Both weather and spirits were spring-like for this year's Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville with sunny, warm days giving show-goers and exhibitors alike one more reason to smile as they enjoyed clear evidence that both the economy and truck market have begun a long-awaited recovery. After enduring three years of turmoil and slow sales, the prospect of healthy fleet balance sheets and a resulting

Both weather and spirits were spring-like for this year's Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville with sunny, warm days giving show-goers and exhibitors alike one more reason to smile as they enjoyed clear evidence that both the economy and truck market have begun a long-awaited recovery.

After enduring three years of turmoil and slow sales, the prospect of healthy fleet balance sheets and a resulting jump in new-truck orders were the big news at the Kentucky Fairgrounds this year, overshadowing new product introductions at what is usually the major U.S. showcase for new trucks and technology. As an executive at one major equipment manufacturer put it, “We've waited a long time for this recovery. All I can say is hot-diggity.”

On the fleet side, anecdotal evidence from show-floor conversations showed no major negative impact from the new hours-of-service regulations. In fact, given shipper concerns over tight freight capacities, some fleets have actually seen an increase in miles for their drivers as shippers respond to detention charges and other pressures to shorten time spent at loading docks. Freight rates in general are also beginning to climb a bit, and fuel surcharges are still helping offset some of the huge jump in fuel prices.

Even the monster in the closet — the 2007 diesel engine emissions standards — seemed to shrink a bit in size and ferocity in Louisville's sunny atmosphere. The engine manufacturers all announced that they would meet those requirements with modifications of the same technologies introduced to meet the 2002 emission standards. And now that they finally have some miles accumulated on those '02 engines, both manufacturers and fleets seem comfortable with the reliability and performance of those technologies, even if they are paying some fuel-economy penalties.


In one of the first of the show's 23 official press conferences, Kenworth gm and Paccar vp Bob Christensen quickly set the tone, declaring: “It's going to be a great year for the trucking industry.”

Last year, total Class 8 retails sales for the U.S. and Canada only reached 164,000 units, he said, but this year KW expects those sales numbers “to reach between 210,000 and 220,000 units.” Sales of medium-duty Class 6 and 7 trucks should remain stable at 85,000 units, he added.

According to Christensen, rising freight tonnage and an aging truck fleet are driving the demand for new trucks, and Kenworth has responded by boosting production by 50% compared to one year ago.

While orders from for-hire carriers are rising a bit faster than other segments, orders are up in all truck markets, including construction and other vocational segments, Christensen said, with Kenworth's backlog currently running at 10,000 to 11,000 trucks.

One immediate concern is rapidly rising steel prices. “Everyone is scrambling to secure product to meet production requirements,” he said. “We have long-term price agreements with our suppliers, but the steel rate increases over the last three months have been so severe that many of our suppliers are talking about adding steel surcharges.”


Further out, “2007 is going to be a challenge for us,” Christensen said. “The engine OEs have their challenges and we have ours, primarily integrating their [2007] products into our vehicles. The biggest issue is working with engine makers to get prototypes in customers' hands so they can operate the new engine for awhile.”

Peterbilt Motors gm and fellow Paccar vp Dan Sobic pointed out that Class 8 sales for the first two months of 2004 were 40% ahead of the same period in 2003 and show no signs of slackening. “By May, our build rate will be 35% higher than it was at the end of 2003,” he said during Peterbilt's press conference. “The economic landscape is changing.”

Among the positive signs are “financers moving back into the market… and better availability of insurance with more providers and more rate stability,” Sobic said. And while 2003 saw freight tonnages seesaw up and down, the first quarter of 2004 showed sustained, broad-based freight growth.

With over 1-million Class 8 trucks now between three and seven years old, replacement buying coupled with freight growth promises “robust Class 8 sales growth could possibly surpass 1999 records [by 2006],” he said.

While the government's 60-day delay in enforcement of the new HOS rules may be masking “the total impact of the new rules, the extra driving hours could potentially increase productivity for LTL fleets, but there will probably be a negative short-term productivity impact [for truckload carriers],” Sobic said.

Like other truck manufacturers, Peterbilt is keeping a wary eye on 2007, but now believes it will have prototypes available for fleet testing by 2005.

Freightliner LLC President & CEO Rainer Schmueckle expanded predictions for a boom in truck sales this year to the entire North American market.

“After three really terrible years for Class 8 sales, we are clearly on the verge of a strong recovery,” he said at Freightliner's traditional early morning press conference. “Class 8 orders are surging through the first three months of this year and even though medium-duty sales have been sluggish to recover, we are starting to see positive signs there as well.”


