Between light-duty pickups and Class 8 haulers sits the industry’s largest segment — medium-duty trucks. They carry tools and materials to construction sites, beverages and snacks to stores, propane to rural homes, and run pick up & delivery routes along slim city streets.

In our annual look at the latest midrange offerings we highlight the upcoming 2015 models offered by their prospective companies, while truck manufacturers weighed in on equipment trends and industry issues.

Ford: Fuel economy comes in many shapes and sizes

Ask any fleet manager about cost savings, and fuel economy will come up quickly in the conversation. For Ford, there are a number of ways to achieve this, including buying new vehicles.

“We are seeing increased growth and sales in the medium-duty segment,” says Mark Lowrey, marketing manager for F-Series Fleet Trucks at Ford. “Our customers are replacing aged vehicles as the economy begins to recover from the recession back in 2008 and 2009.”

Ford continues to make improvements and enhancements with a number of different technologies, Lowrey says. They include gas-prep packages for natural gas and propane upfits, automatic transmissions that allow engines to operate at optimal rpm ranges and open opportunities for more diverse driver employment, low-rolling-resistance tires, and gear ratio selections to match engine and transmission performance.

For the 2016 model year, Ford’s F-650 and F-750 trucks will be offered with both gasoline and diesel engines, as well as compressed natural gas and propane autogas engine prep packages. All models will come with Ford’s 6-Speed TorqShift SelectShift automatic transmission, which features double-overdrive ratios and low-end 3.97 to 1 first gear. Ford is offering for the first time an optional 6.8-liter V-10 gasoline engine with the 6R140 transmission, as well as the 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbo diesel engine, which is rated at 270 hp and 675 lb-ft. of torque, and offers B20 biodiesel capability.

Ford also added several new interior features, including a 110-volt power outlet, available Sync and Crew Chief factory-installed fleet management telematics, and a rapid-heat supplemental cab heater. A new steering wheel offers advanced controls. Buyers have a choice of hydraulic or air brakes.

Freightliner: Lowering the real cost of ownership

Freightliner Truck sees a change in how its clients are making truck-buying decisions.

“Similar to what we’ve seen in the on-highway segment, medium-duty customers increasingly recognize the importance of purchasing a truck based on the cost of ownership over the lifetime of the vehicle,” says Mary Aufdemberg, director of product marketing. “Customers recognize the lifetime savings when they consider the bottom-line impact of a proven powertrain, durable chassis, industry-leading visibility, customizable easy-to-upfit spec, and strong dealer support.”

The 2015 Freightliner M2 106 can be fitted with either a Cummins ISB or Cummins ISL engine and Eaton Fuller 5-, 6-, 8 ALL, 9 ALL, 9- or 10-speed manuals, as well as Eaton UltraShift 5-or 6-speed automated manuals and Allison automatics. Several new option packages include Efficiency, which combines Allison’s new FuelSense transmission programming with a Freightliner-exclusive Cummins ISB6.7 rating of 220 hp and 600 lb-ft. of torque.

“This pairing will deliver better fuel economy and reliability than any engine in its class,” Aufdemberg says. “We’ve packaged this powertrain combination with additional fuel economy-enhancing options to further increase mpg.” Because each medium-duty application can be very different, Freightliner offers a variety of customizable options.

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Hino: Looking to hybrids

While fuel economy with its diesel engine has been major point of emphasis for Hino over its 30-year span in the U.S. market, Adrian Ratza, its marketing manager, sees the 195h-DC low-cab-forward diesel-electric hybrid as “revolutionizing the industry in terms of viable and sustainable alternative fuel vehicle options. Our 195h customers have seen up to 30% fuel economy improvement over diesel-only since we launched this model in 2012,” he says.

The 195h hybrid uses a 5E-UG diesel rated 210 hp at 2,500 rpm and 440 lb-ft. at 1,500 rpm. The 2015-model 195 diesel LCF combines the J05E engine, selective catalytic reduction and an Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission with cab aerodynamics.

To help customers reach peak fuel economy, Hino and its telematics partner Telogis now offer Insight 2.0, a fleet telematics management tool that features an idle time fuel savings opportunity calculator, plus various gauges, such as hard stopping and hard acceleration, to provide driver feedback. Route optimization is also available to ensure the most efficient route for the day’s work.

“An OEM that is very limited on options runs the risk of losing customer loyalty as the customer is forced to look at other product options to fit their application needs,” adds Ratza.

Isuzu: Building a practical truck

Fleet managers are often challenged with building a practical truck application with a sensible solution, according to Brian Tabel, director of marketing at Isuzu Commercial Truck.

“A truck purchase decision requires a vehicle with maximum uptime. Ease and cost of maintenance, driver efficiency and fuel economy are major components of the challenge to reduce costs and maximize profit — ultimately realizing the lowest cost of operation, which provides the lowest cost of vehicle ownership,” says Tabel.

