Will cabovers make a comeback to the trucking industry?
What is a Cabover Truck?
Cabover trucks, also known as Cab Over Engine (COE) trucks, are an old-school style of semi-truck.
They gained a lot of popularity between the 1940’s and 1970’s because you could utilize more cargo space by reducing the Bumper to Back of Cab (BBC) ratio.
You know when you see a cabover because they have a “flat-faced” look to them. Despite being a major benefit to businesses, the cabover wasn’t as always as popular with the drivers.
These trucks, while offering easier maneuverability (and a cool look), provide no leg room and are notorious for a litany of problems.
The real question is, ‘Will cabovers make a comeback to the trucking industry or are they just a relic of the past?”
Will Cabovers Ever Come Back into the North American Trucking Industry?
Since the number of owner operators in the trucking industry is considerably lower than 20 years ago, it’s really up to big carriers if cabovers were a good option for their loads. The trucking manufacturers are going to be the big customers.
But there are some major drawbacks to the cabover that could keep them as a nostalgic throw-back rather than a comeback kid.
Shippers want bigger trailers all the time, so it could be that cabover trucks stand a chance for a comeback. Shippers are always going to want bigger trailers and smaller trucks.
Unfortunately, you just can’t get some curb sniffers around the corner and into the loading docks with a conventional cab. Certainly with the cabover, you can get a shorter wheelbase than you ever could with a curb sniffer.
I compared a few of them and with a double bunk cabover you could basically run on a 155-inch wheelbase. That’s pretty damn short.
A Cascadia with a double bunk requires at least a 200-inch wheelbase to operate and still have sufficient swing dip clearance in between the trailer and the bunk. Swing dip clearance means you won’t hit the trailer with your truck for example, when you turn a sharp corner.
Certainly, there’s an argument that you can get a shorter wheelbase.
Engine Access for Cabover Trucks
With a cabover, one of the problems is that the engine is a lot harder to access than it is with a curb sniffer.
However, with a conventional style, you can just simply pull the hood and the mechanic or you can get just about any part of the engine they want.
With a cabover, you had to jack up the cab. Also, before you jacked up the cab, you had to strap down all your stuff inside or it would all come out through the windshield. That was a real minus for the cabover. So, are the big companies going to care about engine access? No.
Unfortunately, these big carriers tend to listen to their mechanics even less than they listen to their drivers. So, they may disregard this problem and stock their fleet with cabovers regardless.
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Another question that comes up with cabovers is, “Are they as safe in a head-on accident as a conventional?”
Let’s be honest. They can’t possibly be quite as safe. At least a conventional has some sort of a crumple zone between you and whatever it is you could be hitting.
In a cabover, there is nothing between you and what you hit other than the windshield. It’s not unusual in a cabover collision to have the cabover spit the driver right through the glass. It happened to a friend of mine and it’s pretty nasty stuff. Killed him instantly.
Diesel Fuel Mileage of Conventional vs. Cabover Trucks
What the carriers do care about, however, is fuel mileage and there is a big difference between a cabover and a conventional.
If you take a mile off the gallon difference (x 500 miles a day, x 500 trucks a day) for a big carrier or more, those fuel savings are huge. That’s what big carriers pay attention to and those are the guys that are going to be ordering all the new trucks.
Availability of Cabovers
As far as I’m aware, you can’t even order a cabover in North America anymore. They are manufactured in North Carolina, but I believe most of those are shipped to Europe.
The cabover style in super popular in Europe, but Europe has a completely different road system than we do here in North America.
They’ve got to have cabovers over there because generally, their roads are quite narrow with tight sharp curves.
We don’t suffer from that in North America.
Driver Retention, Cool Factor, and Nostalgia
So, do I think that cabovers are coming back? To tell you the truth, I really don’t think so.
I think the curbs sniffers are the new standard of the industry, but if you’re a fan of the cabover, then don’t get too disappointed quite yet.
Driver retention has become a big issue within the trucking industry. Driver turnover and driver retention are just mind-boggling figures these days. Big trucking companies cannot keep drivers. They also can’t seem to hire enough new drivers and get them to stay in the industry. Driver retention is a problem.
I know when I was interested in trucking when I was a kid, a lot of what drew me to the trucks was how cool they looked. When companies figure out that the cooler rides attract drivers, they’re going to be all over this new technology. Like this Nicola One electric truck that’s coming out or that Peterbilt Walmart concept truck that they’ve designed. Those things are cool looking trucks. I’d like to drive one of those trucks. And if they get that cool factor back into the new trucks, it’ll solve their retention problem and it’ll solve their hiring problems. So, don’t be heartbroken. I think cool trucks are going to have to come back.
Part of the attraction of the cabovers was the nostalgia involved. They were cool rides back in the day. You had visions of trucking out to California with these great big cabovers and running coast to coast. They were trucks that looked like they were competent and could do the job. They were enjoyable to drive and it was an adventure to drive them. The nostalgia of the Cabover was part of the draw.
A lot of guys my age, myself included, learned in cabovers and that’s part of the attachment with trucks or the cabover trucks.
If you watch the highways and the interstate, you’ll still see the occasional cabover go by and they’re cool to watch! It’s a nostalgic trip back into the days when trucking was good.
Owner operators can bring the cabover back and if big carriers find the advantages of stocking their fleet with cabovers as outweighing the disadvantages, then we could see an upswing.
In my opinion, cabovers don’t stand a strong chance of coming back into the foreground for the trucking industry.