Steinwinter truck concept

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We're free from the shackles of Mazda. So let's get to it.

Trucking is big, old, dirty business. I mean that in the most loving sense, but to be fair, there are terms like "lot lizards" for a reason. (A lot lizard or cab crawler is a prostitute that works truck stops, if you weren't aware.) 

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That's one kind of dirty, but when most trucks on the road turn diesel into smoke at the rate of—at best—33 L/100km (7 US mpg), it's easy to see why lawmakers, truck manufacturers, and even companies like Wal-Mart are trying to reduce the amount of fuel these big rigs use.

Maybe we should have paid more attention to a small German firm based in Stuttgart with a knockoff Ferrari crest as their logo.

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Steinwinter is best known for their Fiat tuning parts and kit cars, but in 1983 at the Frankfurt IAA International Automobile Exhibition (otherwise known as the Frankfurt Motor Show), they unveiled a radical new way to think about transport trucks.

After reading a bunch on what can make heavy trucks more fuel-efficient, there are a few factors at work. 

First, reducing the overall height can help with fuel economy—which is really just an easy way to reduce the frontal area—because you want to push the smallest possible amount of surface area through the wind. For semi trucks, a reduction of a few square feet would represent massive savings.

Second—and this is what you'll see with European trucks—you can save fuel by reducing the amount of space between the cab and the trailer. Similar to how a spoiler-less hatchback will have a dirty rear window after a short time on a dusty road, air passing over the cab falls behind and becomes trapped between it and the trailer, creating aerodynamic drag.

Third, by keeping air out from underneath the trailer (many trailers these days have skirts ahead of the rear axles), you can similarly reduce the amount of turbulent air that's caught underneath the truck.

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It's projected that getting semi trucks to just 17.5 L/100km (13.4 mpg) it would save—just in the U.S.—28.4 billion litres (7.5 billion gallons) of diesel fuel and 21 million tons of exhaust emissions…annually.

Now, armed with that knowledge, look at the our featured vehicle with fresh eyes. Sure, it looks a bit goofy but we'll have to get serious about fuel economy sooner or later.

Standing just six inches (15cm) taller than the original Ford GT40 race car, the Steinwinter concept looks more like an airplane tug than truck. The whole thing makes sense, right? Instead of putting the big truck motor at the front, put it behind the cab and within easy reach of transport truck mechanics.

Sit close to the ground—in Recaro seats!—and you're able to enjoy fewer blind spots, though not being able to see farther ahead would require a little more planning when hauling heavy loads.

I could also see the possibility for understeer. Maybe it's something a sophisticated drive-by-wire traction and stability control system could compensate for.

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Envisioned as a two or five-axle design, Steinwinter also saw the possibility of the drive unit carrying trailers on its back, like a turtle, or as a bus with the passenger cabin up top.

With support from Mercedes for engines and early interest from several parties, including DAF, the Steinwinter seemed destined for at least limited production. 

Apparently the project ran out of development dollars, with issues surrounding the driving position, handling, and durability of components. 

Remember at the very top when I said that trucking was big business? The Steinwinter certainly isn't the only heavy truck to put a novel twist on moving loads from A to B.

Tomorrow, a Bulgarian living in France will entice you with a lightweight sports car inspired by the Bugatti Type 57.

Sources / Recommended reading