24 years on top for Isuzu

Isuzu Trucks has extended its reign atop the Australian truck market sales charts achieving its 24th consecutive year of total market leadership following strong 2012 sales results.

According to official T-mark industry reports, Isuzu finished the year with a total of 7,190 truck sales, surpassing last year’s sales of 6,617 units.

This result provided the brand with 23.4 per cent market share, almost 10 per cent clear of its closest rival, who trailed with 13.7 per cent for a total of 4,216 units.

As well as taking out overall sales honours, Isuzu continued to dominate the light market with 37.3 per cent share for a total of 3,367 units while extending its medium market leadership with 42.9 per cent share and 2,883 units.

In the heavy market, Isuzu finished a creditable fifth with 8.3 per cent share, a standing that is expected to improve this year following the recent introduction of its

Isuzu extends market leadership to 24 consecutive years

heavy duty FY Series 8×4 range.

Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL) Director and Chief Operating Officer, Phil Taylor, said Isuzu trucks remained a popular choice for new and existing truck buyers across the country.

“We’d like to thank our loyal truck customers for their continued support in helping us achieve these excellent sales results,” Mr Taylor said.

“The customer is at the forefront of everything we do and we focus on providing them with a truck line-up and associated support services that will closely meet their requirements, whether they are a small retail customer right through to a large corporate fleet.”

Mr Taylor said he expected truck sales to further improve in the next 12 months in line with the economy.

“The total truck market should again experience modest improvements in 2013,” he said.

“The heavy duty market was strong in 2012 and will likely continue in that manner this year – with our new heavy duty FY Series 8×4 range, we are confident of taking advantage of this in 2013.”

Heavy Duty truck sales rebound with 21.5% gain in 2012

A surprise rebound of the Heavy Duty segment, which finished the year with a tally of 11,378 units, or 21.5% above the 2011 result has helped the total truck market reach a 10.4% rise over 2011 sales.

The Truck Industry Council’s T-Mark truck sales figures show a total of 30,745 units were sold last year.

TIC said while any double-­digit growth in the current uncertain economic times is positive, it is worth remembering that 2011’s result was negatively affected by supply issues following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

“Japanese sourced vehicles still comprise about half of the Australian truck market total, so a gain over 2011 was to be expected,” said Simon Humphries, TIC Chief Technical Officer.

Results from VFACTS, released concurrently with the T-Mark data, show that Australian light vehicle sales have reached a new all time record in 2012, posting in excess of 1.1 million units. However, the high mark for truck sales remains the pre-GFC 2007 market of 38,131 units, or still 24% higher than the 2012 figure.

“The 2012 December figures alone the total truck market of 2,720 units was 8.6% higher than the same month in 2011. By comparison with December sales from recent years, 2012’s was better than those recorded for 2009 to 2011 inclusive, but still 22.5% lower than the best ever December sales recorded in 2007 of 3,509 units,” he said.

Turning to the overall results for the 2012 fourth quarter, T-Mark showed 8,533 truck sales, or 16% higher than the comparable October to December 2011 result of 7,362 units.  The second half of 2012 was 12.7% better than the same period in 2011, indicating that sales have accelerated slightly towards the end of the year, even more than usual seasonal adjustments.

Market Segments:

The full year truck sales result ended up 10.4% higher than 2011, with all segments posting increases, yet as previously mentioned the stand-out performer was the Heavy Duty segment.

The Light Duty Truck Segment for December was 17.7% higher than December 2011, and for the fourth quarter it recorded a 17.6% increase compared with the same period in 2011. This last quarter rebound in the segment saw an earlier deficit turn into a 2.2% gain for the full year, for a final tally of 9,022 units.

The Medium Duty Truck Segment posted a 10.8% decline compared with December 2011, reversing a positive trend in the previous few months. Nevertheless, the growth in this segment across the fourth quarter still represents an increase of 5%. The full year tally for Medium Duty of 6,725 units is 7.2% higher than for 2011, reversing a string of four years of decline, however not keeping up with the total market growth. The slow decline in Medium Duty representation shows it is now just 21.9% of the total truck market, compared with around 26% in 2007 and 2008.

The Heavy Duty Truck Segment has reported a second half to 2012 that is surprising,  especially since the same period in 2011 saw good growth compared with 2010. The December 2012 tally of 1,045 units is 10.6% higher than December 2011, and also exceeded the 2008 December result. The fourth quarter result was 17% higher than for 2011. An encouraging level of growth in this segment, which seems to reflect the return to the HD truck market by some fleets which may have deferred purchases in recent years, as well as continuing demand from the mining sector. Thanks to good growth in the second half, the full year 2012 total of 11,378 units was 21.5% higher than in 2011. The 2012 HD segment second half of the year actually exceeded the 2008 result (and all others since), but was still more than 16% below the second half of the 2007 record year.

The Light Duty Van Segment posted a strong gain in December 2012, with 303 units sold being 24.2% higher than the same month in 2011. Overall fourth quarter sales are a significant 32% higher than for 4th quarter 2011. The recent strong gains allowed a slower start for the year to be overcome, and ending with a tally of 3,389 units for a 6.8% growth vs 2011.

An initial TIC forecast for the 2013 total truck market is around a 5% increase on the 2012 result.

 

Truck Industry Council president Phil Taylor

TIC warns freight task needs government support

Truck Industry Council president Phil Taylor
Truck Industry Council president Phil Taylor predicts 40,000 units a year will be sold in Australia.

TIC president Phil Taylor was encouraged by the positive numbers evident in 2012’s truck sales however he said the government will need to give operators incentives to buy new trucks to meet the forcast freight task otherwise freight companies will be forced to keep their older trucks just to have enough vehicles on the road.

Taylor said the 2012 truck sales increase over 2011 exceeded most expectations expressed at the beginning of the year.

“Frankly, the overall growth of the Heavy Duty segment relative to the others is quite surprising, and is good for the industry, especially for the local truck manufacturers, all of which compete mainly in the HD segment,” he said.

“While part of the gains can be explained by the return of some fleets to purchasing new capital, and easing of restrictions and interest rates in the financial sector, the resources boom appears to be keeping sales quite strong in the North and West.

“Meanwhile, it is difficult to predict what truck sales will do in 2013. Most analysts predict another interest rate cut or two from the Reserve bank, which should allow finance for new capital equipment to remain very competitive. However, other forecasts for the retail, housing and a probable slowing in the resources sector’s growth could have a possible adverse effect on truck sales.”

He warned we must be aware, however, that for the road transport sector to manage the government’s forecast road freight task in the coming years, further growth in truck sales is necessary, firstly recovering to 2007 levels within the next couple of years, and beyond.

“To stimulate the market to these levels may require the introduction of suitable government incentives to buy new trucks, with their vastly improved productivity, safety and environmental performance,” he said.

“Otherwise, freight companies will be forced to keep their older trucks just to have enough vehicles on the road, and that presents Australia with a significant fleet average age problem which results in a poor environmental and safety outcome. I’m not saying we can expect to see it all happen in 2013, however TIC projections anticipate that truck sales need to increase to well beyond 40,000 units per annum within just a few years, just to keep up with demand for moving goods, ” Taylor said.

An initial TIC forecast for the 2013 total truck market is around a 5% increase on the 2012 result.

 

Arocs Mercedes-Benz new construction range

Mercedes-Benz Trucks are delivering a new breed of vehicles with a specialist construction work truck due for release in Europe in April 2013 on the heels of the new Actros for long-distance transport and the Antos for heavy-duty short-radius distribution released.

From 2013 all trucks and tractor units used for on and off-road applications in the construction sector will be known under the name Arocs.