Schmueckle is forecasting total Class 8 sales of 220,000 units for Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. this year, a 20% increase from the 180,000 Class 8 trucks sold last year. The company expects medium-duty truck sales to climb 12% in all three countries to 150,000 units, up from 133,500 units in 2003.

“Most of the volume is being driven by big linehaul fleets, but now orders are rising from small regional haulers and vocational fleets — they're getting back into the market for equipment now,” he said. “We also expect the U.S. economy to grow by 4% to 5% this year, which should help maintain the considerable positive momentum of truck sales.”

While medium-duty sales have been slower to recover, Schmueckle said he was beginning to see positives signs there as well, and believed that segment would provide an especially good opportunity for the company's Sterling operation, which focuses on the vocational truck market.

As for 2007 diesel issues, Schmueckle floated a trial balloon, suggesting that it might be time for fleets, truck manufacturers and engine makers to raise the issue of incentives to encourage fleets to buy the new engines and avoid a pre-buy in 2006. “Temporarily reducing or eliminating the Federal Excise Tax [on new truck sales] would be the most revenue neutral way to do that,” he said.

Paul Vikner, president & CEO of Mack Trucks, joined in expectations that truck demand is strengthening, but said Mack wanted to be “a lot more cautious and careful” in terms of projecting the strength of that demand.

“We want to be prudent and take a very conservative approach to predicting how well truck sales will do,” he said during a Mack press event, noting that Mack projects Class 8 truck sales in North America will top out in the low 200,000 range by year's end, if that.

“We want to plan any additional production capacity carefully, so when the market goes down again we won't be hurt as much as we were three years ago,” Vikner said.

“We know that the [truck sales] market runs in cycles, and the market was really down for three years,” he added. “The U.S. economy and freight [volumes] were down, sure, but the business practices of many truck manufacturers were also to blame. People wanted to buy trucks over the last few years, but the value of their used trucks were too low to let them. We don't want to be caught in another situation like that.”

Vikner said he recognizes that the overall truck fleet has aged, but “I don't think the industry can sustain the current order rate, so it should drop off as the year progresses. Overall, though, I still see strong demand for new trucks in 2004 and into 2005 and 2006.”

As for 2007, Vikner said the company had learned a lot about handling a pre-buy spike in sales from its experiences in 2002. “Customers didn't have the time to test the new engines and frankly neither did we. A huge pre-buy in 2006 would be a disaster in 2007, so we will work to do everything we can to avoid that. No one is against clean air, but we'd like to find ways to take a bite out of this transition.”

Mack's parent company, Volvo Trucks North America, began seeing a significant step up in new truck orders in Nov. 2003, according to new president and CEO Peter Karlsten. And that strength has continued into March, he said at the Louisville show.

In addition replacement demand for an aging over-the-road fleet, new housing starts are at a 10-year high, broadening truck demand to vocational segments as well, he pointed out.

With plans under way to develop and build a new heavy-duty diesel engine for both Volvo and Mack, Karlsten said further development of current emissions technology “provides a safe path to 2007 requirements.”

Like other suppliers, Volvo is committed to providing fleets with early versions of those engines by 2005, he said. However, he also endorsed the idea of economic incentives to help avoid a pre-buy scenario, suggesting action on reducing the excise tax might be the best solution.

On a more individual note, Karlsten said his most recent experiences as the head of Volvo's Brazilian truck operations showed him that a combination of factory and dealer training for drivers could have a major impact on both fuel economy and safety.

In Brazil, over 50% of all new Volvo trucks are picked up at the factory by drivers, who are given both a tour and initial training on the vehicle features and operation. That session is followed up by local dealers, resulting in fuel savings of up to 15%, according to Karlsten.


It wasn't just truck makers bearing good news at Mid-America — trailer manufacturers as well see an upswing in industry activity.

“Normal market demand for trailers hovers between 200,000 to 225,000 units,” said Wabash National CEO Bill Greubel. “Industry predictions for 2004 are now around 247,000 units, while we are predicting between 225,000 and 230,000. Fleets haven't replaced their trailers in the last two years because of the recession. As a result, there's a lot of pent-up demand now.”

Recognizing the same increase in demand, Hal Bennett, president of Utility Trailer, said: “We anticipate a 30% increase in our output this year; we just can't build trailers fast enough.”

To help reach that goal, Utility is investing $11.5 million to overhaul its trailer manufacturing plant in Marion, VA, in an effort to improve productivity 10%, and could hire up to 200 more workers this year.

