From a simple Bakelite steering wheel to today’s function-packed sleek and pretty steering wheel made of wood or leather. Accompany us on a fast rewind through 60 years of driving a Scania.
The working environment has changed enormously. Truck drivers in the 1950s had to endure a stripped cab environment, cold metal and a very basic bakelite steering wheel – the plastic material at that time. Drivers today enjoy an ergonomic work place with inviting material and a steering wheel where they can easily control important functions with their fingertips.
“We put a huge amount of work into the feel of the steering wheel,” says Sven Stafner, Design Responsible, Driver Interface at Scania. “The styling, quality, functions and the feel of the buttons – everything should radiate a Scania feel. The steering wheel is perhaps the clearest expression of driving a Scania.”
Scania uses basically the same steering wheel – regardless of whether it is a city bus, a tipper truck in India or a long haulage truck. However, there is a lot of different material to choose, as well as possibilities to order special functions such as audio controls, menu-based control for the instrument cluster and management of cruise control systems.
“Our ergonomists and designers all strive to make the steering wheel and controls extremely intuitive,” says Stafner. “You shouldn’t have to take out the manual but should be able to learn the functions very quickly. Here, I think we have succeeded well with the present steering wheel.”
Safety is the top priority
At the same time, it is important to proceed cautiously with changes, Stafner points out. “Just because new functionality is available does not guarantee that it will be added to the existing functions that the driver can control,” he says.
Therefore Scania’s developers test all new functionality in simulators, where driver eye movements are measured, among other things. Safety is extremely important and the driver cannot be distracted by new technology in the cab environment.
“When we make changes, we are careful that they are very well thought-out and properly tested. We also want to ensure continuity so that as a driver, you know your way around when you change from an older to a newer Scania,” says Stafner.
The present steering wheel features an improved touch, control and design. Controls are grouped into three distinct “clusters”.
To the left are buttons to control infotainment systems such as the radio, CD player or mp3 player. In both the phone and media player, choices can be shown on the instrument cluster display.
To the right are intuitive controls to navigate within the display on the instrument cluster. These include a button for the driver’s mobile phone.
At the bottom of the wheel three uniquely designed buttons for the speed control functions are situated. Centre indentations make the controls easy to identify by touch. From left to right: cruise control, adaptive cruise control and downhill speed control. The downhill speed control button is designed to look and function like the cruise control system. The adaptive cruise control (in the middle) includes two bars to help fingers navigate between reducing or increasing the distance between the truck and the vehicle ahead of it.
New materials: several materials can be chosen for the foam-insulated steel core of the steering wheel, ranging from a more basic plastic material to dark chrome, wood and genuine leather. The wheel also has deformation zones, to avoid injuries in the event of accidents.
Ergonomic design: the steering wheel can be adjusted (slided and tilted) to fit any driver.
Airbag is an optional feature.
“Just like in smart phones the interfaces go from levers and mechanical controls to simple and intuitive menu-based controls that regulate functions in the instrument cluster display,” says Sven Stafner. “These could be functions such as defining a start gear or choosing a performance mode: standard, power, eco or off-road. In the next generations of steering wheels we will see more and more voice-control for functionality like the navigator and the phone.”
The cab enviroment is spartan and not much happened in the cab in the 1950s and 1960s. The steering wheel is made of Bakelite, an early plastic material, and has a wide diameter – this was before power steering made its entry. The steering wheel was rigid with no potential for adjustment and the only features offered were an indicator lever to the left and a trailer brake to the right.
Scania introduces a centre console and the cab environment starts to become more like a passenger car. Power steering is introduced and the steering wheel becomes smaller (450 mm in diameter).
The improvement of the cab environment begins in earnest. With the 3-series in 1988, Scania launches the curved instrument panel and the steering wheel becomes adjustable.
The improvement of the cab environment continues and the steering wheel gains additional adjustment possibilities. Airbags are offered as an option for the first time.
Increasing importance is attached to creating a pleasant cab environment. The material becomes softer and all functionality is clearly marked. With the launch of the R series in 2004, Scania now builds important functionality into the steering wheel.