The new range of dump trucks, all-wheel drive dump trucks, concrete agitators, tractor units and drop-side chassis vehicles are available as two, three and four-axle vehicles with 16 output variants from 175 kW (238 hp) to 460 kW (625 hp). From the outset, all the engines have been designed to meet the future Euro VI emissions standard and are available for order as a Euro VI version.

The BlueTec 6 engines are designed as in-line six-cylinder engines with exhaust-gas turbocharger and intercooler to provide great tractive power at little more than the engine’s idling speed. Maximum tractive power ranges from 1000 to 3000 Newton metres and will be achieved by the four engine sizes: 7.7, 10.7, 12.8 and 15.6 l; the latter variant is completely new and comes in the form of the new OM 473 engine.

The Arocs will also be setting an example with its drive system: the engine’s power will be transmitted by the Mercedes PowerShift 3 automated transmission, fitted as a standard. Drive programs are available which have been specifically developed for the vehicle’s varied range of applications.

The drive configurations offered for the Arocs range from the 4×2 two-axle version with rear-wheel drive to 8×8/4, a four-axle vehicle with all-wheel drive and two steering front axles. Four-axle versions with one front and three rear axles, a wide range of air-sprung vehicles, or a load-optimised concrete-mixer chassis with single-tyred drive tandem are examples of the wide variety of new Arocs versions now available straight off the production line.

The Arocs has seven cabs available in 14 different versions. As supplements to the compact 2.3 m cabs in L, M or S versions, the new Arocs can also be fitted with spacious 2.5 m variants with a level cab floor.

The unmistakeable design of the new Mercedes-Benz Arocs is as unusual as the complete truck. The specially designed styling of the construction truck family stands out because of its radiator grille with so-called bucket-teeth- look. It sends a clear message: the sturdy “teeth” stand for biting one’s way through and knuckling down to the job. Steel elements on the bumpers, a robust radiator guard and optically integrated construction-specific folding entry step harmonise form and function for the hard-work specialist.

New for the Arocs are the product groups Loader and Grounder. The Arocs Loader consistently makes the most of every possibility of reducing its own kerb weight. The result provides payload optimised 4×2 tractor units which are among the lightest vehicles in the construction sector in Europe as well as 8×4/4 concrete mixers with 32t maximum permissible weight. As these have a particularly low kerb weight of a maximum of 9250 kg, they are able to supply 8 m3 of ready-mixed concrete on every trip.

The Arocs Grounder is designed for operating under extremely difficult conditions. It is extremely stable and resilient and also has a great number of technical details to make sure that it is uncompromising and robust for the toughest jobs on the construction site.

The Arocs will celebrate its customer premiere at the Bauma trade fair in Munich, Germany in April 2013.

How ‘Lo’ can you go?

 

'Wanted': Never mind a leather interior, this beast has hide on the outside.

Western Star is set to display a stunningly customised 4900EX Lo Max aptly named ‘Wanted’ at this year’s International Truck, Trailer & Equipment Show (ITTES). The show will be held on three days from March 15 to 17 at the Melbourne showgrounds at Ascot Vale.

‘Wanted’ was created by a team of custom design specialists in the US for last year’s Mid America truck show using the ‘Wild West’ theme for inspiration.

Seemingly no amount of customisation was deemed too outlandish. For instance, never mind a leather interior, this beast has the hide on the outside with fishnet-finish leather wrapped fuel tanks masquerading as saddle bags, complete with buckles and straps, along with studded leather-clad side steps, toolboxes and 22-inch deep front bumper. Taking pride of place in the bumper’s centre is a massive cog shaped ‘belt buckle’ featuring the Western Star logo.

Highlighting the immaculate custom paint job are intricate scrollwork designs etched into polished metal components including wheel rims, air cleaner cans, muffler heat shields, roof-mounted air deflector sides and rear mudguard embellishment strips.

Completing the exterior picture is a matching pair of unique ‘double-barrel’ exhaust stacks, pointing skyward as though poised to fire a volley of warning shots.  

The ‘Wanted’ truck’s cab interior, which has not been altered from factory specs, showcases Western Star’s new interior  featuring all-new timber cabinets and table, as well as ‘prairie tan’ coloured upholstery, dashboard and door trims.

Typically, Western Star’s show trucks are pre-purchased by a dealer or customer, who takes possession after the truck has been on show. However, due to its immense popularity, Western Star has held onto ‘Wanted’ longer than usual to allow show-goers across the globe the opportunity to see this sensational Star in the flesh.

The company stresses that ‘Wanted’ was built expressly as a show truck and the Lo Max model is not available in Australia.

 

Mack Trident Shines as B-Double Hauler

Keen to take Mack’s latest pooch on the prowl, PAUL MATTHEI recently slid behind the wheel of a Trident hauling a B-double for a run from Melbourne to Newcastle. Fitted with Mack’s flagship 535 hp MP8 engine coupled to the new mDrive automated shifter, high expectations were met with equally high results.

Bow WOW!

It’d been a few years since I’d driven a Mack on an interstate run. In fact, the last time was back in early 2005 between Adelaide and Sydney, steering a Super-Liner LT with a 550 hp Cat stirring through an Eaton AutoShift box.

Of course, much has changed since then. For starters, Mack’s much vaunted ‘New Breed’ of pups was born in Australia in late ’07, and following a few tough teething issues has matured into what is widely considered to be the finest and most comprehensive  collection of new bulldogs in the company’s long and proud history.

Furthermore, there’s no longer the option of having a hairy-chested Cat engine prowling beneath a bulldog snout, while Eaton’s underwhelming AutoShift has been largely superseded by the slicker, smoother, smarter UltraShift two-pedal automated transmission.

So while comparing the Super-Liner LT I’d driven back in ‘05 with the new Trident might seem akin to lining up chalk against cheese, there is at least one similarity that bears comparison.

That is, peak power and torque figures delivered by the latest iteration of Mack’s 12.8 litre MP8 engine with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions control are within a bulldog’s bark of those produced by Cat’s C15. And remember, back in 2005 the C15 hadn’t yet been lumbered with the complicated and costly ACERT (Advanced Combustion Emissions Reduction Technology) emissions control system.

For the record, the Cat C15 produced 550 hp compared to the latest Mack’s 535 hp. In the torque department, however, the tables are turned with Mack pipping Cat at the post, notching 1920 lb ft compared to the yellow engine’s 1850 lb ft, both produced at a low 1200 rpm. The salient point about this comparison is that until its withdrawal from the on-highway truck engine business, Caterpillar was a leading powerbroker in the heavy-duty B-double business in a mix of Kenworth, Freightliner and Western Star chassis.

And herein, with its own engine now delivering such ample outputs, rests the reason why Mack can finally lay claim to having a serious contender for the hotly contested linehaul B-double market. Put simply, B-double operators generally want engines producing more than 500 hp and at least 1850 lb ft of torque, and the top rated version of Mack’s MP8 SCR engine now ticks both boxes with bold, thick ink.

It’s no secret, of course, that the MP8 engine is a canine clone of Volvo’s (Mack’s parent company) 12.8 litre D13C engine introduced some years back to provide the Swedish manufacturer with a powerplant to comfortably compete in the B-double arena. Before that, Volvo had used a complex turbo-compound system to coax 500 hp from an aging 12 litre six which was never designed to achieve such a high output. Ensuing durability issues provided resounding proof that a larger displacement engine was needed for B-double roles and the D13C with SCR emissions control has since acquitted itself remarkably well with ratings of up to 540 hp.