For many customers, spec’ing a vehicle unique to their applications with the benefit of a reduced carbon imprint makes the purchase that much more attractive. While no single engine technology is the answer for all applications, Isuzu offers a pair of its own diesel engines and a General Motors gasoline engine that can burn natural gas or propane.

Isuzu 2015 N-Series trucks are available in Class 3, 4 and 5, including:

  • NPR Gas and NPR-HD Gas with a 6-liter Vortex V-8 rated at 297 hp at 4,300 rpm and 372 lb-ft. at 4,000 rpm;
  • NPR Eco-Max with an Isuzu 3.0 4JJ1-TC diesel rated at 150 hp at 2,800 rpm and 282 lb-ft. at 1,600 rpm;
  • NPR-XD and NPR-HD, each with the 4HK1-TC diesel rated at 215 hp at 2,500 rpm and 452 lb-ft. at 1,850 rpm; and 
  • NQR and NRR, also with the 4HK1-TC diesel. 
  • Isuzu’s diesel trucks come with an onboard Data Recording Module which creates a vehicle health report. 

“In addition to reporting operating status of all major drivetrain and major operating systems, it reports driver-operating habits including acceleration, deceleration, braking, speed, fuel consumption and engine idle times,” says Tabel. “Utilization of operation facts can improve driver behavior and safety, and further reduce your cost of operation.”

Kenworth: new applications

While Kenworth offers a number of conventional medium-duty trucks, including the T170, T270, T370, T440 and T470, the truck manufacturer recently entered into full production on two updated cabover models, the Class 6 K270 and Class 7 K370.

“Kenworth’s new cabovers feature extensive exterior and interior enhancements,” says Kurt Swihart, Kenworth marketing director. New additions include a new dash and gauge cluster, front air disc brakes, an electronic braking module, a push-button control shifter, and Dana rear axles.

The K270 and K370 come standard with a 6.7-liter Paccar PX-7 diesel rated at 220 hp and 520 lb-ft. of torque, and an Allison 2100HS 5-speed transmission. Both models also feature a standard air-ride driver’s seat plus a two-passenger bench seat with storage underneath, as well as single driver and passenger seats with a large console in between as an option. Available with wheelbases ranging from 142 to 242 inches in 12-inch increments, the trucks can accommodate bodies from 16 to 28 feet.

“All of the available features that come standard with the K270 and K370, such as an adjustable steering column, power-heated mirrors and an air ride driver’s seat, are proving to be a big draw,” he says.

T-series conventionals can be fitted with factory-installed front drive axles, rear air suspensions and aerodynamic fairings for tractors. Kenworth recently added Allison’s FuelSense package for medium-duty trucks specified with Allison’s Highway Series or Rugged Duty Series automatic transmissions. Fuel Sense adapts shift schedules and torque based on load, grade and duty cycle to save fuel while retaining performance.

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Fuso: dealing with complexity

Medium-duty drivers, just like heavy-duty, have to keep on top of a lot more today than in the past, according to Todd Bloom, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America.

“The days of a fleet owner being able to hire untrained operators to drive a light medium-duty truck are passing,” Bloom says. “With tightened emissions limits, and the more sophisticated emissions controls they have brought to the medium-duty market, the need for driver intervention has also increased.

“Five years ago, the driver of a Class 3–5 diesel truck could essentially climb into the seat and drive it away in much the same way they did their personal vehicle. Today, commercial drivers have to be aware of all of the vehicle’s EPA mandated technology, in addition to all of the normal vehicle pre-run inspection and maintenance tasks.”

MFTA offers five medium-duty models: the Fuso Canter FE130 (13,200 pounds GVWR), FE160 (15,995 pounds GVWR) and FE180 (17,995 pounds GVWR) standard-cab models, the FE160 Crew Cab (15,995 pounds GVWR), and the four-wheel-drive FG4X4 (14,050 pounds GVWR).

All 2015 Fuso models are powered by a 3-liter diesel coupled to Fuso’s Duonic 6-speed-overdrive automated manual transmission with fully automatic dual clutch control and creep function. The design focus of the 2015 Canters remains on low cost of ownership, based on long service intervals, high payload capacities and good fuel economy.

Since the manufacturer’s vehicles cross a wide range of vocational markets, certain accessories remain optional. “Idle-limit systems are required in some jurisdictions, valuable for fuel savings in others, but not universally required or beneficial,” says Bloom. “Cab-mounted air deflectors can save substantial fuel in regional delivery (highway) applications, but do little to boost economy in stop-and-go urban traffic. By making these and other accessories optional, the fleet can choose the content for its trucks that best suits its business, operational and budget requirements.”

