After the high profile debut of its 730 hp mountain muncher at this year’s Brisbane Truck Show, Scania Australia certainly hasn’t been slow in putting the truck’s awesome outputs on the road. Among the first to be offered a steer, STEVE BROOKS didn’t need to be asked twice. But nor did he miss the chance to steer a few questions at Scania’s local leader, Roger McCarthy.
As our erudite European correspondent Brian Weatherley has remarked more than once, it can be sometimes difficult to fathom the fervour that sees Sweden’s giant powerhouses constantly leapfrogging each other in the seemingly ceaseless – some might even say senseless – contest for the world’s most powerful production truck. It is, however, a contest that goes back a long way, has gathered great pace over the past decade or so, and shows absolutely no sign of abating.
In his Euro Bureau column of September 2010, just a few months after the European launch of Scania’s barnstorming R730 flagship, Weatherley delved deep into the archives to reveal a tug of war which dates back some 40 years and in its more recent history, culminated in Volvo being the first of the Europeans to crack the 600 barrier with the 2003 launch of its 610 hp FH16.
Before the 610’s arrival, Scania had held top billing with a 580 hp version of its gutsy 15.6 litre V8, but it’s also worth noting that around the same time Volvo Trucks Australia had engineered a 600 hp Cummins Signature engine into its cab-over FH and the now defunct NH conventional. However, Volvo’s Cummins option was available nowhere else and in any case was quickly dumped when the reborn 16 litre engine hit the Australian market.
Back in Europe, and suitably stirred by the arrival of Volvo’s 610 rating, Scania upped the stakes in 2005 by pushing its V8 to 620 hp, backed up by a tar tearin’ 3000 Nm (2212 lb ft) of torque. But the satisfaction of holding trucking’s top testosterone title was short-lived: Volvo in 2006 hit back with a 660 model boasting 3100 Nm (2286 lb ft) of torque.
Scania then went quiet for several years and with no new big banger emerging from its ranks since the 620 rating in ‘05, the ‘other Swede’ appeared to be in no rush to re-enter the horsepower race. Indeed, when Volvo in January 2009 broke new ground with the launch of the FH16 700, many European pundits were wondering if Scania’s apparent apathy was in fact evidence that 620 hp was the limit of the long-serving V8’s power potential.
As events would soon show though, they were wrong. Very wrong!
The power race had, in effect, simply slowed for awhile as Scania considered its options before eventually changing the bent eight’s metal structure to the lighter, stronger composition of compacted graphite iron, or CGI, and reaming the block out to 16.4 litres. Then, among a swathe of new or redesigned components attached to this reconstituted hardware were the advanced XPI ultra-high pressure common-rail fuel injection system jointly developed with Cummins, a variable geometry turbocharger, a beefed up Opticruise two-pedal automated transmission, and critically, a substantially bigger radiator and intercooler package. The end result, of course, was a new flagship model called the R730 with a prodigious power peak of 537 kW (730 hp) developed at 1900 rpm, backed by a breathtaking 3500 Nm (2581 lb ft) of torque on tap from 1000 to 1350 rpm.
In one bold move, Scania had regained the horsepower ascendancy.
However, if history is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before Volvo hits back with something even bigger … 750 perhaps, or will it go for broke and jump straight to 800 hp? Then again, will Scania take an early initiative by pushing the 16.4 litre displacement to even greater heights, setting Volvo an even taller task? Or will one of the German giants, MAN or Mercedes-Benz, or perhaps Iveco blow the Swedes out of the water with a sudden burst of heavyweight hormones? Who knows!
For now it’s all speculation but in the lull before the next inevitable surge toward what some might see as horsepower heaven, it’s probably worth pondering the factors driving this distinctly continental contest for power supremacy. Yet as Brian Weatherley intimated in his report last year, those factors certainly don’t include rocketing sales volumes or strong customer demand.
‘For all the hype about fire-breathing prime movers with massive horsepower,’ he wrote last year, ‘they represent only a tiny proportion of all the articulated units sold in Europe every year. In fact, between 2003 and 2009 the total number of trucks sold in Europe with over 550 hp averaged just 1.76 percent of the total new truck market, with the biggest market by far being in Italy.’