However, it was Mack’s insistence to remain with EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) emissions controls that precluded the MP8 from ratings above 500 hp – the main reason being the extra cooling capacity required for EGR engines. But with the introduction of ADR 80/03 emissions standards earlier this year, most manufacturers including Mack proceeded to offer SCR simply because it is now the most efficient method of mitigating harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) to the prescribed level.

Interestingly, it was possibly Mack’s proud American heritage that drove the company’s decision to stay with EGR – traditionally favoured by US operators – during the reign of the previous ADR 80/02 emissions regulation rather than convert to SCR. It seems the general consensus at the time was that US (and Australian) operators would be none too happy about having to regularly top up an AdBlue (liquid urea) tank as a necessary part of SCR operation. However, this assumption has proved something of a furphy on both continents as in most cases it appears drivers have taken to the new task without much fuss at all.

Indeed, our US correspondent Steve Sturgess who writes DIESEL’s State of the Union column has focussed on this issue a number of times of late with one of his most recent reports concluding that American operators are not finding SCR the terrible technology it has been regularly painted.

Anyway, back on Mack: Thanks to its Volvo parentage, switching to SCR was not particularly difficult and with its MP8 engine now punching out much the same performance standards as its Swedish counterpart, Mack is finally able to have a serious shot at the B-double business. What’s more, it can do it with its own fully automated 12-speed transmission called mDrive which, of course, is a suitably ‘Mackanised’ version of Volvo’s stunningly smooth I-shift box.

Bringing mDrive to market has been an extremely long-winded exercise and many wonder why it needed to take so long when the need, in fact, was so great. Whatever, it’s now here and best of all, it was worth the wait.

Taming the tiger

It was a blustery Melbourne morning as the cavalcade of new Macks was readied for the next leg of its Australian tour, moving from CMV’s Laverton (Vic) dealership to the NSW industrial hub of Newcastle.

As a Volvo, Mack and UD dealership, CMV is well versed in the supply of AdBlue (liquid urea) for SCR engines and even has a mini-tanker to dispense the product. Thus, filling the 200 litre AdBlue tank of a Mack Trident took just a few minutes, which sure beats trying to slosh it in using 10 or 20 litre containers!

While the Trident was the prime focus for this report, my first drive was a Granite day cab prime mover pulling a drop-deck semi with a Granite rigid tipper sitting on the deck.  Designed for urban distribution roles and with a gross combination rating of 45 tonnes, the Granite prime mover had the MP8 engine rated at 435 hp with 1655 lb ft of torque, coupled to an mDrive automated transmission and driving into a Meritor RT40-145 tandem running a 3.42:1 axle ratio.

Riding on a wheelbase of 4460 mm and with its steer axle set back 1297 mm from the bumper face, this Granite boasted a remarkably tight turning circle of 15.9 metres. It also sported a bumper to back of cab (BBC) measurement of 2960 mm and an overall length of 7272 mm, while fuel and liquid urea tank capacities were 700 and 125 litres respectively.

Apart from the mDrive experience, probably the most pleasing aspect of this drive was that it demonstrated just how well Mack engineers have tuned the MP8 engine to differentiate it from its Volvo counterpart. Quite simply, if I hadn’t known any different, I would not have suspected there was anything other than a traditional Mack six humming away under the hood.

Perhaps it’s due to a slightly freer exhaust system, but throughout the drive there was the distinct impression of a decidedly deeper engine note than what comes from a Volvo engine, which I believe is exactly what most Mack drivers would want to hear. And that’s not to say it was noisy; on the contrary these new bulldogs are quieter than their forebears by a country mile. No, it’s simply a familiar nuance that perhaps even subconsciously reinforces the fact that you’re driving a Mack.

And speaking of driving, although my stint in the Granite was short, it at least provided the opportunity to see how mDrive performed hauling away from traffic lights and such. Grossing just 25 tonnes or thereabouts, the unit certainly wasn’t working hard but the fact that the transmission software recognised this and would often skip one or sometimes two gears during upshifts was a solid recommendation for the intuitiveness of the system. I also noticed that it adapted quickly to a gentle driving style, keeping engine speed within the most fuel efficient band between 1200 and 1600 rpm.

Trident’s turn

Then it was time to park my butt in the comfortable sheep-skin covered driver’s chair of the Trident, hauling a loaded B-double set and grossing around 60 tonnes, well under the model’s 70 tonnes gross weight rating. My co-pilot for the trip was Mack driver-trainer Paul Munro and as we both scribbled in our logbooks, it struck me that there were three major departures from Mack tradition in this Trident and the Granite I’d just driven. First, of course, is the SCR emissions system while second and third are the absence of a clutch pedal and shift lever due to the mDrive automated transmission.

That’s right, there’s no shift lever at all, with gearbox functions controlled by large push buttons housed in a neat flush-fitting panel just to the left of the steering wheel, with a similarly large and easily read LED display at the top showing which gear is selected. Vitally, due to the wrap around cockpit style dash, this panel is well within fingertip reach of the driver and along with the normal selector functions, there’s another marked ‘PERF’ denoting a performance mode which allows revs to run higher on long climbs and provides better engine braking during descents.

Besides, not having a shift lever of any description beside the seat proved a boon when I decided it was time to test out the bunk for a few hours. Seriously, being able to swing both legs around the seat completely unimpeded is pure joy. And yes, the sack is extremely comfortable too!

Meanwhile, in the constricted confines of a roadhouse parking area it was similarly easy to appreciate the manoeuvrability afforded by a steer axle set back 1297 mm from the bumper which, combined with a 4885 mm wheelbase, provides a relatively compact turning circle of 17.2 metres.

At the other end, the Trident ran Meritor RT46-160 drive axles with a final drive ratio of 3.07:1, riding on Mack’s AP460 air suspension. Fuel and liquid urea capacities are 1400 and 200 litres respectively while the BBC dimension is 3775 mm with a 36 inch (914 mm) sleeper berth attached.

Pulling onto the highway, the Trident immediately flexed its considerable muscle and the 1920 lb ft of torque was put to good use as the mDrive box progressed through the gears as smoothly as any automated unit I’ve driven. Particularly impressive was the precise engine speed control that enabled crisp, fast shifts, keeping the turbo up to speed and minimising road speed drop off during each change.

Once up to the 100 km/h limit, at which the Trident’s tacho was indicating a relaxed 1500 rpm, Paul Munro proceeded to describe the cruise control operation and I soon discovered a very useful feature of the system. After setting the desired road speed and with the engine brake switched on, pressing another ‘set’ toggle switch allows the engine brake to activate when the vehicle speed exceeds the set speed by more than three km/h, such as on a downgrade. However, having the three km/h tolerance means slight variations in speed are allowed for without the annoyance of the engine brake coming on when it’s not needed. And on the subject of engine braking, Mack’s Powerleash unit is good for 315 kW (495 hp) of retardation at 2100 rpm.

After this, it was simply a matter of sitting back and enjoying the drive, with the Trident taking the task of hauling a 60 tonne B-double combination up the Hume well in its stride. For instance, on the first serious northbound climb near Glenrowan, it only dropped one gear and crested the rise at 65 km/h and 1300 rpm. Then further on at the steeper Aeroplane and Woomargama ascents it managed both in eighth gear, falling to 28 km/h and 1200 rpm on the former and 33 km/h and 1300 rpm on the latter.

The day progressed comfortably and smoothly, and with midnight approaching after skirting around Sydney and joining the F3 for the final leg to Newcastle, the Mack seemed to relish the cooler night air. Indeed, the truck romped up the Joll’s Bridge climb from the HawkesburyRiver, settling into 9th gear and holding 40 km/h at 1400 rpm on the sharpest pinch. Similarly, the run over Moonie Moonie saw the Mack cling tenaciously to 8th gear with the speedo steady at 30 km/h and the tacho registering 1250 rpm.

