If the health of the economy is tied directly to commercial medium-duty truck sales, as is the historical case, then the sky has clouded a little. It isn't falling, though, because sales are still trending up. All builders we talked with reported decent and sometimes robust percentage increases over last year, which in turn was up over 2010.
The extent of sales increases depends on which builder is talking. Classes 3 to 7 comprise the world of midrange trucks in some builders' minds, while others define it as only Classes 6 and 7. Industry-wide sales are up about 20% over 2011, compared to the 5% to 7% that one research firm forecast. That tidbit comes from Mitsubishi Fuso, which itself is up 250% - it went through the previous model year with no trucks, and dealers lived off stocks from the previous model year. Now, Fuso is doing well.
So are other builders. Chrysler's Ram brand says its Class 4 and 5 sales are up 55%, the result of aggressive pricing and claimed advantages in fuel economy and a frame that eases body installation. Hino, which builds conventional-cab trucks in West Virginia, says its Class 6 and 7 sales are up 45%, and it's spending $3 million to expand production from 35 trucks a day to 40.
Ford's Class 6 and 7 sales are up about 8%, but lower classes are up more. With models from Class 1 to 7, Ford claims nearly half the total midrange truck market. Peterbilt has launched a campaign to boost midrange sales, including getting dealers to stock trucks that are ready to sell. To support that, Pete accelerated production of medium-duty models by 80%.
Leasers buying more
Who is buying medium-duty trucks? Almost everybody. Large and medium-size fleets are replacing trucks that they kept through the recession, while small fleets are holding onto their old trucks, according to Isuzu. Several builders told us that the energy sector is buying a lot of trucks of all weight classes. Ram says many of the vehicles it sells for oil and gas drilling and wind turbine installation are 4x4s, which allows them to get into off-road job sites.
Several builders said leasing and rental companies now buy a larger percentage of midrange trucks, partly to replace older models and also to accommodate the switch by vehicle users from ownership to leasing. General anxiety over the economy and uncertainty over taxation policy has caused some operators to lease rather than buy. Since 2009, lease-rental purchases are about 37% of the total compared to 25% in previous years, Freightliner says.
Meanwhile, customers are doing more work with less truck - going to lighter weight ratings - something we heard in previous updates. A Class 6 truck will carry almost as much as a Class 7, a Class 5 will do most of what a Class 6 does, and so on down the line. Going down one class saves purchasing and operating money, though the truck might wear out a little faster. And getting below 26,000 pounds gross weight avoids driver-licensing hassles. This happens in a switch from Class 7, for which drivers need a commercial license, to Class 6, for which they don't.
Gas and gas
There's a lot of publicity about natural gas in the general media and trade press because of its proven abundance in the U.S. and its current low price, and builders say they're getting a lot of questions about it.
Ford says it's shipping more trucks with a "gaseous engine preparation package," which includes hardened valves and valve seats. Kits can then be installed that convert the trucks' fuel systems to compressed or liquefied natural gas or propane. Dealers might order the prep package, but it doesn't mean they will put the conversions on them, Ford notes. Navistar's MaxxForce DT (formerly the DT466) diesel can be converted to natural gas by an aftermarket supplier, while Cummins' ISL-G is increasingly ubiquitous, though usually in Class 8 models.
Builders that offer gasoline engines have an advantage because they are fairly easy to convert to gas and propane. Ford, General Motors and Ram now have optional bi-fuel systems in their "heavy-duty" pickups, which use CNG and gasoline. Ford and GM use approved upfitters, while Ram builds it in-house.
The Big Three domestic builders are standard with gasoline V-8s up to Class 4, and Isuzu offers gasoline power in Class 3 and 4 low-cab-forward trucks, and it accounts for 30% to 35% of sales. Ford also has V-8 and V-10 gasoline engines for its Class 5 and 6 conventionals, respectively. The latter is the heaviest truck now available with gasoline power.
A gasoline engine costs thousands less to buy than a diesel. Ram says its Hemi gasoline V-8 costs about $7,000 less than the Cummins Turbo Diesel option in its Class 2 and 3 pickups, and it's evaluating the wisdom of offering the Hemi in its Class 4 and 5 chassis-cab models.
Diesel is still considered the "serious" engine by a large majority of truck buyers. The heavier the model, the more likely it will be standard with diesel power.
Even saddled with latter-day exhaust emissions equipment, the diesel will get better fuel economy and last longer than any gasoline engine. Diesel fuel prices remain volatile and usually high.