Why the Italians might need or want more muscle than their continental counterparts is anyone’s guess, but in any appraisal of European power demands it’s difficult to imagine any operational reason for such gargantuan grunt in mainstream trucking, particularly when the great majority of Europe’s linehaul truck traffic is limited to around 40 tonnes and 80 or 90 km/h. Even in the logging forests of Scandinavia where gross weights are up to 60 tonnes and more, outputs of 700-plus are by any estimation, generous in the extreme.
So back to the original question, what drives the development of such potent power and torque peaks? The answer appears to be based entirely on corporate image. ‘Having the world’s most powerful truck in your arsenal is one hell of a drawcard,’ Brian Weatherley wrote and for the most part, it’d be hard to argue.
Armed with a healthy dose of parochialism, it’s easy to assert that unlike Europe, Australia is actually one of the few markets in the world able to realistically apply and even justify such high power and torque outputs as those offered by both Volvo’s FH16 700 and more recently, Scania’s R730. For starters, this is the land of the roadtrain where combinations of four and even five trailers, and gross weights of 150 tonnes and more, are entirely capable of fully utilising such vast reserves of power and torque.
But as Scania Australia managing director Roger McCarthy was quick to highlight, roadtrain roles represent a relatively small slice of the total Australian market and consequently, the true extent of demand for the R730 is for the moment unknown. Still, the roadtrain realm is far from being the only potential taker of the R730 and it was a confident McCarthy who asserted, “Australia generally is a user of high horsepower trucks and it’s a bonus to have the world’s most powerful truck in your range. Scania has taken the leading edge in performance and that’s something we intend to fully promote.” And promote it will as the R730 fronts a Scania roadshow currently demonstrating to truck operators from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and most regional centres in between.
Prominent in that roadshow are three of the brand’s four V8 models – an R560, R620 and of course the R730, with only the R500 baby of the bunch missing from the entourage. What’s more, in a clever endeavour to demonstrate and compare the performance of its top three V8 ratings, Scania Australia recently convened a test drive over a set course with each model hooked to a B-double set and grossing around 58.5 tonnes. Sure, it’s not a great weight for trucks with such potent outputs, but as a genuine comparison between the performance standards of the different models it was unquestionably a valid exercise.
The R730 was obviously the major attraction but it needs to be pointed out that this particular truck was hurriedly brought to Australia for the Brisbane Truck Show and as an early example of a 6×4 production unit, differed from what could be described as a ‘normal’ Australian spec. The most obvious differences were the under-cab placement of air intake and exhaust plumbing, modest fuel capacity of 850 litres and a fuel pick-up line from the driver’s side tank rather than the passenger side. What’s more, this particular 730 was built to a gross weight capacity of just 90 tonnes.
But as Scania Australia technical representative Ian Butler emphasised, it’s still early days for the R730 and development work tailoring the model to the broad needs of the Australian market is already in train. “We’re well aware of what needs to be done,” he commented, adding that gross weight capacities far greater than 90 tonnes are obviously on the agenda. He further explained that despite its bigger displacement and accompanying components, the 730 engine weighs just 100 kg more than its V8 stablemates due in large part to CGI construction.
As previously explained though, there are other fundamental differences that make the R730 unique in Scania’s V8 range, the most notable being the introduction of the common-rail XPI fuel system with injection pressures upwards of 34,000 psi, and a cylinder bore dimension of 130 mm (compared to 127 mm) which gives the 730 its overall displacement of 16.4 litres. In all V8 versions though, piston stroke length is unchanged at 154 mm.
Another notable difference is a big increase in engine oil capacity, up 50 percent from 32 litres in R500, R560 and R620 models to 48 litres in the R730.
Meanwhile, whereas all Scania V8 engines use an SCR emissions system to comply with Euro 5 standards, Scania says the 730 version ‘… is already pre-configured to cope with Euro 6.’ So far there’s no introductory date for Euro 6 in Australia but for its part, Scania’s biggest banger is at least prepared.
