effort.


 1. Bigger loads

By far the greatest advantage of the American truck is that they are often better equipped to pull larger loads, with conventional trucks generally boasting larger, more powerful engines. This is due to the fact that US vehicle law only restricts the length of each individual trailer and not the total length of the mobile asset, meaning that a single commercial truck is legally able to pull multiple trailers coupled together.

This is in stark contrast to EU regulation, which restricts the total maximum length for every mobile asset. This means that cab-over European trucks are generally more compact, and tend to be less able to pull large weights or multiple trailers. This benefit in both regulation and manufacturing style ultimately saves organisations huge margins by being able to deliver more stock with every journey.


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See also ‘The Top 5 Benefits of European Truck Design’.