High fuel prices make a better business case for expensive hybrid drivetrains, which offer substantially better economy. Many builders now offer electric-drive hybrids paired with diesels.
One longtime Cummins midrange diesel will be retired by year's end. The company announced in March that it will drop its ISC8.3. Its ratings will be taken over by the heavier 8.9-liter ISL9. Phasing out the ISC is feasible because higher horsepower is now available from the smaller ISB6.7, and it's desirable because Cummins won't have to spend large amounts of money to certify the ISC for future emissions requirements.
The change affects Freightliner, which uses the ISC in some of its M2 models, and that builder plans to adopt the ISL in its place. Kenworth and Peterbilt, which sell the ISC as the Paccar PX-8 in their midrange conventional trucks, haven't decided what they'll do.
Block size of the ISL is the same as the ISC, on which the heavier engine was based when it was designed more than a decade ago, so packaging the ISL in the affected midrange trucks should be simple. Salespeople and buyers should be sure any drivetrain components are strong enough to take the ISL's potentially stronger torque, though engineers at the builders will also watch this.
Navistar's recent announcement that it will adopt liquid urea injection for its MaxxForce diesels will first affect heavy-duty engines in early 2013. Exhaust aftertreatment is something Navistar tried to avoid, but its "in-cylinder solution" has proven unable to meet absolute limits without loss of fuel economy. So heavy-duty diesels will go to ICT+, short for In-Cylinder Technology Plus, in early 2013. Midrange MaxxForce models will get it later next year.
Until then, the diesels for Class 5 through 7 trucks can still be sold without exhaust aftertreatment using emissions credits earned for previously built engines that were cleaner than federal rules required.
In recent years, all midrange trucks have become more comfortable as well as capable. Most 2013-model midrange trucks from domestic and overseas builders are carryovers from previous model years, though some have refinements. Domestic and European-sourced cabs are generally more car-like in their trim levels, and while Japanese cabs are simpler, they're far from austere.
All trucks are also easy to drive. Nearly all lighter-duty midrange models come only with automatic transmissions because they are what the overwhelming majority of customers want. Ram alone still offers a manual, a 6-speed made by Mercedes-Benz, and 10% to 15% of buyers choose it.
Freightliner Trucks, one of Daimler Trucks North America's two brands (the other is Western Star), covers medium-duty with its Business Class M2106 (106-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab length, as shown). It serves Class 6 and 7 buyers and goes into Class 8 by means of heavier axles and suspensions.
Aluminum cabs come in two-door Regular and Extended and four-door Crew. The SmartPlex electrical system is now used in M2106 and other models. Cummins ISB6.7 and ISC8.3 diesels offer 250 to 350 horsepower and 520 to 1,000 pounds-feet. The ISL9 will replace the ISC in January.
Available manual transmissions include a standard Mercedes-Benz 6-speed, while Eaton 5-, 6-, 8-, 9- and 10-speeds are optional. Automated mechanical transmissions include the M-BAMT3 6-speed and Eaton Ultra-Shift 5- and 6-speeds.Allison 1000,2000 and 3000 series 6-speed full automatics are also available. Freightliner also offers the Eaton electric-drive hybrid in the M2 series.
The M2V (vocational) model has been replaced by the 108SD (severe duty). Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp., a sister company, uses the M2106 cab and hood and its own S2 chassis for a new S2G model with an 8-liter, 325-horsepower V-8 set up to burn liquefied petroleum gas (pro-pane). The Powertrain Integration engine uses the block from General Motors' discontinued Vortec 8100.
Ford Commercial Truck fields seven models, which all use steel cabs from its popular F-SuperDuty pickups. They come in two-door Regular, four-door Super and four-door SuperCrew configurations. F-250 through F-550 pickups and cab-chassis trucks dominate their Class 2 to 5 segments and are outfitted with progressively stronger chassis and alligator hoods.
The engine is the 6.2-liter 385-horsepower/405-pounds-feet gasoline V-8. The Ford 6.7-liter 400-horsepower/800-pounds-feet Power Stroke V-8 diesel is optional. Ford's TorqShift 6-speed automatic is the only transmission. F-650 Class 6 (shown) and F-750 Class 7 models have tilting noses and use the Cummins ISB6.7 with 10 horsepower and torque ratings, and a choice of 13 transmissions from Eaton Fuller and Allison. The F-650 can also be had with the 6.8-liter 357-horsepower/457-pounds-foot gasoline V-10 (convertible to propane and natural gas), along with the TorqShift automatic.
Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America introduced the Japanese-built Canter LCF series a year ago. Their model numbers are close to their GVW ratings in pounds: Class 3 FE125 (shown); Class 4 FE160 and FE160 Crewcab; and Class 5 FE180. There's also the Class 4 FG 4x4, the only four-wheel-drive LCF sold here.
For maximum fuel economy, all use the small-displacement 3-liter 161-horsepower/295-pounds-foot 4P10(T5) diesel and Fuso'sDu-onic 6-speed automated mechanical transmission. No manuals are offered. In Japan, Fuso develops hybrid electric powertrains for itself and its parent, DaimlerTrucks of Germany; it's now working on a hybrid destined for the U.S. market.
GM's Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra get into medium-duty with the Class 3 model 3500 HD, available with two-door Regular, four-door Extended and four-door Crew cabs.
Two powertrains are offered: the 6-liter 360-horsepower/380-pounds-foot Vortec gasoline V-8 mated to a Hydra-matic 6L90, or the optional 6.6-liter 397-horsepower/765-pounds-foot Duramax diesel with an Allison 1000. Both engines are V-8s, and both transmissions are 6-speed automatics. Those powertrains are also used in the Class 2 model 2500, which is now available a bi-fuel (gasoline-natural gas) option.
Though dealers would love it, GM has shown no signs of fulfilling rumors that it will re-enter the Class 4 and 5 segment with uprated versions of the 3500HD.
Kenworth Truck, owned by Paccar Inc., has medium-duty conventionals that use KW aluminum cabs with optional rear-corner windows and many interior amenities, including NavPlus navigation and business applications.
Models are theT170 Class 5 and T270 Class 6 trucks, and T370 Class 7 truck (shown) and tractor. Heavy front and rear axles, including tandems, give theT370 Class 8 carrying capabilities. Cummins supplies the Paccar-branded diesels: 6.7-liter PX-6 with 200 to 325 horsepower and 520 to 750 pounds-feet and 8.3-liter PX-8, with 260 to 350 horsepower and 660 to 1,000 pounds-feet.
When Cummins drops the ISC8.3 in December, the PX-8 will go away, too, perhaps replaced by the ISL9 with or without a Paccar name.
KW offers a variety of Eaton manual and automated transmissions as well as Allison automatics. T270 and T370 trucks and the T370 tractor are offered with Eaton's electric-drive hybrid that uses an Eaton UltraShift paired with the PX-6. KW also has a pair of well-appointed LCFs,the K270 and K370, which use European DAF cabs and North American chassis components, including PX-6 diesels and Allison automatics (Peterbilt sells its own versions).
Hino Trucks, a unit of the Toyota Group, claims to now have 10% of the Class 6 and 7 market with its domestically assembled conventionals, which have Japanese-built cabs and engines and American-sourced Allison automatic transmissions, Dana Spicer drivelines and Meritor axles.
The first two numbers of their designations approximate their GVW ratings, while an "8" indicates use of an 8-liter JO8V TC inline-6 diesel with 220 to 260 horsepower and 520 to 660 pounds-feet of torque.
Class 6 models are the 238, 258LP (low-profile chassis), 258ALP (low-pro with air brakes) and 268A (with air brakes, shown). Class 7s are the 338 and 338CT, which includes a tractor.
This fall, Hino will re-introduce to the U.S. a Class 5 low-cab-forward model 195, using a JO5E diesel with 210 horsepower and 540 pounds-feet, and an Aisin A465 6-speed automatic.
A diesel-electric hybrid, the 195H, will initially be available only in California, where it will go on sale in September. Management-oriented features include Business Telemetry, allowing remote downloading of operating data.
Navistar International's midrange trucks include the Class 4 and 5 International TerraStar (shown), using a 300-horsepower/660-pounds-foot MaxxForce 7 V-8 diesel and an Allison 1000 automatic. It uses a purpose-built frame and a steel cab from the heavier DuraStar.A 4x4 version has twice been announced but delayed and is now due out early next year.
The popular Class 6 and 7 International DuraStar comes in two-door regular and extended cabs and four-door crewcabs,and uses three engines: the MaxxForce 7 V-8 rated from 220 to 300 horsepower and 560 to 660 pounds-feet; the 7.6-liter MaxxForce DT inline 6, with 215 to 300 horsepower and 560 to 860 pounds-feet; and the 9.3-liter MaxxForce 9 inline 6, with 300 to 330 horsepower and 860 to 950 pounds-feet. SCR and urea injection will be applied to these engines next year.