Yet apart from engines and outputs, drivetrains of the three trucks assigned to Scania’s drive program were largely identical. Each stirred through a two-pedal version of Scania’s Opticruise 14-speed overdrive automated transmission into a 3.42:1 rear axle ratio sitting on the Swedes’ own airbag rear suspension layout, with power going to the ground through Continental 295/80R 22.5 radials mounted on alloy rims.
Stopping power comes from electronically mastered disc brakes aided by Scania’s highly effective multi-stage hydraulic retarder while the only dimensional difference between the demo units was a 3800 mm wheelbase on the R730 compared to 3600 mm on the R560 and R620. Fuel capacity on the two smaller ratings was 970 litres and as mentioned earlier, only 850 litres on the R730. AdBlue capacity on each model was 75 litres.
And finally, all Scania V8 models come standard with the upmarket and air-sprung Highline cab. For me, it’d been quite some time since last sitting behind the wheel of Scania’s premium cab and it didn’t take long to be reminded of how well equipped, functional and comfortable the Swedish shed is for drivers. Sure, as with most top-shelf trucks these days it takes a while to become familiar with the placement and operation of the various controls and functions, particularly the many elements of the on-board computer system, but by any measure it’s an extremely impressive layout. In short, there’s a lot to like.
As for the actual driving ‘roster’, mine started in the R730 at Scania’s Campbellfield headquarters, heading up the ‘old’ Hume Highway through Wallan, over the historic Pretty Sally climb and on through Kilmore before turning off to Puckapunyal and down to Broadford for a change into the R620. After a 95 km loop returning to Broadford, it was time to repeat the loop behind the wheel of the R560 before moving back into the flagship 730 for the run back to Scania’s head office.
Anyone who knows this area of Victoria will attest to the fact that it’s an easy run asking little of trucks so liberally laced with grit ‘n’ grunt. Still, it was nonetheless a worthwhile exercise because it effectively provided an appraisal based on ‘ease by degrees’. For instance, and remembering that each unit was running at much the same weight, fitted with the same driveline spec and in my case allowed to run in full auto mode, the R560’s peak outputs of 412 kW (560 hp) and 2700 Nm (1991 lb ft) made predictably light work of the leg, with the on-board computer recording an average speed of 69 km/h and fuel consumption of 1.51 km/litre (4.27 mpg) on the 95 km loop.
Obviously making even lighter work of the same loop were the 456 kW (620 hp) and 3000 Nm (2212 lb ft) peaks of the R620, returning an average speed of 73 km/h and fuel figure of 1.42 km/litre (4.01 mpg).
As for the mile munchin’ attributes of the R730, well it was quite literally awesome, holding gears on grades where its two siblings – neither of them wimps when it comes to pulling power – would kick down one or two slots, and generally doing the job with what could only be described as ridiculous, even belligerent, ease. Given its massive, unmatched torque delivery, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to read that the R730 displayed levels of tenacity that even on this short appraisal were stunning.
For the record, roadworks restricted the 730’s average speed on the 95 km loop to just 70 km/h while fuel consumption was recorded at 1.4 km/litre, or 3.95 mpg. It’s also worth mentioning that on the 364 km round trip to and from Campbellfield, with several different drivers having stints behind the wheel and including the climb over Pretty Sally where the R730 dropped just four gears, the truck returned the same fuel figure of 1.4 km/litre.
Paying the price
Whatever the merit and findings of an evaluation such as this, many will no doubt suggest that 730 horsepower and almost 2600 lb ft of torque are essentially the premise of roadtrains and other heavy-duty toil, with any lesser workloads constituting a distinct case of overkill. Maybe so, but there will also be those who will see such potent outputs as attributes for maintaining trip times on linehaul B-double routes and others who will be simply attracted to the fact that Scania’s R730 is currently the biggest in the business.
The choice, of course, belongs to the individual but as in most things, there is a cost for shopping at the top of the tree. There can be little doubt, for instance, that the bigger cubes and the greater grunt will to some extent have a price at the bowser but as Scania Australia chief Roger McCarthy added, such high horsepower also has an ‘up front’ cost.
