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ATD Commercial Truck of the Year: Behind the Scenes

January 22, 2015

By Tom Berg

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Heavy vocational trucks were judged in this year’s ATD Commercial Truck of the Year competition: (From left) International WorkStar 7600, Peterbilt 567 and Kenworth T880. Previous competitions included more truck types. Photo by Tom Berg
Heavy vocational trucks were judged in this year’s ATD Commercial Truck of the Year competition: (From left) International WorkStar 7600, Peterbilt 567 and Kenworth T880. Previous competitions included more truck types. Photo by Tom Berg

Three dump trucks comprised the field in the latest American Truck Dealers Commercial Truck of the Year competition, with judging held Monday, Jan. 19, in Hayward, California. Judges included a professional driver and three former owner-operators.

This was the first time the competition, now in its seventh year, restricted the entries to one truck type: heavy vocational. Organizers felt the previous format, where any type of truck or tractor could be entered in medium and heavy categories, was more difficult for the manufacturers who took the time and trouble to send vehicles and people to an event.

Only three builders entered trucks this time, perhaps because others were discouraged that they hadn’t won anything in previous years. Those who did enter – Navistar International, Kenworth and Peterbilt -- have each won more than once.

Of course, only one can, and the American Truck Dealers will announce the winner at their convention on Saturday in San Francisco. Until then, its identity will be a secret.

Meet the Judges

Greg Nauertz (right), a YRC local delivery driver from Phoenix and the first professional driver to act as a judge in the contest, gets a briefing on the natural-gas-powered Model 567 from Peterbilt’s Charlie Cook. Photo by Tom Berg
Greg Nauertz (right), a YRC local delivery driver from Phoenix and the first professional driver to act as a judge in the contest, gets a briefing on the natural-gas-powered Model 567 from Peterbilt’s Charlie Cook. Photo by Tom Berg

As usual, judges included truck writers from several industry magazines, including Heavy Duty Trucking, which I represented. But this was the first time an active professional driver was a judge. He is Greg Nauertz, a long-time local delivery driver for YRC in Phoenix, Arizona.

Nauertz is a member of America’s Road Team, a safety and promotional activity of the American Trucking Associations made up of top-notch drivers from around the country. On workdays, Greg drives a day cab tractor pulling  a 40-foot semitrailer with a liftgate, and sometimes a 28-foot pup.

“I’ve never driven a dump truck,” he acknowledged, but that didn’t matter, because he scored his impressions just like the rest of us. What did he think of the event? “It was cool,” he said. “But I’ve got nothing to compare it to.”

Another judge was a former owner-operator, Suzanne Stempinski from Land Line magazine. She and husband Bob ran over-the-road for a lot of years, but they now live on a farm south of Chicago.

Other judges included Paul Hartley, also a former owner-operator and now a freelance writer and photographer; David Kolman of Fleet Maintenance magazine, who spend a short stint as an owner-operator and still drives semis part-time; Jack Roberts of CCJ, this year’s chief judge; and me. I drove trucks while in college many years ago, now drive and write about them for HDT and TruckingInfo.com, and was chief judge the previous three years. Of course we all have Class A CDLs.

The coordinator and supervisor was Barbara Robinson, ATD’s executive director. She arranged use of Manheim Auto Auction’s facility as our base in Hayward.

The score sheet this year included 39 topics, from power and ride quality and instrument readability to brake feel and in-cab storage. We rated each on a scale of 1 (lousy) to 10 (excellent). These were all good trucks, so I doubt that anybody scored anything very low. I did include some 5s for various things, but most of my numbers were between there and 9, with a few 10s.

About the Contestants

Each truck had to be new or have something new added in the previous year. International entered a WorkStar 7600 with an International N13 diesel whose exhaust had selective catalytic reduction equipment, which replaced the non-SCR MaxxForce 13. Kenworth entered its T880 and Peterbilt its 567, both new vocational models that entered production at the end of 2013.

The International’s roomy steel cab was nicely trimmed inside. Its diesel ran through an Eaton UltraShift Plus automated manual transmission that was a little clunky in lower gears but positive in the upper ratios. The two Paccar products had smooth Allison automatics. The Peterbilt’s power came from a Cummins ISX12 G that burned natural gas from tanks in a cabinet behind the cab, while the Kenworth had a strong Paccar MX-13 diesel. The KW’s cab interior was rather deluxe, while the Pete’s had more workaday midlevel trim. 

All judges drove each truck over a 6-mile course that included a short freeway segment and city streets within Hayward. Only the Kenworth carried any load, about 20,000 pounds; the others were empty. You could say that wasn’t very realistic for dump trucks, but we had to work within time and logistical constraints. And it was enough to form some impressions of each truck, and do our scoring. 

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