Navistar: more options

Navistar has added options and is focusing on “customerization,” says Bill Kozek, president of North America Truck and Parts.“What we call customerization is about empowering our customers, giving them more options, flexibility and ultimately more control in the process of selecting the right commercial truck and commercial truck components for their businesses.”

Last summer, Navistar shipped its first International DuraStar and International WorkStar vehicles housing 9.3-liter N9 and N10 engines with selective catalytic reduction exhaust-emissions equipment to customers. Their ratings range from 275 to 330 hp and 860 to 960 lb-ft. Also available is the Cummins ISB6.7, also with SCR, which produces from 200 to 300 hp and 520 to 600 lb-ft.

During a recent earnings call, Jack Allen, Navistar’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the company has produced more than 7,000 trucks with the ISB since it was unveiled in the fall of 2013, with 5,000 currently in use.

“The data that we’re getting back is very positive on fuel economy, on performance, on uptime,” he says. “So we do expect repeat business, but we expect a greater portion of the existing customers’ business.”

Navistar still makes non-SCR diesels and still calls them MaxxForce. The MaxxForce DT inline-6 produces from 215 hp and 560 lb-ft. to 300 hp and 660 lb-ft. The MaxxForce 7 V-8 makes from 240 to 300 hp and 620 to 660 lb-ft.

The 2015-MY International Durastar is available with Eaton 5-, 6-, or 10-speed manual transmissions, Eaton UltraShift 5- or 6-speed automated manuals, and Allison 1000, 2000 and 3000 series automatics. Navistar recently started offering Allison’s FuelSense packages for these transmissions.

Peterbilt: operator-friendly

Buying a truck that doesn’t require a commercially licensed driver can make hiring easier, notes Wesley Slavin, Peterbilt’s medium-duty products marketing manager.

“Easy to operate, non-CDL trucks open up a much deeper driver pool, so businesses in local delivery applications or utility work, for instance, can operate the vehicles and not necessarily require dedicated truck drivers,” says Slavin. “Customers continue to look for operator-friendly features that help increase productivity, safety and comfort.”

For 2015, Peterbilt is offering its Class 6 and 7 medium-duty cabover Model 220, which comes standard with the Paccar PX-7 diesel with up to 260 hp and 660 lb-ft. The 220 is standard with an automatic Allison transmission with a push-button shifter and an electronic braking system. The vehicle’s curb-to-curb turning radius has been reduced by 16%, with maneuverability further enhanced with a bumper-to-bumper spec as short as 35 feet. Even at the shortest wheelbase, the Model 220 features an additional 45 inches of payload room.

While Peterbilt integrates aerodynamics to increase fuel economy, the biggest saving can come from inside the cab itself. “The biggest impact on fuel economy is the driver,” says Slavin. “It’s even more significant in medium-duty markets where routes are local, there’s urban congestion and it’s often stop-and-go deliveries. So we focus on features that help the driver operate as efficiently as possible.”

This year, Peterbilt introduced Driver Performance Assistant, a coaching tool which provides operators with real-time feedback to improve driving habits, resulting in better fuel economy and reduced component wear.

Ram: rightsizing trucks

Customers are looking to save money by dropping classes instead of vehicles or drivers, says Rudy Albrecht, Ram chassis cab marketing manager. For example, a company might choose to move from Class 6 trucks to Class 5 or 4, which would reduce weight and increase fuel economy.

“Truck users are paying more attention to acquisition and operating costs, making sure they get the right truck with the correct capability. Previously the tendency was to buy bigger than they might need just in case they need it down the road,” Albrecht says.

Newer model Class 4 and 5 trucks are in many cases equal or more capable than the sometimes decade-old Class 6 trucks they are replacing, Albrecht thinks. He pointed to the ’15 Ram 4500 and 5500 chassis cabs’ high gross combination weight and tow ratings.

A new Max Payload Package on 6.4-liter Hemi-powered Ram 5500s, which is made possible by a new torque converter on the commercial-duty Aisin AS66RC automatic transmission, increases gross vehicle weight ratings to 19,000 and 19,500 pounds on various wheelbases. Those GVW ratings are 500 to 1,000 pounds higher than before. Many customers are choosing the 6.4 Hemi gasoline engine because it costs about $8,500 less than the Cummins diesel, and still does a respectable amount of work. For heavy towing, though, the diesel is still the better choice.

“Offering a wide array of options for capability, functionality or comfort features makes sense in the context of cost control and rightsizing — getting the right truck with the right capability and features while balancing total cost of operation,” says Albrecht.

“For instance, Ram offers a 10,000-pound-GVWR option on our 3500 chassis cab for customers who don’t typically haul or pull heavy loads, but at the same time it helps them reduce some of the administrative and insurance costs that come with operating heavier trucks.”

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