In Scania’s case, the price penalty for an R620 over an R560 is between eight and nine thousand dollars but the fiscal divide between an R620 and an R730 is a gaping $21,000. Performance does indeed have a price.
McCarthy agrees it’s a significant price penalty but adds there are already buyers with their hands up for a 730. “Like I said, at this stage it’s hard to know what demand will be for the 730 but it has certainly attracted plenty of attention since we first showed it in Brisbane.”
Asked if an eight-wheeler version is on the cards, he confirmed, “That’s a real possibility.” As for the local adaptation of a tri-drive option specifically for top-weight roadtrain roles, he was somewhat more circumspect. “That’ll depend on market demand.”
Arguably more important to Roger McCarthy, however, is the fact that the R730 adds another dimension to a Scania product range which has expanded considerably under his leadership, all aimed at being more things to more people and in the process reaching a higher level of market penetration which he firmly believes is entirely achievable.
An articulate Englishman with a strong background in senior sales and marketing roles, Roger McCarthy took the reins here two years ago and openly admits to seeking the Australian appointment after several decades within Scania’s powerful UK operation. In quiet conversation he also concedes to a sense of dismay at the brand’s modest presence on the Australian market. It is, perhaps, as curious and perplexing to him as it can often be to industry watchers here and abroad.
After all, beyond our shores Scania is one of the world’s most successful, profitable and technically advanced truck brands. What’s more, in almost every market where they compete, Scania and Volvo are head-to-head combatants on a daily basis, with just fractions of a percent point often separating their places on the sales charts of many countries.
But that’s obviously not the case in Australia. With its own engineering and assembly operation in Brisbane, an expansive product portfolio and a formidable dealer network of both company-owned and experienced independent outlets, Volvo is one of this market’s most prominent players and at the end of the first half of this year held 10.6 percent of the heavy-duty sector. Scania on the other hand relies on fully imported units sold and serviced primarily through 10 company-owned stores and just one independent outlet on the NSW north coast. Its take of the heavy-duty market to the end of June was a modest 4.6 percent, a figure which largely typifies the brand’s somewhat humble performance over many years.
Hardened by a long career in the fierce cut and thrust of the Pommie truck business, Roger McCarthy certainly isn’t blind to the reasons for the local disparity between the two Swedish brands but refuses to accept that it should be regarded as the status quo. Nor does he accept that Scania’s commitment to the Australian market is of a lesser ilk. “Scania is without doubt committed to the Australian market,” he retorts. “We’re a leader in the bus and coach business and trucks are equally important to us.”
Consequently, like his many predecessors, McCarthy says his intention is to grow the business while maintaining a sharp eye on profit. “We won’t do business at the expense of profit,” he insists.
Fortunately, he’s also unfazed by comments like ‘we’ve heard it all before’ and ‘Scania still holds little more than four percent of the market.’
“Perhaps Scania’s goals and objectives weren’t as determined in the past as they are today,” he says bluntly, adding that the gradual expansion of the product range into carefully targeted niche applications and subsequent increases in the customer base are cause for considerable confidence.
Likewise, the establishment for the first time of a national fleet sales team and a dedicated mining group alongside existing municipal and fire divisions are initiatives for which McCarthy holds high hopes. Similarly, an expanded truck rental operation and recent service agreements with refrigerated trailer specialist Schmitz Cargobull and high profile component suppliers SAF-Holland and Wabco are more than just a localised attempt to bolster Scania’s service revenues. “Those agreements are part of a global service initiative by Scania,” he explains, “with the aim to be a total service solutions provider.”
Increased truck sales are, however, the prime objective and according to a resolute Roger McCarthy, “Our goal over the next three years or so is to progressively grow Scania’s stake in the truck market to five percent and onwards to seven and eight percent. Those targets are fully achievable but I’ll stress again that volumes won’t be increased at the expense of profitability.”
But given Scania’s propensity for swapping managing directors in its Australian operation, will Roger McCarthy still be here in another three years?
The question drew a wry smile. “Let’s face it, I’m simply a resource and as such I can be asked to work anywhere. But it’s certainly my intention to be still here in three years time.
“I asked to come here so I’m in no rush to leave before the job’s done.”