By any estimation it was a gutsy effort considering the all-up weight of 60 tonnes. However, in both cases the mDrive transmission wasn’t left entirely to its own devices. I found the best results were achieved by leaving it in auto but selecting performance mode at the commencement of a climb. This enabled single gear downshifts at about 1400 rpm rather than letting engine speed fall to 1200 rpm where the transmission would perform a skip downshift to compensate for the loss of road speed. Then once it had settled on the right gear for the pull, deactivating the performance mode allowed revs to drop to 1250 without a ratio change to make best use of the low down torque. This also allowed upshifts to occur sooner as the terrain levelled out which once again kept engine speed in the fuel efficient band between 1200 and 1600 rpm.

All up, the strategy seemed to work and arriving atNewcastle, a quick flick through the driver info system revealed the Trident had averaged a respectable 1.7 km/litre (4.8 mpg) on the trip fromMelbourne. What’s more, according to Paul Munro, the unit’s overall average consumption since the beginning of Mack’s cavalcade was 1.77 km/litre (5.0 mpg), achieved with a consistent 60 tonne gross weight and a wide variety of drivers.

At the end of the test, the overwhelming impression was that Mack has done a fine job of incorporating the necessary SCR technology and desirable mDrive automated transmission into its product line without compromising the traditional character of the brand.

This is perhaps best underscored by the conclusion that with this latest Trident, Mack finally has an entirely competent B-double prime mover propelled by a highly responsive six cylinder engine and automated transmission package.

Arguably the most pertinent point of all though is that none of this would have been possible for Mack without its Volvo parentage. For those who still yearn for the old days, it’s a point certainly worth thinking about.

 

Major Makeover for Kenworth’s Cab-Over

There’s no doubt about it! Inside and out, the K200 represents the most dramatic and most overdue design change in the 40 year history of Kenworth’s stalwart cab-over. In this detailed report, STEVE BROOKS is invited behind the wheel to sample this remarkable rework of the venerable K-series, arguably the biggest single development from the Kenworth camp in decades.

rEVOLUTION

In the broadest terms of truck design, evolution can perhaps be loosely defined as those gradual updates and modifications which change and enhance the style and performance of a particular model over time.
Revolution on the other hand occurs when a great heap of major developments are implemented all at once, dramatically altering a particular design to the point where it not only looks vastly different but is also fundamentally better in function and form than anything that went before it. Subsequently, it becomes the foundation for future designs.

kenworth-k200-revolution-lead-pic
Kenworth K200

In our estimation, Kenworth’s K200 probably sits somewhere between the two definitions. Yet such is the extent of change on a series which from day one has been a cornerstone of Kenworth’s Australian operation, that the lean is definitely more towards revolution than evolution. Revolution with a small ‘r’.

Whatever the judgement though, the K200 – or something akin to it with the enhancements to overcome a few increasingly evident flaws in the internal design of Kenworth’s crucial cab-over – has been a long time coming. Forty years have passed since the first truck, a K-series, rolled out of Kenworth’s Bayswater (Vic) factory and since then more than 11,000 cab-overs have followed, easily making K-series the most enduring and successful of all Kenworth models. Indeed, one of the most enduring trucks to ever compete on the Australian market.

kenworth-k200-revolution-pic-a
In the K200 demo truck, control tower for the Eaton Ultrashift-Plus automated shifter actually infringed on movement from seat to bunk more than its manual counterpart with a collapsible gearlever. Automated or not though, space and convenience for the driver are massively improved in the K200.

Of course, much has changed over those 40 years, not least America’s departure from heavy-duty cab-over trucks which effectively left Kenworth’s Australian operation on its own when it came to continuing development of the K-series. Yet many years back, around the late ‘80s, there was actually plenty of talk of a completely new Kenworth cab-over design being developed at Paccar’s Seattle headquarters in the US. Corporate colleague Peterbilt had already produced a radical new cab-over model and most pundits thought it inevitable that Kenworth would eventually follow with something similarly advanced.

However, changing US regulations continued to favour conventional designs, meaning that Peterbilt’s new cab-over would be relatively shortlived and Kenworth’s anticipated new model would forever remain nothing more than a rumour. As for some suggestions at the time that Australia should design and produce an entirely new cab-over of its own, well, in a relatively small market like ours the costs are simply way too high – particularly given the engineering complexities of the cab-over design – and the returns way too low to justify such an expensive endeavour. Thus, the K-series was here to stay.

Still, cab-over acceptance in Australia remained strong, buoyed greatly by the ascendancy of B-doubles. Meantime, Kenworth’s extensive engineering capabilties and world class manufacturing operation at Bayswater combined to put the local outfit in the box seat, providing the ability to quickly react to changing operational and regulatory landscapes.

It’s fair to suggest, for instance, that Kenworth Australia’s capabilities and the burgeoning B-double business delivered a much needed shot in the arm for the K-series, with no better example of this than the cab-over’s adaptation over the years to the various regulatory requirements of B-doubles and its subsequent success as a market leader in B-double roles.

kenworth-k200-revolution-pic-b
Steppin’ up. The K200 is a tall truck but the steps are evenly spaced and provide sure-footed access with conveniently sited grab rails for support. On the passenger side though, there was the surprising absence of a grab handle on the inside of the A-pillar.

In fact, the K-series has probably undergone more development work over the past few decades than any Kenworth model to ever compete on the Australian market. Gradual changes based on the K100 platform have seen the evolution of versions from the K100C to the K100E, K100G, the K104 which marked the arrival of engineering modifications specifically tailored to toughening emissions standards, followed soon after by the marginally modified K104B.

In engineering terms, however, the biggest change came a few years later with the K108, a derivative created alongside its ’08 conventional counterparts to meet the massively increased cooling requirements of EGR engines complying with the ADR 80/02 emissions standard which came into effect early in 2008.

Then almost three years later, coinciding with the introduction of the ADR 80/03 emissions standard on January 1 this year, Kenworth late in 2010 shocked the socks off everyone with the launch of several stunningly restyled conventionals. The biggest shock of all though came with the unveiling of the K200.

As several senior Kenworth people have explained when asked why it took so long to introduce a vastly restyled and modernised cab-over flagship, the ’08 range consumed so much engineering time and energy – not to mention funds – in meeting ADR 80/02 that there was little opportunity to concentrate on anything other than the detailed requirements of the new emissions standard.

According to the same people though, there had been firm plans for a number of years to completely redesign the K-series. Thus, with the engineering demands of ADR 80/03 substantially less than those of the previous standard, Kenworth had both the time and the resources to go full throttle on the creation of a vastly changed cab-over series.

New looks

Development of the K200 was unquestionably one of the best kept secrets in the history of Australian truck design and despite a typically lengthy test program across much of Australia, Kenworth still managed to keep the new model away from prying eyes.

Sure, we expected a modified range of trucks fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to meet the 2011 emissions standard, but there was no indication whatsoever that Kenworth would go to such great lengths to

address the criticisms which had dogged the K-series despite its obvious success over so many years. Those criticisms, of course, centred largely on the driver environment with complaints of poor access into and inside the cab, but it’s on the outside where you’re initially left in no doubt that K200 is boldly different to any of its predecessors.

To quote Kenworth, ‘The K200 story starts with dramatic new styling from a wider and lower grille opening and chrome surround. This larger opening, along with the standard contoured FUPS bumper, promotes greater airflow through the new cooling package which includes a new charge air cooler, moulded fan shroud and a repositioned engine to optimise exit air flow.’