“Even the flatbed trailer market is returning after three long years, so we need to make sure we can keep up with demand,” Bennett added.

And in the springtime sunlight outside the show floor, even the vendors had trouble keeping up with demand as the general high spirits seemed to stimulate appetites for fried catfish and pork-chop sandwiches, as well as new trucks and trailers.


Good looks count

Peterbilt Motors Co. is slated to go into production this month with a redesigned version of its medium-duty truck. According to Dan Sobic, Peterbilt's gm, the Model 335 will feature new exterior styling, hood and fenders made from Metton, a stronger composite material, and the headlight package currently found on the company's Model 387 Class 8 tractor, which should provide 40% better forward road illumination.

Erik Binns, Peterbilt's new medium-duty marketing manager, told FLEET OWNER that exterior styling is becoming a bigger issue for Class 6 & 7 truck buyers. “In the past, I've been told that styling doesn't matter to these buyers as they view their trucks as just work tools,” he said. “However, I've found in recent talks with customers that it's not true. Styling matters to Class 6 & 7 users specifically because the truck needs to reflect well on the company it's adorned with.”

Peterbilt said it plans to stop building its current medium-duty, Model 330, in December. The company also plans to stop production of its special edition Model 379X Class 8 tractor at the end of the year.

Peterbilt has also joined forces with two body manufacturers to give truck owners a “one stop shopping” option for mixer, van, and platform bodies for its straight trucks. Peterbilt said that it's working with London Machinery to provide rear-discharge mixer options for customers. It has also joined forces with American Body Co. to offer dry freight van and platform bodies for prospective buyers of the new medium-duty truck.


Small is beautiful

Said to be the world's smallest mini-marker light, a new single-LED lamp from Truck-Lite can be flush-mounted in top rear-door headers or other protected locations to avoid damage from tree limbs, dock seals and other common impact threats.

The LED Model 33 mini-marker lamp is smaller than a dime and can use a grommet mount for quick installation or a theft-resistant flange mount, according to Tim Walker, Truck-Lite's sr. vp-worldwide sales.

It meets Federal FMVSS108 rear clearance/marker lamp requirements, and is offered in a 3-lamp hard-wired harness for use as an identification lamp, as well as in single-lamp LEDs with a sealed 2-pin connector for use as clearance or side marker lamps.


Splashy debut for LCF

Ford Motor Co. officially unveiled its low cab forward (LCF) medium-duty truck for model-year 2006 in Louisville — complete with dancers, plenty of dry ice and a short appearance by the latest Ford pitchman, country & western singer Toby Keith.

The all-new LCF series for Class 4 & 5 is being built as part of the Blue Diamond joint venture Ford has with International Truck & Engine Corp. Although both Ford and International LCF trucks are built on a common 34-in steel frame, offer GVWRs of 16,000, 17,999, and 19,500 lb., and use International's Powerstroke 4.5L V6 diesel engine, the cabs themselves are completely different.

According to Ford, having a signature cab is critical because it will allow the company's dealers to become “one stop shops” for commercial truck customers looking for both conventional and cabover medium-duty vehicles.

The LCFs will be available in four axle-to-frame choices, five cab-to-axle options, and five wheelbase lengths. Ford points out that this range of configurations “fits many vocational second-unit bodies, including multi-length van and dump trucks, along with stake trucks, tow trucks and utility vehicles.”

The 2006 Ford LCF goes into production early next year.


Business Class adds vocational Class 8

A Class 8 truck specifically developed for vocational applications has been added to Freightliner Trucks' Business Class line. The Business Class M2 112V includes standard features such as a front-engine PTO and frame extensions in various lengths to accommodate body equipment such as hydraulic pumps, winches and snow plows.

Standard power for the M2 112V is the 12.8L Mercedes-Benz MBE 4000 rated at 350 hp./1,350 lb.-ft. Powertrain options include Caterpillar's C11 and a variety of Eaton-Fuller manual transmissions and Allison automatics. Front axle rating range from 12,000 to 23,000 lb.; rear axle ratings range from 23,000 to 58,000 lb. Freightliner mechanical and air suspensions are offered, as are Hendrickson air and walking beam suspensions.

Freightliner also announced that it will offer the Cummins ISC engine as an option for the Business Class M2 106 starting this summer. The 6-cyl., 8.3L diesel offers ratings ranging from 240 to 330 hp. with peak torques up to 950 lb.-ft.

Immediate news on Freightliner's heavy-duty side was relatively minor, with a new optional instrument panel unveiled for the Columbia. It features LED backlighting, individually removable gauges, datalink communications and a selectable mode display screen.

