In 2013, Wal-Mart topped the Fortune Magazine’s list of 500 of companies ranked by revenue, beating out Exon Mobil, Chevron, Phillips 66, Berkshire Hathaway and Apple. In keeping with the retail giant’s advertising slogan, “Save money. Live better,” Wal-Mart extends cost-cutting technology to the highway, in order to maintain its competitive edge.

At the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville in March, Wal-Mart introduced its new fleet prototype, the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (WAVE) concept truck. Wal-Mart’s corporate website boasts that “almost every component on this vehicle is cutting edge and showcases innovations of the future that will drive increased efficiencies.”

The WAVE is still a work in progress. Elizabeth Fretheim, director of business strategy sustainability for Walmart logistics, said Walmart representatives were inspired by a concept truck at a German truck show about four years ago.

Wal-Mart credits collaborations with many vendors for the development of the WAVE, primarily Peterbilt, Roush Engineering, Capstone Turbine Corporation and Great Dane Trailers. (Vendors also include Qualnetics Corporation, Allison Transmission, Transpower, New Eagle, Fiber-Tech Industries, Grote Industries, Inc., Laydon Composites Ltd., Isringhauser Seats, Graykon, LLC, Dometic Corp, RealWheels Corp, Corvus Energy, Parker Hannifin, Accuride, Milliken Chemical, SAF-HOLLAND USA, Inc. and Whiting.)

The innovation that first grabs the eye is the streamlined profile of the cab. Walmart’s current fleet model is the Peterbilt 386, pictured here. The WAVE has a teardrop-shaped body that reduces drag by twenty percent, as seen here.

Drivers can look forward to a different experience behind the wheel of the WAVE. The windshield is taller, like that of a charter bus. The driver’s seat, which can rotate 180 degrees, is mounted in the center, rather than to the left. The electronic dashboard has touchscreens, and its gauges can be customized.
Wal-Mart describes the interior as a “full size cab/sleeper Flex Studio with fold out bed.” The driver climbs fold-out steps to enter the cab through a sliding door.

According to Peterbilt Chief Engineer Landon Sproull, “Peterbilt’s goals of producing the most fuel-efficient, aerodynamic, and lightweight trucks in the industry mirror those of Walmart… Our combined efforts help build a business case for these technologies in the future, as well as support one of our best customers.”

Product development supplier Roush Engineering collaborated in placing the cab over the engine. This arrangement shortens the wheelbase, reducing weight and making the truck easier to maneuver.

The WAVE will run on a fuel-neutral turbine engine, which can use diesel, gasoline, compressed or liquid natural gas, and biofuels, among other sources. The hybrid power engine allows the electric motor and energy storage to handle acceleration and deceleration. Fuel economy figures will be available once track testing begins in the summer.

Streamlining extends to the trailer’s convex nose, which closes the gap between tractor and trailer. Great Dane created the trailer itself almost completely from carbon fiber, reducing the weight by about four thousand pounds. Much of the riveting has been replaced by advanced adhesives.

The trailer design includes composite trailer skirts, aerodynamic disc wheel coverings, and a Posi-lift suspension. The trailer roof and sidewalls are 53-foot single-piece panels. The floor is also a 53-foot single piece, fiberglass-reinforced for a 16,000 pound forklift rating. Low-profile, low-amp LED lighting strips save energy and are less prone to damage.

Adam Hill, Great Dane vice president of product and sales engineering, describes the trailer as “a bold step in transportation technologies… We look forward to further collaboration with Walmart to create more fuel-efficient vehicles of this type in the future.”

The WAVE is part of Wal-Mart’s overall plan to double its fleet efficiency between 2005 and 2015. According to their website, Wal-Mart has achieved eighty percent of this goal, delivering 658 million more cases while driving 298 million fewer miles since 2007. If successful, the WAVE may change not only the shape of Wal-Mart’s fleet, but of the rest of America’s trucks.