The size of the radiator is, however, unchanged. According to our sources, Kenworth was able to achieve considerable gains in cooling efficiency by concentrating on air management, specifically streamlining airflow into and out of the radiator through a redesigned fan shroud.

Meanwhile, cab height has been raised by 50 mm with considerably more shielding under the cab and engine tunnel to substantially lower heat and noise intrusion.

Critically though, considerable engineering emphasis was applied to cab access. Again quoting Kenworth, ‘The new cab access system provides a larger free flowing top step that supplements existing access standards … and allows the driver to maintain continuous three points of contact at all times by utilising grab rails and steps.’

Additionally, there are LED step lights integrated with the remote control central locking system, automatically lighting the steps when the cab is unlocked. Also, the doors have been redesigned with wider armrests integrating switches for mirror adjustment and the standard electric windows.

There are also new seat options providing driver and passenger with 30 mm more shoulder room and greater leg room on the passenger side. What’s more, there’s also space under the bunk for two amply sized slide-out drawers which can be optionally equipped as 30 litre fridges. Likewise, the overhead console includes an additional storage locker and recessed panels for fitment of GPS navigation or other driver information displays.

The truly big achievements on the inside though are what Kenworth describes as an ‘almost flat’ cab floor and a clever fold-away gearlever, each combining to overcome historic K-series complaints of restricted space in the driver’s area and poor access from seat to bunk.

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Look here! The curved edge of the wider, lower grille opening gives the K200 a distinctive look befitting a premium model which marks the start of a new era for the long-serving K-series. Behind the grille though are considerable gains in cooling efficiency.

So, having driven many different K-series models over the past 30 years and more in everything from express linehaul to roadtrain triples, these driver factors were the main motivation for jumping at an offer to pilot a K200 on a day-long drive through the Victorian backblocks in the company of Kenworth sales manager Rob Griffin. In effect, it was an assessment of environment and ergonomics rather than performance, and the fact that the truck was coupled to a partially loaded single trailer rather than a B-double set was of little importance.

The demo truck was a full production unit which had already covered 11,000 km on trial duties and as a showpiece for the new series was well endowed with all the latest options, not least the full suite of safety features from Kenworth’s (Knorr Bremse) electronic brake safety system (EBSS) including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability program and what Kenworth calls ‘active cruise with brakes’, or ACB. Like most modern active cruise control systems, ACB monitors traffic ahead of the vehicle and on detecting a potential collision has the ‘smarts’ to automatically apply the truck’s foundation brakes after first applying the engine brake and reducing the throttle.

Built on a 4.28 metre wheelbase and fitted with the 2.3 metre Aerodyne sleeper cab, the test truck was punched by a Cummins ISX engine rated at 525 hp, putting the power to the ground through a Dana D46-170 drive tandem running a 4.3:1 final drive ratio, mounted on Kenworth’s Airglide 460 airbag rear suspension.

The transmission was Eaton’s super-slick Ultrashift-Plus automated 18-speed overdrive and while shifters don’t come much sweeter than this latest evolution of Eaton automation, in this instance it was a disappointment … not because of any deficiency or fault with the transmission, but simply that its manual counterpart would have better highlighted the K200’s unquestionable gains in space and function. As it was, the automated shifter’s Cobra control tower was a somewhat lumpy affair mounted on the forward edge of the engine cowl and consumed more space than seemed necessary.

In fact, climbing behind the wheel of a manual model for a few minutes, it was instantly evident that the stick shift with its innovative and simple ability to be folded out of the way provided a notably easier move from the seat than the automated version. Consequently, a Cobra controller integrated into the fascia on the driver’s left would be an obvious and significant improvement on the arrangement in the demo truck. Simply stated, Kenworth can do better.

Still, in either automated or manual form, the swing out of the driver’s seat in the K200 is massively improved over its predecessors. Lightyears ahead!
Likewise, the lower floor height over the engine is a remarkable achievement which allows drivers up to six feet tall to stand fully upright. And this, combined with immeasurably easier access to and from the seat, effectively silences complaints which have hammered at Kenworth’s door for decades.

Speaking of silence, interior noise levels in the K200 are exceptionally low and Kenworth’s work on reducing noise and heat intrusion appears to have paid off … big time!

As for actually climbing in and out of the cab, the revised step arrangements are notable improvements. The K200 is a tall truck but the steps are evenly spaced and provide sure-footed access with conveniently sited grab rails for support. On the passenger side though, the ease and safety of entry and exit are diminished by the surprising absence of a grab handle on the inside of the A-pillar.

In on-road terms, the K200 behaved brilliantly. Steering and ride quality were exemplary while forward vision through the optional one-piece windscreen was superb. Sure, most operators will probably see the

single sheet as an expensive piece of replacement glass compared to the standard split ‘screen, and of course they’d be right. Similarly though, there’s no question the vision provided by the one piece of glass is exceptional.

Likewise, modified doors coupled with superbly sized and mounted side mirrors deliver an excellent view of ‘the back door’.

For the most part, the dash and switchgear layouts have undergone only minor amendments but there are nonetheless a couple of concessions to modern practice, specifically a switch on the far right of the main dash for regeneration of the diesel particulate filter. What’s more, engine brake controls in the demo unit were via a switch on the left fascia rather than on a thin wand atop the steering column. According to Kenworth, the change to the dash-mounted switch becomes necessary when the suite of safety features is installed.

So all up, the K200 is a major and unequivocal advance on its forebears and while the most important and obvious gains are in the space and convenience afforded by a comprehensive rework of the engine tunnel and floor area along with effective innovations like a collapsible gearlever, it’s more about the complete package than individual elements.
External appearance, of course, is the most striking element of the new model but on the inside there are also numerous nuances in trims, fittings and features which all add to a truck which has taken a generational leap into the modern world.

Sure, there are perhaps other cab-over brands with rights to claim easier access and better internal space and convenience, but given the established acceptance of the K-series built on its long-standing reputation for durability and operational efficiency, the substantial gains achieved by Kenworth engineers are immensely valuable.

In fact, when it’s considered that Kenworth’s cab-over has design roots tracing back 40 years, the advances contained in the K200 are nothing less than exceptional.

 

 

 

Seeking Savings with 6×2 Scania

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Scania G440 Short Drive

What comes around, goes around, and Scania Australia is once again pushing the virtues of the single-drive 6×2 configuration for some applications where tandem-drives have long been the norm. This time ‘round though, Scania has time and technology to draw on. PAUL MATTHEI reports after jockeying a G440 6×2 on a short run out of Melbourne.

The ‘Lazy’ Option

While trucking applications like construction, quarrying, logging and other off-road ventures obviously require the superior traction afforded by the tandem-drive 6×4 arrangement, Scania suggests there’s no valid reason why 6×2 prime movers can’t operate just as effectively as their double-diff siblings in specific highway roles.

And after the smooth, untroubled performance of just such a unit on a 185 km loop north of Melbourne, it’s difficult to disagree.

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But why would you choose to operate a 6×2 prime mover when the ‘traditional’ 6×4 configuration has been the mainstay of Australia’s heavy-duty truck fleet since Adam was a boy?

Quite simply, it all comes down to two words: Saving money! Measured against an equivalent 6×4 unit, a 6×2 prime mover in the right application can provide quantifiable savings by a number of means and for its part, Scania Australia cites the following benefits:

•    Greater payload potential due to reduced tare mass;
•    Meaningful fuel benefits and reduced carbon footprint;
•    Lower capital investment as a result of fewer mechanical parts; and
•    Reduced servicing and repair costs.