Immediate availability of the Eaton Fuller UltraShift 10-speed transmission was also announced for the company's Century Class S/T and Columbia lines. The two-pedal automated mechanical is intended for on-highway applications.

Longer term, Freightliner announced that it has entered a joint venture with ArvinMeritor to produce proprietary medium- and heavy-duty front and rear axles. Already producing axles for Freightliner's school bus and chassis divisions, it will eventually provide axles for the Business Class M2 and Sterling Acterra lines.


ABS gets stability control

A dvanced electronics will allow Volvo Trucks North America to offer stability control for the Volvo VN and VHD starting in early 2005.

The company announced that the ABS-6 antilock brake systems from Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems is now standard equipment, and that early next year it will add the ABS-6 Advanced system with ESP (electronic stability program) as a customer-specified option.

Monitoring vehicle speed and other inputs, ESP can selectively apply brakes at individual wheel ends to control yaw and keep tractor/trailer combinations in line.

It also provides roll stability controls to help prevent rollover incidents with sudden lane changes or obstacle avoidance maneuvers. The advanced braking system, which overlays the existing air-brake system, provides traction control as well.


Back on top

Boosting 625 hp., Caterpillar's new “King of the Hill” C15 generates 2,050 lb.-ft. of torque at 1,200 rpm. Featuring the company's ACERT technology for lowering emissions, the big-bore is also being offered in a 600-hp./1,850 lb.-ft. version. Of greater interest to most fleets, the company is also adding five new ratings for the C13, ranging from 470 hp./1,550 lb.-ft. to 500 hp./1,650 lb.-ft. The C11 line will be expanded as well, with 350 and 370-hp. ratings well suited for mixer and dump-truck applications.


The 10-year trailer

Trailer maker Wabash National said it's main goal for the next few years is to design and build a nearly maintenance-free trailer that would have a life cycle of 10 years, about twice that of today's units, said Rod Erlich, the company's chief technology officer.

“Our goal is to build a trailer where over the course of 10 years all you'll need to do is check the brakes and tires,” he explained. “In terms of what we call ‘total cost of ownership,’ a customer may pay $800 to $1,500 more for this type of trailer. But because it lasts 10 years — versus the 5- to 7-yr. life expectancy of today's trailers — they'll get more lifecycle value from it.”

To achieve that 10-yr. goal, some critical design issues need to be addressed. For example, it's important to find a way to improve corrosion resistance to new and widely used road de-icing salts such as magnesium chloride, Erlich pointed out. In addition, the durability and reliability of undercarriage and electrical systems must be beefed up.


HD clutch self adjusts

The Twin XTend is a 15.5-in. self-adjusting clutch for Class 8 trucks developed by ArvinMeritor's Commercial Vehicle Systems (CVS) and its partner, ZF Sachs AG. Introduced at MATS, the new heavy-duty clutch will be built by ZF Sachs and supported by ArvinMeritor's sales and service network.

Major features for the self-adjusting clutch include a controlled center plate release to prevent clutch drag, a wear indicator and options for extended lube and long-life release bearings. Available later this year, the clutch will be offered in torque ratings ranging from 1,150 to 2,050 lb.-ft.

The company's CVS group also announced that it was upgrading its RideStar RHP trailer air suspension with a new slider design that uses integrated lateral plates and an improved pin mechanism. Renamed the RideStar RXP, the air suspension also gets a new parallelogram axle design and new Meritor 5000 series axle. The upper control arm assembly has also been reworked to reduce overall weight while improving wear and corrosion resistance.

On the brake side of its business, ArvinMeritor says it has moved to a new epoxy e-coat process for its brake shoes that will reduce corrosion and resist rust jacking.

The joint venture Meritor WABCO Vehicle Control Systems also announced at MATS the release of updated diagnostic software for its ABS. ToolBox Ver. 5.0 adds diagnostic functions for hydraulic power brake systems with integrated ABS, as well as tractor and trailer electronic leveling modules. The PC-based program also activates system components to verify proper component operation. and

Fleets of the Year

Opening the 2004 show, Roadranger sponsored the presentation of FLEET OWNER's Fleet of the Year Awards. Accepting for the winning fleets are, from left to right, Thomas Derieg of Waste Management, Dave Williams of Knight Transportation and William Patterson of ADM Trucking, At the microphone is Bill Showen, manager, Roadranger OEM Sales & Marketing.