Emissions Solutions converts MaxxForce DT diesels to run on natural gas for use in DuraStar models and WorkStar vocational trucks. A wide range of axles and transmissions are in the International data book.
Peterbilt Motors, owned by Paccar Inc., has four medium-duty conventional-cab models that use Cummins-built PX-6 and PX-8 diesels with Eaton and Allison transmissions. The Model 325 Class 5 truck uses the Cummins-built 200- to 300-horsepower PX-6 with an Eaton 6-speed manual or Allison 5- or 6-speed automatic trans-missions. The Model 330 Class 6 also uses the PX-6-led powertrain, but with up to 325 horsepower. The Model 337 can edge into Class 8 territory with heavier axles and the PX-8 diesel, but is primarily a Class 7 model that uses the PX-6. The Model 348 is similar but can be ordered with tandem rear axles to make it a Baby 8 (up to 54,000 pounds GVW).
When Cummins drops the ISC8.3 in December, the PX-8 will go away, too, perhaps replaced by the ISL9 with or without a Paccar name.
The 330,337 and 348 can be ordered with Eaton's electric-drive hybrid that uses an Eaton UltraShift paired with the PX-6.
Most Pete midrange models offer front-driving axles, and aftermarket crewcab conversions are available.
The Model 210 and Model 220 are Class 6 and 7 LCFs that use European DAF cabs and North American chassis components, including PX-6 diesels and Allison automatics (Kenworth offers its own versions). The Peterbilt Model 210 (shown) won the American Truck Dealers' Medium-Duty Commercial Truck of the Year award last year.
Chrysler's Ram brand claims 55% growth in its 4500 and 5500 chassis-cab models (5500 shown) that cover Classes 4 and 5. These use two-door Regular and four-door Crew cabs from popular Ram pickups.
They come only with the Cummins Turbo Diesel with 305 horsepower and 610 pounds-feet, mated to an Ai-sin 6-speed automatic or a Mercedes 6-speed manual. With the automatic, a Max Tow package with beefed-up gears and a 4.88 axle ratio raises the gross combined weight rating from 26,000 to 30,000 pounds.
The Ram 3500 chassis-cab is standard with the 5.7-liter 383-horsepower/400-pounds-foot Hemi gasoline V-8. The Cummins diesel is optional. Chassis-cab models have standard 34-inch-spread frame rails and upfitter-friendly features such as out-of-the-way urea-injection equipment for the diesel and plug-in electrical connectors. Paint colors range from black and bright red to special hues such as New Holland Agricultural Blue and National Fire Equipment Lime Green.
UD Trucks North America, now part of Volvo Truck of Europe, previously got upgraded cabs and other features. Current UD (which originally meant Uniflow Diesel) vehicles include seven Class 5, 6 and 7 models with numerical designations approximating their GVW ratings: UD1800 and UD2000, UD2300DH (standard-height chassis) and 2300LP (low-profile chassis), UD2600 and 2600LP, all with air-over-hydraulic brakes. The UD3300 (shown) has full air brakes.
All are standard with a 7-liter 245-horsepower/530-pounds-foot GH7 inline 6 diesel with either MLS63B 6-speed manual or Allison 1000RDS 5-speed automatic. The 2600 and 3300 models are available with a 280-horsepower/650-pounds-foot version of the GH7 with a stronger MPS63B 6-speed manual or an Allison 1000RDS 6-speed.
All models are available with a variety of wheelbases and other equipment to suit various applications.
HDT thanks these builder representatives for their help in preparing this article:
T.J. Reed, director of product marketing, Freightliner Trucks
Eric Guenther, midrange segment sales manager, Ford Commercial Truck
Todd Bloom, president and CEO, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America
Dan Tigges, product manager, GM Fleet and Commercial Operations
Glenn Ellis, VP, marketing and dealer operations, HinoTrucks
Steve Schrier, manager, corporate communications, Navistar International Corp.
Brian Tabel, retail marketing manager, Isuzu Commercial Truck of America
Doug Powell, medium-duty marketing manager, Kenworth Truck
Shay DeReamer, national medium-duty sales director, Peterbilt Motors
Joe Benson, head of Ram brand, Chrysler Group
Annalee Addesso, marketing manager, UD Trucks North America