Expanding on each point, Scania says its 6×2 G440 prime mover fitted with the two-pedal (fully automated) Opticruise transmission tares around 400 kg lighter than its 6×4 equivalent. In this case, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that, all other things being equal, an additional 400 kg of payload can be legally carried by the 6×2 unit.

Then there’s the fuel saving which actually amounts to more than what’s gained by simply having 400 kg less tare weight to haul. That’s because there’s no frictional losses associated with powering a second drive axle and through shaft. Furthering this benefit, Scania specifies its 6×2 arrangement with a direct drive gearbox rather than an overdrive unit which initially sounds counter intuitive given the overdrive’s inherent ability to reduce engine speed and therefore fuel usage at highway speeds.

However, it actually takes slightly less engine power to propel a vehicle through a direct (1:1) top ratio than an overdrive ratio because the latter involves the power being delivered via the countershaft rather than directly along the main shaft of the transmission. All up, Scania says it amounts to a further one percent fuel saving.

Anyway, the 6×2 unit comes standard with an ultra tall 2.71 rear axle ratio which effectively compensates for the lack of an overdrive top gear and according to Scania’s calculations, actually delivers an identical final drive ratio to that of a 6×4 equivalent with its 3.42 rear axle and overdrive top gear. Importantly, to cater for low speed manoeuvring, the 6×2 unit features a stump pulling 16.3:1 ‘crawler’ gear.

Again according to Scania, local testing has shown the G440 6×2 has the potential to achieve up to 12.5 percent better fuel economy and at 100 km/h has an additional 10 hp at the drive wheels compared to its ‘double diff’ equivalent.

Continuing the credits, one less diff and no through shaft also mean a lower purchase price and less maintenance and repair costs over the life of the vehicle. In fact, Scania says savings in regular servicing costs could amount to almost $1000 per year for a vehicle travelling 200,000 km annually, while 6×2 vehicles running within a Scania repair and maintenance contract would cost less per month than a Scania 6×4 on a similar contract. It’s also worth mentioning the lower tyre wear rate of the lazy axle and the fact that it can be fitted with steer tread pattern tyres which in most applications tend to have slower wear rates than chunkier drive treads.

These days, all Scania 6×2 prime movers are also equipped with traction control, differential lock and load transfer – a system which engages at speeds below 30 km/h to vary air pressure between the lazy and drive airbags and thus add more weight over the drive axle – to maximise traction in conditions likely to be encountered during typical operation.

First time

Scania Australia organised a test drive of a G440 6×2 running from its Campbellfield (Melbourne) headquarters, north along the old Hume Highway to Seymour before turning to join the ‘new’ Hume freeway on the return run. Sure, it wasn’t far – just 185 km – but I’d never driven a 6×2 prime mover before and was eager to find out if there would be any discernible difference in driving terms compared to an equivalent 6×4 unit.

My curiosity was soon satisfied and the short answer is that it was impossible to tell the difference. Quite simply, the G440 6×2 grossing around 38 tonnes did the job with the same quiet efficiency we’ve come to expect from each and every model in the current Scania line-up.

And on that point, Scania says it plans to offer the 6×2 option across its entire range comprising P, G and R-series cabs with either five, six or eight cylinder engines. Meanwhile, with the G 440 6×2 already available, Scania says a number of units have been trialled by a variety of Australian transport operators with most reporting exceptional driver acceptance of the new configuration.

Back to the drive though, a revealing part of the exercise centred around the use of Scania Driver Support (SDS), an inbuilt system that helps the driver modify driving style in order to maximise fuel efficiency. Indeed, the drive program typified something of a two pronged attack on fuel usage, given the 6×2 configuration and driving style are both major influences.

SDS works by awarding a star rating of between one and five stars depending on how well the driver anticipates road conditions and uses the vehicle’s momentum to maximise fuel efficiency and minimise brake use. The star rating appears periodically on the instrument panel display along with the driver’s cumulative fuel efficiency score (expressed as a percentage) for the entire trip.

For example, my initial fuel efficiency score according to the SDS system was a fair 66 percent but with Scania driver trainer Alan McDonald suggesting I back off the throttle just before the crest of each hill and allow the vehicle’s momentum to do more of the work on the downhill run, my score had improved by 10 percent at the end of the trip.

Back at Campbellfield, the truck’s on-board trip computer revealed a consumption rate of 2.65 km/ litre (7.49 mpg) which, all things taken into account, was an impressive result and certainly endorsed the fuel saving potential of the single-drive 6×2 configuration.

All up, it seems there is nothing but positives for the 6×2 set-up. However, one aspect which didn’t rate a mention in Scania’s presentation is resale value. Historically, secondhand three-axle prime movers with just one drive axle are about as popular as a burqa in a bank. Obviously this point would need to be taken into account when calculating whole-of-life costing on a 6×2 vehicle, and there’s no doubt finance companies would factor lower residual values (compared to 6×4 units) into their leasing arrangements.

That said though, if the price of a new 6×2 is substantially cheaper than its 6×4 equivalent, then perhaps the reduced resale value is offset to some extent.

Perhaps!

Isuzu Enhances its Flagship Giga Range

Isuzu Giga under test in Japan, complete with an Aussie-spec B-double set

In an obvious bid to bolster its credentials in the big end of the business, market leader Isuzu has enhanced its flagship Giga range with a number of updates aimed at ‘delivering better fuel economy and an improved driving experience’. But as STEVE BROOKS asks, will it be enough to notch bigger numbers?

Top ‘n’ Tail

With 23 years of continuous market leadership now seemingly as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise, it’d be reasonable to think the folk at Isuzu Australia would be fundamentally content with the company’s unrivalled achievements over so many years. And for the most part, they probably are.

Yet despite the phenomenal longevity of Isuzu’s reign at the top of the tree and the obvious satisfaction and pride this brings, company principals have bluntly stated many times over that there’s no room for complacency or weakness, nor blindness to windows of opportunity.

The same principals, however, have also been known to quietly concede to a weak link in the Isuzu armour; one which has existed for many years, subsequently denying the company the ability to meet the full gambit of Australian operations. Perhaps worst of all though, particularly for a highly professional outfit ultimately responsible for its own extraordinary success, it appears there’s not a great deal Isuzu Australia can do about it.

Obviously enough, that weak link is in the top tier of the heavy-duty market where Isuzu competes with its flagship Giga range. On the surface it may seem an odd weakness, given that along with being the entrenched master of the light and medium-duty classes, Isuzu is also the leading Japanese brand in the heavy-duty class and in recent years has gained considerable ground, occasionally surpassing the likes of Freightliner and Mack. However, the bulk of Isuzu’s growth in the heavy-duty arena has come from an expanded range of high-end F-series rigid models rather than galloping demand for Giga.

So despite the fact that Isuzu’s 510 hp Gigamax flagship is the highest powered Japanese truck on the market, why does Giga struggle when its smaller siblings are so remarkably successful?

There are, it seems, several answers. For starters, Isuzu’s lighter models predominantly compete against other Japanese brands in market segments which over many decades have become completely reliant on Japanese trucks. Giga, on the other hand, is battling for recognition in a field where the world’s biggest brands come to play, and play hard. What’s more, it’s a field where Isuzu’s competitive countrymen also have strong ambitions and in a somewhat strange twist, the leading Japanese seller of trucks above 350 hp is actually the least prolific of all Japanese brands on the Australian market … UD!

More to the point though is the fact that Giga is a truck essentially designed and built for the Japanese domestic market and its Asian neighbours. So too, of course, are top weight Fuso, Hino and UD models also made for much the same markets. The result is trucks of immense structural strength but largely lacking the broad appeal of their American and European peers, and subsequently struggling to achieve strong sales volumes.

