Truck drivers view their instrument cluster as an uncluttered workspace, a place that requires constant monitoring to ensure their machine continues working perfectly. Truck repairs are expensive, time-intensive, or worse, could throw the truckers whole schedule out by hours.
This is why truck manufacturers put so much research into getting dashboard and gauge cluster design spot on. The instrument cluster is the meeting place between the trucker and his vehicle. It must display relevant information and its functions must be readily accessible to ensure the truck is driven as safely and efficiently as possible.
It was only recently that we started seeing completely redesigned dashboards in semi-truck manufacturing. Gone are the days of metal plates and screws. Taking its place are sleek, modern, seamless displays. Digital screens have greatly reduced the amount of space needed, resulting in a much cleaner and more modern looking interior.
As a result, the interaction we spoke of earlier has become much easier. Switches are able to be laid out in a more ergonomically friendly manner. Most gauge clusters are able to be completely reconfigured and customized to the driver's exact needs.
In this article, we not only examine the past but give a nod to the future, as well, to see what changes we can expect. As AI is now being introduced into trucks, we are able to see how it further effects cabin and interior design. This list will allow you to look through a trucker's eyes to see what they see.
20 Freightliner Cascadia
In 2017, Freightliner revealed a completely new interior including a brand new wraparound dashboard for their high-performance Cascadia class 8 truck. The redesigned dashboard was Freightliner's introduction into digital instrument clusters and the centerpiece is its five-inch display screen. It has a minimalist look and the initial display is very simple and reminiscent to the type of dashboard found in a car. It’s a mixture of static and dynamic displays, with the static display always showing transmission information, cruise control information, fuel level, and tachometer. The digital display can be accessed via controls on the steering wheel and displays the speedo, forward-facing radar information, vehicle operating gauges, diagnostics, and the truck's infotainment system.
19 Mack Anthem
When Mack was designing their new Anthem big rig, they surveyed truckers extensively and incorporated their feedback into its interior and dashboard design. They included space for owners to customize their own display with four optional auxiliary gauges of their choice. As is the trend in modern trucks, audio control and cruise control are accessible via steering wheel controls. What Mack has done differently, though, is concentrate on driver comfort, making light switches easy to reach instead of hiding them on the dashboard like other manufacturers. The controls for the mDrive transmission system sit just to the right of the steering wheel, so on occasions when the transmission needs to be controlled, it is within easy reach.
18 Kenworth W990
Kenworth's premium long-haul truck, the W990, is absolutely loaded with luxury features to make driving as comfortable as possible. It sold so well that when it was released last year Kenworth could not keep up with orders, leading some customers to wait up to 60 weeks for delivery. Inside, the cab continues this theme and the centerpiece of the dashboard is the seven-inch color display that provides access to telephone and communication functions, internet connectivity, roadside assistance, navigation, blind spot cameras, and vehicle data and diagnostics with remote access. Besides the digital display, the dashboard and gauge cluster remain similar to the T680 and T880 to keep manufacturing costs as low as possible.
17 Volvo FMX
The FMX is not Volvo's premium truck; in fact, it sits somewhere around the middle. But it is a very capable workhorse and has some interesting features which make it worth looking at. Volvo has made most of the instrument cluster configurable, meaning the driver can put whatever functions he uses the most closest to the steering wheel and organize them however they want. Volvo also surveyed the people who drive their trucks back in 2017 and found some interesting results. Most of the gauges on the instrument cluster were there because of tradition. Nobody had ever really considered changing things up too much. This led to a complete redesign, with most gauges merged into a centralized design to give a sleeker, less cluttered look.
16 Tesla Semi
The Tesla Semi isn’t due out until 2020 but a prototype has been revealed and shots of the interior have been released and to say it’s wildly different to anything else on the market would be the understatement of the year. It seems like there will be no dashboard. Instead, the driver is flanked by two large screens, the same ones that are currently available in the Model 3. There’s been no official confirmation about how these will be configured but we have seen one screen used to control the infotainment and navigation system with the other screen used to display operational information such as the pneumatic braking system. Whatever changes will be made, we can be sure they will follow the truck's current sparse, minimal theme.
