Ever since the decision by Caterpillar to get out of the business of making engines for highway trucks there has been a group of enduring Cat fanatics who have kept the dream of driving a truck with a yellow engine alive. Here is the solution on offer for Caterpillar tragics in the USA, fitting remanufactured yellow engines into brand new ‘glider’ trucks.
This topic came to mind when talking to an Australian Caterpillar nut who has kept his Cat-powered T9 Kenworth in the fleet for over 2 million kilometres and has no intention of ever selling it. Other trucks in the small fleet will get turned over and moved on over time, but he cannot see a time when he would consider selling the yellow engined favourite.
What is it which makes this phenomenon continue? Is the Cat fandom made stronger by the fact you can’t buy a new truck engine any more? Does absence make the heart grow stronger?
Many people in the trucking industry grew substantial businesses on the back of fleets powered by Cat engines. The sentiment around the brand of engine fitted in North American trucks is very strong and has been around for a long time.
When US style trucks ruled the roost in Australia, engine choice was one of the major differentiating factors. Operators were split between Cummins nuts, Detroit nuts and Caterpillar nuts, the world was divided into three clearly defined sects.
Of course, the engine manufacturers encouraged the fandom and developed the competitive and tribal atmosphere around engine choice, as a way to market engines. It is the atmosphere of this era from which the current Cat fanaticism has grown.
The three-way competition actually started to disappear over twenty years ago, as the Detroit Diesel operation became part of the Freightliner/Mercedes Benz/Daimler world. Almost overnight the Series 60 Detroit became unavailable in any brand of truck apart from those which were part of the Daimler group.
Then it was a battle royal between the Red of Cummins and the Yellow of Caterpillar, fought out in the Australian and US truck markets, with each vying for superiority. Technical issues affected both engine brands as exhaust emission rules tightened and engines grew more sophisticated.
The costs of all of this research and development was probably what told in the end for Caterpillar, who walked away from truck engines to leave Cummins as the main independent engine maker for US trucks. This video gives a slightly different and suspect interpretation of the story:
Needless to say there are still a lot of diehard Caterpillar fans around but no new product to fit in their trucks. Hence the development of the glider market in the US, but this is not something the Australian truck standards are going to allow in any numbers, anytime soon.