It’s obviously a different story in the lighter classes where vastly expanded export goals have seen all Japanese brands throw huge resources into the development of new cabs, engines and drivetrains for light and medium-duty models competing on domestic and export markets. The downside to that, however, is that Japanese development of heavy-duty models for advanced, mature and highly competitive export markets such as Australia has in many cases simmered on the backburner.

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This was a point cautiously conceded late last year by Yoshinori Ida, the astute corporate heavyweight who over the course of the decade directed Isuzu’s return from the rim of ruin. In an exclusive interview with DIESEL, Ida-san confirmed the fundamental differences between Japanese and western requirements for heavy-duty trucks make it difficult to be all things to all people. Equally though, he agreed “something needs to be done” but was short on commitment when asked about eight-wheeler derivatives of Giga and more critically, if an advanced new engine of, say, 13 litres displacement was being developed to replace the 15.7 litre lump which some – including us – see as the greatest single detriment to Giga’s potential in markets such as Australia. “Not yet” was Ida-san’s blunt response on both topics.

There are, of course, those who will justifiably argue that a big cube engine dispensing modest outputs will live longer than a smaller engine punching the same or even bigger performance. Technology and fuel prices have, however, done much to quash that argument.

Thus, in a modern heavy-duty world where advanced 13 litre engines are fuel efficient, powerful and popular, Isuzu Australia appears stuck with the 15.7 litre engine which in all versions except the 510 hp Gigamax delivers peak power of just 338 kW, or 450 hp. Yet even at the top 510 rating, it’s not much muscle for an engine of such copious capacity.

Nor is peak torque of 2255 Nm (1663 lb ft) in all ratings particularly inspiring from such a hefty piece of hardware; and even less inspiring when measured against UD’s top GW470 model which plucks the same amount of torque from a 13 litre placement. But the heavy Isuzu engine takes an even bigger beating when lined up against the top rating of Volvo’s 13 litre six cylinder engine, delivering a brawny 397 kW (540 hp) and tenacious 2600 Nm (over 1900 lb ft) of torque. And this, of course, is the sort of competition Giga faces.

In the meantime, little is likely to change for Isuzu Australia until Japan develops a new heavy-duty engine in a size and form consistent with leading world technology.

Local Initiative

Typically though, Isuzu’s local leaders are striving to do the best with what they have. In fact, in an upbeat press release the company recently pronounced, ‘A series of enhancements to Isuzu’s heavy-duty Giga range is delivering operators greater fuel economy and an improved driving experience.’

According to Isuzu, ‘… engineers have undertaken two years of research and development to refine the current Giga range, offering its most attractive heavy-duty transport solution to date.

‘The result,’ the company states, ‘is up to 10 percent improvement in fuel economy across the range – depending on application – heightened driver comfort, and four new Giga variants.’

“We recognise that there’s always room for improvement,” said Isuzu Australia product planning and engineering support manager Colin White. “On the fuel economy front we’ve made several refinements to the Giga range designed to deliver a marked improvement.

“We’ve revised the engine control software of the Giga range to enhance fuel efficiency at low engine speeds, adjusted the rear axle ratios on some models to provide low RPM at cruise, and modified shift strategies in the transmission software to reduce average engine RPM.

“And the reprogrammed engine software has adjusted the ‘sweet spot’ so optimal fuel economy is reached at lower engine RPM, and over a greater operating range.

“To take advantage of this change, axle ratios were revised on some models to reach optimal fuel efficiency when cruising at 100 km/h.

“The shift points on the AMT (automated mechanical transmission) have also been adjusted downward in the engine operating range on both 12 and 16-speed models,” White explained.

Additionally, three ‘highway’ variants have been introduced to the CXY 455 18-speed and CXY 455 Premium models, fitted with Michelin Energy Tyres to reduce rolling resistance and fuel consumption while minimising cabin noise, the company states.

Additionally, the flagship Gigamax model is now being offered in a ‘general purpose’ variant known as the EXY 510 GP, said to be engineered to deliver greater fuel economy in single-trailer and B-double applications due to the reduced axle ratio and Michelin Energy Tyres.

Furthermore, Isuzu advocates the use of a range of aerodynamic accessories to reduce drag and fuel consumption.

“We always recommend that operators consider adding the full complement of aerodynamic accessories to their Gigas as this can reduce drag by up to 15 per cent and deliver significant fuel savings,” Colin White concluded.

For now and perhaps several years to come, Isuzu Australia will obviously continue to make the most of what Giga offers. Eventually though, Japan must bite the bullet on heavy-duty engine development before its highly successful Australian offshoot can hope to be little more than a bit player in the big end of the business.

New Generation Argosy Dressed for Success

Freightliner’s new generation Argosy is finally out of the box and with a striking new appearance, new engine and driveline options, a stack of new and improved features, all wrapped in a swag of newfound confidence by the folks at Freightliner, this Argosy is already being hailed ‘the best yet’. And on first impressions, it appears to be exactly that. STEVE BROOKS reports.

JAWS Strikes

Make no mistake, the importance of the new Argosy to Freightliner’s Australian performance cannot be overstated. Sure, new conventional models led by the premium Coronado are the spearhead of a rejuvenated Freightliner assault on the Australian market and executives within Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific admit they’ll be going all out to increase the brand’s coverage in conventional classes.

But again, make no mistake, it’ll be Argosy which will continue to forge the foundation for Freightliner’s Australian presence. In fact, Argosy already accounts for around 50 percent of all Freightliner sales in this country and the likelihood is that even with an increase in conventional conquests, this vastly reinvented version will maintain the momentum by accounting for at least half of Freightliner’s business.

So what exactly makes Argosy so critical to Freightliner’s local fortunes and perhaps more to the point, so successful given its well documented periods of disappointing durability dilemmas?

When it’s all boiled down, the simple answer is B-doubles. Whereas its bonneted brothers vie for business in a heavy-duty market congested with a motza of models from fierce competitors like Kenworth, Mack, Western Star and Iveco, Argosy is one of just two US-sourced cab-overs battling primarily for domination of the linehaul B-double business. The other contender is, of course, Kenworth’s K-series and collectively their grip on B-double roles remains unrelenting despite the best efforts of European brands.

Likewise though, competition between Kenworth and Freightliner has been brutally intense almost from the moment Argosy first set rubber on Australian soil in the late ‘90s, effectively ending Kenworth’s monopoly as the only all-American cab-over on the market.

And to be blunt, Kenworth had plenty to worry about! Argosy, after all, was an American cab-over with an unusually high regard for driver comfort and convenience, and most important of all, provided proponents of US equipment with a long overdue alternative to the long-serving K-series.

However, Freightliner’s local euphoria was short-lived and unfortunately for both the brand and those who eagerly jumped at the newcomer, a litany of durability issues quickly subdued the early excitement. Worse, America was snail slow in delivering the necessary modifications and the model’s reputation took a severe hit, sending many Argosy buyers back to the Kenworth showrooms from whence they had come.

Quietly, Kenworth’s local executives wiped the nervous sweat from furrowed brows.

Yet despite Argosy’s problems, several evolutionary versions over the past decade have done much to build reassurance and keep the classy cab-over firmly in the minds of operators. Consequently, the contest for B-double domination between Argosy and K-series has for the most part remained a neck ‘n’ neck struggle, with Freightliner claiming an occasional sales edge over its arch rival. It’s fair to point out though that Kenworth also enjoys considerable B-double success with a couple of purposefully designed conventional models.

That aside, there’s no question the arrival of the latest and by far most radical version of Argosy has come at exactly the right time for Freightliner. For starters, Kenworth’s launch late last year of the hugely refashioned K200 was a major achievement, finally bringing K-series into the modern world from a driver comfort and convenience perspective, and subsequently narrowing the ergonomic chasm between the two cab-overs.