15 Western Star 5700XE
If this Western Star truck looks familiar, you probably recognize it as Optimus Prime from the Transformers movies. Inside, Western Star is all about tradition and have largely resisted the trend of incorporating digital gauges and screens. For easy service and repair, both the switch panel and the gauge panel are easily removed by unscrewing the upper two screws, allowing both panels to swing out for easy access. This is very handy because typically, Western Star trucks tend to have a lot of gauge and electrical issues. The fuse panel is also easily accessed and all fuses sit just in front of the passenger seat.
14 Peterbilt 579
Peterbilt has always been strictly about trucking. Their no-nonsense workhorses are simple but functional, with a preference for traditional design. They tend to position their dashboards quite low in order to improve driver visibility. One interesting feature is Peterbilt's Driver Performance Assistant (DPA) which gives feedback to drivers via the center display. It helps drivers make adjustments to the way they accelerate, brake, and shift, and it offers tips for improvement. In testing, it was shown to improve fuel economy by up to 5% and prevented additional wear and tear on the vehicle, so long as the driver didn’t switch it off.
13 International LT
Just this year, International gave their LT model truck a brand new, redesigned dashboard and console. A small screen is integrated into the dashboard, as many of International's competitors are doing, allowing virtually any information on the truck's operation to be displayed easily. The transmission shifter is mounted on the steering column instead of on the console to allow for more efficient shifting and engine braking. The switch cluster to the right of the dashboard has been simplified with only a handful of switches remaining, as most information is designed to be accessed via the digital display. When designing their new console layout, International identified 500 ways the driver interacts with his truck during operation and focused on making these interactions as efficient as possible.
12 1960 Mack B61
To appreciate how good drivers have it today (or in Tesla's case, tomorrow), we need to go back to the past. The B series of trucks was manufactured from 1953 to 1966 and was built around a school bus chassis. The B61 came with some factory options including gauges that were angled to the driver, which although revolutionary at the time, is something that today, nobody would bat an eyelid at it. The design was extraordinarily simple and the only gauges you got were a tacho, speedo, fuel pressure, pyrometer, and some other component temperature gauges. And you could have the interior in any color you liked, so long as it was green.
11 Mercedes-Benz Actros
Sounding more like the soundtrack to a sneeze than the name of a truck, the interior of the Mercedes-Benz Actros could give their sports sedans a run for their money. Beating Tesla out the gate, Mercedes has completely done away with gauges and uses two huge screens to display all of the truck's info. One thing this allows them to do away with is the side mirrors, instead, using tiny mounted cameras to feed information back to the driver through the 10-inch screens. Mercedes claims this gives a superior all-around view and greatly reduces blind spots. The screens are highly configurable and can be tailored to drivers’ individual requirements.
10 1979 Peterbilt 359
We don’t realize how much easier truckers have it today until we compare modern gauge clusters with something classic like this Peterbilt 359. It’s a complete contrast to the latest sleek and uncluttered dashboards, with gauges as far as the eye can see. Although the cab is particularly cramped for taller drivers, the 359 dashboard is considered a classic and it took manufacturers a long time to depart from this style of gauge cluster. These trucks are so popular that it’s still possible to buy brand new aftermarket parts for the dashboard and interior, with some companies even offering complete interiors.
9 Iveco Stralis
Back in 2002, the Iveco Stralis was one of the first models to offer a screen in their gauge cluster and dashboard. Almost all of the controls were placed above the steering wheel because this was the most comfortable way for the driver to operate them. Because it was such a radical departure from a more traditional style of gauge cluster, Iveco spent years testing and refining the design with professional truckers, with all of them giving their tick of approval to this design before Iveco started rolling it out. Another innovation that Iveco offered was complete dashboard customization from the factory and even a ‘decentralization kit’ that could be fitted prior to delivery.
8 Scania G500
Scania played it pretty safe with their wing-shaped dashboard and instrument cluster in their bestselling G500. Where they differ from most manufacturers is by offering a 100% digital dashboard, allowing for complete customization options. Their dashboard sits quite low, as well, which helps with driver visibility. To the right of the large digital display sits the climate controls and above that, the infotainment system, which also doubles as a camera display and navigation device. Interestingly, Scania does offer a number of dashboard customization options including choice between a four-inch and a seven-inch screen and hard or soft instrument panels.
