Is trucking in for a transformation? Many believe that long-haul trucking will become less important as regional operations grow and intermodal takes over more long-haul freight, and that will change the type of heavy-duty tractor bought by many trucking companies.
Meanwhile, previously identified trends in equipment, such as smaller and slower-revving diesels, automated transmissions and air disc brakes, continue, as does interest in natural gas engines, according to original equipment manufacturers we interviewed for our annual Class 8 update.
In truck sales, it’s a good year but not a great year. The economy’s growth remains slow and was damaged by the political bickering in Washington that led to the federal government shutdown.
“There’s still a significant level of caution, given the absence of sustained economic strength and uncertainty associated with budget and debt ceiling negotiations in Congress,” is how John Walsh, Mack vice president of marketing, summed things up.
Thus most freight carriers are replacing old iron but avoiding expansion, while a rebirth in housing results in more purchases of trucks that support construction, such as heavy dumps and mixers. Compared to last year, 2013’s Class 8 pace is off by about 12% in the long-haul segment but up by 8% or so in vocational trucks.
North American sales in 2013 should finish at well over 200,000 units; forecasters at Paccar, owner of Kenworth and Peterbilt, predict 205,000 to 215,000 heavies, while those at Volvo Group think it will be about 240,000, downgraded from 250,000.
Move toward daycabs
The widening of the Panama Canal to take super container ships will have ramifications for trucking in the United States, as much containerized freight from Asia will no longer go to West Coast ports for transshipment to the Midwest and East. A lot of that cargo moves east in long-haul trucks and container trains, but some believe that it soon could bypass those operations and come ashore through closer ports.
“When they open the enlarged Panama Canal next year, there will be consequences for sleepers,” says Magnus Koeck, vice president, marketing and brand management at Volvo Trucks. “The hauls will be shorter, potentially, if the larger container ships go into Gulf and East Coast ports rather than West Coast. It could also mean trucking companies change their operations to more daycabs with relays to get their drivers home more often. But there will always be a need for long-haul sleepers for coast-to-coast operations,” he said, though there likely will be fewer of them.
“We’re seeing some fleets moving away from the ‘large car’ long-haul configurations to lighter and less expensive mid-size sleeper equipment that operate more economically,” says Jerry Warmkessel, Mack’s highway product marketing manager. “In some cases, based on location and number of terminals, a customer may have day cabs actually replacing sleeper equipment.”
These more regional fleets no longer have to worry about having larger engines that can easily transverse the country over the Rocky Mountains, Warmkessel says, “In these cases smaller, lighter, more fuel-efficient engines will do the job, increasing the opportunity for greater profits for the carrier.”
Greater output from 13-liter-class diesels, now available with 500 or more horsepower and 1,850 pounds-feet of torque, along with decent durability, are pleasing drivers and convincing fleet managers to buy more of them – something predicted several years ago by people at Mack and other OEMs.
All builders now have their own diesels with this displacement. Most rely on Cummins for the larger 15-liter still preferred by customers wanting million-mile life or regularly hauling heavy loads or operating in more challenging terrains.
Mack sells only its own 11- and 13-liter diesels, plus a 16-liter model that it gets from Volvo Powertrain. Volvo sells its versions of those engines, but also offers the Cummins ISX in its VN series. However, 80% of Volvos now get Volvo-brand diesels.
Kenworth and Peterbilt are selling larger numbers of their proprietary Paccar MX-13 diesel, though they won’t say what the percentages are compared to Cummins sales, which include the ISX11.9 and ISX15. Paccar-branded midrange diesels come from Cummins.
Most International heavy trucks remain standard with Navistar’s MaxxForce diesels, now with Cummins-sourced selective catalytic reduction equipment. Navistar recently reinstated Cummins as an alternative, so heavy-duty Internationals now can be had with the ISX15 that has replaced the now-dropped MaxxForce 15. The ISX15 is the only engine in two International heavy models.
Daimler Trucks’ Freightliner and Western Star divisions are standard on Detroit Diesels, but many models are available with Cummins ISX11.9 and ISX15 power. Dave Hammes, Daimler’s general manager for marketing and strategy, says this contributes to a low overall cost of ownership, but notes that Freightliner’s “vehicle integration” (versus vertical integration) includes Detroit-produced axles and now the DT12 automated mechanical transmission.
AMTs, integration gaining momentum
Automated transmissions are really catching on at Volvo, whose I-Shift sales are now “north of 50%” in VN models, according to Koeck.