Yet possibly the most beneficial factor of the new Argosy’s release is that it ends the life of its immediate predecessor, a model which some sources say has been one of the most troublesome and damaging in Argosy’s local history. The trouble, however, arose not from any particular problem with the truck itself but rather, the Detroit Diesel Series 60 EGR engine under the cab.

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To state a complex issue simply, Freightliner initially offered two engines in the previous Argosy – Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel, but following Cat’s callous departure from the truck engine business, Detroit’s 525 hp Series 60 EGR engine was left alone to do the hard yards. However, Series 60 and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) were never made for each other and the Series 60 developed to meet the 2008 ADR 80/02 emissions standard was simply one durability step too far for an engine which for more than three decades had faithfully served a massive army of Detroit Diesel customers. Sadly, the final version of the iconic engine which had originally created an entirely new chapter in diesel engine design and efficiency, was probably the worst.

But out of those ashes, and tailored to comply with current and future emissions regulations, has come the new Argosy with not only Detroit Diesel’s new DD15 engine but also the 15 litre Cummins ISX and Signature ratings. For its part, the DD15 produces up to 560 hp and 1850 lb ft of torque while in Signature form the Cummins can be specified to 600 hp and 2050 lb ft.

And therein is the new Argosy’s greatest asset over K200: The ability to offer the choice of two engines whereas Kenworth offers Cummins only.

What’s more, in an obvious bid to capitalise on the corporate kinship of Detroit Diesel and Freightliner in the Daimler empire, Freightliner’s local principals make no secret of the intention to offer Detroit-powered Argosys at a sharper price than their Cummins counterparts. Not only that, but the Detroit engine comes with a standard warranty package extending to five years or one million kilometres, and that includes injectors and turbocharger.

Behind the grille

Yet the all pervading feature of the new Argosy is of course the striking chromed grille. It’s huge, heralding a dramatic redesign driven by a clever combination of new initiatives and lessons learned. This truck is much, much more than simply a model makeover.

But apart from an aggressive, even intimidating design which has already led to nicknames like ‘Jaws’, ‘the cheese grater’ and ‘Transformer’, the prime role of such a gaping grin is obviously to allow massive volumes of air to flow through the radiator and charge-air cooler, and similarly, an easy exit for heat and noise from the engine cavity.

As for the radiator itself, at 1650 square inches it’s the biggest in Argosy’s history and substantially larger than the 1300 square inch radiator in the superseded model. However, it’s worth remembering that to meet the increased cooling requirements of EGR engines, the previous Argosy also employed a 500 square inch secondary core mounted inside the passenger side mudguard. By any estimation it was an ad hoc fix to a cooling constraint created by the previous model’s inability to house a larger single radiator. To overcome the problem, Freightliner engineers raised the cab of the new Argosy by 50 mm, thus providing adequate space for the bigger cooler.

Importantly, the radiator assembly is mounted directly to the engine which, according to Freightliner, allows it to flex in sync with the engine rather than endure the contortions of a chassis-mounted design. Also in the revised cooling package is an 11-blade fan with a reduced fan tip-to-shroud clearance and a larger header tank, all amounting to a system which is said to have easily met the high cooling standards of Cummins and Detroit Diesel, and providing ample reserve cooling capacity for engines to meet future emissions requirements.

Meanwhile, the chassis has been also bolstered with frame depth now out to 283 mm, giving the new Argosy a standard gross combination mass (GCM) rating up to 106 tonnes compared to its predecessor’s 90 tonnes. Additionally, chassis rails are now powder coated for better paint adhesion.

In the driveline department, Eaton’s 18-speed transmission in both manual and automated form is the standard stirrer but gratefully, automated options now include the substantially smarter Ultrashift-Plus version controlled through Freightliner’s clever Smartshift wand mounted on the steering column. The other automated option remains Eaton’s Autoshift which retains a clutch pedal for starting and stopping, but it’ll be interesting to see how long it stays on the books given the far superior performance of Ultrashift-Plus.

Also on clutches, the new Argosy uses a cable actuated clutch linkage instead of the previous model’s mechanical system.

At the front end, a FUPS under-run bar is now standard to achieve a 6.5 tonne front axle allowance. Accordingly, a Meritor MFS-16 front axle is the standard offering complete with heavier capacity wheel bearings while further back, Meritor’s ‘Permalube’ drivelines have also become part of the standard package.

Behind the cab, the diesel particulate filter/muffler assembly is mounted vertically on a stout gantry behind the cab, freeing space on the chassis for plentiful fuel capacity in either square or round tanks, with quad square tanks available for maximum fuel storage. Square tanks can be further optioned with step inserts for easy access onto the chassis.

Again according to Freightliner, a great deal of work has also gone into strengthening and streamlining Argosy’s electrical components and systems. Starting with new dash gauges and a 185 amp Leece Neville alternator, Argosy’s reworked electrical architecture includes a new centralised ‘PowerNet Distribution Box’ to manage all electrical functions between the chassis and cab, an isolation switch fitted as standard equipment, a temperature sealed battery carrier behind the cab, and extensive use of conduit to seal and protect major power cables.

As for the Argosy cab, it still tilts through a generous 75 degree angle, contains copious storage cavities, and has lost none of its qualities for space and function, remaining available as a comfortable 90 or 101 inch mid-roof sleeper, or as a roomy 110 inch mid-roof or high-roof layout, the latter intended largely for two-up driving roles. Of course, entry and exit are second to none thanks to the remarkable swing-out staircase which, although problematic in early stages of Argosy’s life, has become the benchmark for workplace safety when it comes to cab-over entry and exit. It is optionally available for the passenger side.

Similarly, doors have been improved with a firmer detente to minimise accidental closure while there are also twin seals for better insulation from noise and dust. Further inside, Freightliner’s EasyRider driver’s chair is now finished in a durable black cloth trim, dash components are injection moulded from virgin (rather than recycled) materials for far better fit and finish, while cosmetically, faux timber furnishings and ivory gauges promote a premium image.

However, on the outside there’s far more to the Argosy cab than an aggressive new grille design. In fact, facial features of the vehicle are new in almost every area, with US engineers making extensive use of Freightliner’s full-scale wind tunnel in Portland, Oregon, to optimise aerodynamic efficiency. ‘The Argosy is designed to be more aerodynamic than a square-fronted conventional, as its frontal surface is shaped to push airflow around the sides and over the top,’ states Freightliner’s promotional material. The shape and style of the sun visor, for example, were finalised only after extensive wind tunnel trials defined the design which worked best with the 24 degree rake of the windscreen.

Likewise, aerodynamics are also said to have played a significant role in the shape and style of the new headlights, bumper and corner cowlings. Similarly, large deflectors on the front quarters are designed ‘… to provide a blanket of air above the front wheels, blowing spray and grime away from mirrors.’

On much the same tack, Freightliner says the flared bodywork above the front wheels reduces road spray to the extent that it meets B-double requirements and negates the need for spray suppression whiskers.

For now, that largely sums up the major elements of the new Argosy, except to add Freightliner’s assertion that since early 2010 all aspects of the truck’s design were subjected to rigorous testing in the US including brutal cab shaker tests, severe hot weather trials on long grades at high weights, all equating to the equivalent of around 2.5 million kilometres of durability testing. 

But is it enough? Well, Australian conditions will let us know soon enough but on first impressions this bold new Argosy appears to have a lot to recommend it, not least a history where critical lessons have been endured, absorbed and now enacted.

Here, it seems, is an Argosy fully and finally capable of realising its true potential.