7 Renault Euro 6
The gauge cluster in the Euro 6 is virtually identical to the latest T440 model by Renault, aside from the air vents being in a different location. As is the case with most of their competitors, Renault opted to use the wraparound dashboard. A lot of the controls are as automated as possible to allow the driver to focus on the road ahead. The automatic gearbox is completely controlled via inputs on the steering wheel. What isn’t shown in this photo is the optional alcohol ignition lock, which we haven’t seen other manufacturers really incorporate into their dashboards. There is also a complete carbon fiber option available, which looks absolutely awesome.
6 Dongfeng KX
Dongfeng trucks aren’t well known and are typically found in China, where they are manufactured, and the Philippines. As such, there are some key design differences between trucks from the US or Europe. The design is more of a sweeping type with fewer angles. The interiors are modeled on China's luxury cars, although they have started experimenting with self-driving modes on this particular model. The dashboard is laid out in a more traditional style, with a surprising lack of digital gauges and only one small screen in the center of the cluster. Transmission controls are in the center console, which doesn’t exactly provide easy access for drivers.
5 MAN TGX
Man has always knocked their interior design out of the park and the TGX follows the trend. In the latest TGX, the driver's position and operating system layout were completely redesigned for a more intuitive feel. Even the rotary transmission switch has been integrated into the control panel. The dashboard and gauge cluster look simple and uncluttered and the reason is the sheer amount of driver assistance technology onboard this truck. This includes Man's adaptive cruise control, active steering system, lane guard support, lane return assist, attention guard, efficient cruise, and emergency brake assist. We don’t see self-driving trucks at the moment but it seems like they are not too far off from becoming a reality.
4 Nissan Japan UD Quon
The Quon was the bestselling truck in Japan for a number of years, partly because it has next to no competition. The dashboard isn’t complicated at all, despite its aged design, with only a few analog gauges and a basic digital menu with that strange font that Nissan seems to love. The gear shifter is an old fashioned stick with an H pattern but it's within easy reach while driving. As is typical with vehicles made in Japan, the focus is on driver efficiency, so if they suspect a driver may not be constantly needing to reference one of the displays, it's been removed. The layout is simple but the multiplexed wiring system is easily accessed and layout of the switches can be changed if so desired.
3 FAW Jiefang J7
Another truck from China, the FAW J7 is the star of many over-enthusiastic video presentations and advertisements. Looking far more up-to-date than Nissan's Quon, the J7 features a Vehicle Control Unit and digital control system which acts like a smart truck device manager. During development, the J7 was referred to as an intelligent truck and it seems like China may be one of the first countries to develop fully autonomous semi-trucks. However, for the time being, human drivers are still needed, although due to the level of AI that the J7 possess, you can see from the sparse dashboard layout that there is little monitoring and controlling of the truck that the driver needs to do.
2 Isuzu EXR Tractor
These small semi-trucks are usually found in East and South East Asia. Although Isuzu spends an absolute fortune on engineering their vehicles, they still advertise tilt and telescopic steering like it is a revolutionary design. The gauges look like they’ve been imported straight from the 1980s and we’re surprised the audio system doesn’t play cassette tapes. Despite their exceptional pickups, Isuzu obviously builds their trucks on as cheap a budget as possible and if you’re ever in the position to drive an EXR, we recommend you buy the darkest pair of sunglasses you can find to try and hide the ugly dash and console styling. A 1980s Honda could possibly make this thing look modern, but it would be a very close contest.
1 1995 Ford LA9000
This 1995 LA9000 has seen better days but it’s worth including because it’s fairly typical of trucks built in the 1990s. Some of the gauges are missing and it’s guaranteed that some also won’t be operational. Interesting is the way panels are just screwed into the plastic dash, with none of the seamless design we take for granted nowadays. Driver aids are non-existent and everything is analog. Typically with these trucks, a warning light would give you an indication that something is wrong, but it may or may not have been related to the actual problem. Finally, the dashboard sits much higher than in today's models and there is not much clearance between that and the steering wheel, with little care about driver comfort.
Sources: Repair My Gauge, Truckid, Trucking Info, and Classic Truck.