So I spent some time about a week or so ago tooling around in one of Caterpillar’s new vocational trucks, the CT660, which in my case sported a dump body and automatic transmission (with the cab painted – surprise, surprise! – a gleaming shade of “Caterpillar yellow.”)
Now, before we go any further, let me ask this question: why should a fleet care about my driving impressions concerning a particular make and model of truck, in this case the CT660?
I mean, let’s be honest here: I don’t drive trucks 10 hours a day, five or six days a week. I also don’t handle the maintenance or pay the fuel bill on a long term basis either. So how could my impressions be of any true value to a fleet, much less a driver?
Well, let’s put it this way: if I can hop into a truck like this one (with the dump bed fully loaded, mind you) and pilot it around and on- and off-road course, maneuvering it easily and able to locate all the pertinent knobs, switches, and gauges with little (if any) detailed instruction beforehand, then you know you’re getting a vehicle that make the work lives of your veteran and rookie drivers alike that much easier.
For example, I could swing the CT660 around in a tight circle with only one hand on the steering wheel. Any critical vehicle metric in need of checking – oil pressure, engine temperature, etc. – could be easily scanned simply by glancing at the steering wheel, for nine separate gauges are visible on the dash through the top part of the steering wheel.
[You can view a gallery of the CT660 by clicking here.]
Most of the CT660’s controls are laid out intuitively as well, with the windshield wiper knob on the turn signal indicator lever – just like in an automobile. No fumbling around looking for a switch; the minute it started raining, I clicked the wipers on with my left hand without missing a beat … or taking my eyes off the road.
And at the end of the day, that’s really what trucks like the CT660 are striving to achieve – maximize the amount of time an operator keeps their eyes on the road. Because, let’s face it, the roads are only getting more crowded and thus more dangerous for truck drivers and everyday motorists alike.
Just look at some of the data within the 2011 Urban Mobility Report, published by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, and you’ll see what I mean. It illustrates how congested roadway conditions became in 2010 with some truly unsettling numbers:
• The amount of delay endured by the average commuter was 34 hours, up from 14 hours in 1982.
• The cost of congestion is more than $100 billion, nearly $750 for every commuter in the U.S.
• “Rush hour” is six hours of not rushing anywhere.
• Congestion is becoming a bigger problem outside of “rush hour,” with about 40% of the delay occurring in the mid-day and overnight hours, creating an increasingly serious problem for businesses that rely on efficient production and deliveries.
• When the economic growth returns, the average commuter is estimated to see an additional 3 hours of delay by 2015 and 7 hours by 2020. By 2015, the cost of gridlock will rise from $101 billion to $133 billion (more than $900 for every commuter) and the amount of wasted fuel will jump from 1.9 billion gallons to 2.5 billion gallons – enough to fill more than 275,000 gasoline tanker trucks.
That doesn’t generate ideal working conditions for truck drivers of any stripe, to say the very least. But it’s also why the trucks they drive need to become easier and safer to operate, simply because the margin for error is shrinking rapidly as traffic volumes keep thickening.