At Mack, “Currently we are building approximately 41% of our Pinnacle products with this mShift feature,” reports Warmkessel. Many of those are paired with low-revving proprietary diesels, a package that Mack calls SuperEconodyne and Volvo sells as XE, for “eXceptional Efficiency.”
Cummins has teamed up with Eaton to design SmartDrive, a slow-revving ISX15 mated to an Eaton UltraShift Plus automated transmission. SmartDrive claims 3% to 6% better fuel economy plus much easier operation than standard engines with manual transmissions. Mack and Volvo products get similar results, those builders say, and customers are placing repeat orders.
Navistar doesn’t make its own self-shifting gearbox, but now offers three products: the Cummins-Eaton SmartDrive; the Allison TC-10, a torque converter 10-speed automatic unveiled several years ago and only recently entering production; and an Eaton UltraShift Plus LSE, a 16-speed AMT model said to be exclusive to Navistar.
The TC-10 yields 5% better fuel economy and the Eaton AMT has saved 6% in fuel in fleet tests, Navistar says.
Caterpillar’s CX31 fully automatic transmission is “gaining momentum” in the Cat vocational truck, with half of all orders for the CT660 model specifying it, says George Taylor, director of the company’s Global On-Highway Group.
The truck is assembled by Navistar using a much-modified International PayStar cab and chassis and MaxxForce 13 diesel designated as CT13.
The CT660 is going into many applications and Cat is getting repeat orders.
“We have had many customers call us up to tell us how impressed they are that our CT13 engine matched with the CX31 is out-performing their larger bore engines because of the torque capability of our CT13/CX31 automatic transmission combination,” Taylor says.
Gas is growing
Diesel will dominate as the power of choice in heavy-duty trucks for the foreseeable future, but all OEMs see cheap natural gas growing in importance as a motor fuel. Volvo is working on a dual-fuel diesel-natural gas engine (as well as one that will burn dimethyl ether), but for now it and other builders rely on Cummins Westport for natural gas engines for some of their truck models. These include the 8.9-liter ISL G and the 11.9-liter ISX12 G.
The 12 G engine, which just became available this year, is attracting interest from many operators who need more power and torque than the ISL can muster.
“There’s a lot of interest in the natural gas platform with the ISX12 G,” says Kurt Swihart, marketing director at Kenworth Truck. “As fueling infrastructure around the U.S. develops, gas will become a lot more feasible in a wider range of applications.”
Kenworth and Peterbilt also offer Westport Innovations’ dual-fuel 15L. But Westport is dropping the 15L due to low sales volume and the relatively high cost of refitting Cummins cylinder blocks with dual-fuel heads and fuel systems.
That will leave a gap in natural gas power for operators hauling heavy loads in mountainous terrain, at least until Cummins has its 14.9-liter gas engine ready in a couple of years. Like the ISL and ISX12 gas engines, the 15G will use spark ignition.
Disc brakes taking hold
Air disc brakes have been very slow to gain favor with North American truck operators since first introduced in the 1970s. High cost, extra weight and durability problems doomed early products. However, younger managers who didn’t experience those problems are embracing the latest ADBs because they perform well and are easier to maintain than traditional drum brakes, OEMs say.
Although they’re not needed to meet the shorter stopping distances required of heavy tractors, discs are standard on many truck models, sometimes on front axles with drums at the rear, and sometimes with discs all around.
Often there’s a delete option, which saves some purchasing money but at the cost of higher maintenance costs over time. And some fleet executives have begun buying discs as a driver recruiting tool. Discs have a better pedal feel and greater stability, attributes noted and appreciated by drivers, they say.
Nicer, cleaner & more efficient equipment
Except in business downturns, drivers have been an important consideration in truck-buying decisions. With a more severe shortage said to be looming due to retirement of many old-timers and the reluctance of younger people to enter the industry, drivers become more vital.
“The American Trucking Associations estimates the driver shortage at 20,000 available jobs and predicts that shortfall to grow to a quarter of a million jobs over the next decade,” says Todd Acker, Peterbilt’s director of marketing. “Premium equipment that provides drivers with a superior operating environment and, for over-the-road drivers, an off-duty area with numerous amenities, help maximize driver satisfaction and productivity.”
New regulations limiting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were not listed by any of the OEMs as a major concern, though certifying their engines for compliance is expensive and some customers must be convinced to buy the right kind of equipment. Cutting GHG emissions reductions also cuts fuel use, which saves customers money.
Builders have been working on higher fuel economy, and truck operators have been demanding it, for years. OEM executives say the new regs, set to take effect in January, will not prevent customers from getting the vehicles they need to do their hauling jobs efficiently. More on this in next month’s HDT.