Axles front and rear

In a roundup of new products, Roadranger introduced a number of new axles, as well as previewed new suspension technologies and announced full production of an automated transmission from the marketing group's two partners, Dana Corp. and Eaton Corp.

Topping the list was the Dana Spicer D170 series axle, a family of single-reduction tandem drives for high GCW applications such as logging, refuse and construction. With GVW ratings of 46,000 to 50,000 lb., the D170 offers 17 final drive ratios ranging from 3.07 to 7.17. Its gearing uses extra wide face widths to handle the heavier loads, and it has a patented on-demand internal lube pump with a no-maintenance filter.

Moving forward on the vehicle and down in weight, two steer axles were unveiled for the new International and Ford Class 4 & 5 LCF truck. The Dana Spicer D-600N carries 6,000-lb. GAWR and the D-700N a 7,000-lb. rating. They feature a 74-in. track width and up to a 55-deg. turn angle.

Scheduled for release sometime later this year, Roadranger showed for the first time the Dana Front Runner air-over-leaf front suspension. Combining a single taper leaf spring with an air spring, it is said to offer improved ride with light weight and high durability.

Dana also previewed an independent front suspension that is still in the concept stage, currently touring the country as part of the company's Technology Truck rolling exhibit.

Introduced at last year's Show, the Eaton Fuller UltraShit 10-sp. transmission has now entered high-volume production.


Brake drum & fifth wheel

Consolidated Metco, known as ConMet, introduced a new fully-machined brake drum called the TruTurn, along with an improved line of fifth wheels dubbed the Simplex SE series.

Rob Edstrom, vp sales & marketing, said the machined finishing process used both inside and out on its TruTurn brake drums greatly increases the dimensional consistency of the drum, along with more uniform wall thickness, both of which lead to better drum brake performance and life cycle characteristics. “We use robotic machining equipment to increase the precision when making these brake drums”

Edstrom noted that the new Simplex SE series offers lower maintenance and lighter weight than its previous fifth-wheel models. “We use just 12 components and five moving parts in the Simplex SE line, along with offering four pin position settings instead of three,” he said. “We've also reduced the slider weight by 42 lb., which can allow truckers to carry an additional 64 lb. of cargo.”


Expanded menu

Kenworth Truck Co. announced a number of enhancements to its truck models. The wide cab T-2000 Class 8 tractor, for example, will sport a reconfigured front bumper: it's made of three pieces instead of one, and a new steel subframe isolates it from the tractor body. According to chief engineer Jim Bechtold, the new design helps lower repair costs, improves front-collision protection for the radiator, and reduces aerodynamic drag by 1%, which can save an average of $200 a year in fuel costs.

The company's medium-duty T-300 will also see changes for the 2005 model year. Corner windows have been added to the list of options to aid in backing up and negotiating tight spots, said Bechtold.

Enhancements to the truck's exterior include a wire mesh grille with polished stainless steel center trim, standard complex reflector headlamps that boost illumination 50%, and an optional one-piece stainless steel-clad aluminum bumper with fog lights. New for the cab itself is an optional workstation between the driver and passenger seat, including a small desk and two 12-volt outlets that can be used to power computers and other devices.

Steve Gilligan, general marketing manager, noted that a heavier front-axle option (14,600 lb.) is now available for the T-300 to go along with an available 30,000-pound rear axle (for single axle applications). Frame inserts to boost chassis payload capacity are also now available for the T-300.

Other new options include:

  • Two new AeroCab Diamond sleepers: 86-in. and 72-in. Each has a fixed 42-in. × 80-in. lower bunk with an optional upper bunk for team drivers; up to 69 cu. ft. of storage, with room for an optional refrigerator; weight savings of up to 150 lb.

    *Dana Spicer ESD225 air disc brakes are optional on selected models.

  • Dana Spicer 170 and 190 single and tandem drive axles will be offered for all Class 8 models. The tandem axle series covers ratings of 40,000 to 52,000 lb. GAWR and the single axle series supports ratings of 21,000 to 26,000 lb.

  • Factory-installed Sirius or XM Radio satellite systems optional beginning in June.

  • Cummins 8.9L ISL engine available on W-900S and T-800 short hood models, with 310 to 350 hp. and 1,050 to 1,250 lb.-ft. of torque.

  • Factory-installed exhaust system for the Caterpillar C15, C13, and C11 ACERT engines will simplify installation of heated dump body on T-800 and W-900 daycab dump trucks.


Idling solution ready

Lowering weight, cost and complexity, an auxiliary power unit (APU) developed by Cummins Inc. provides drivers with heating and cooling, as well as electric service, without idling a truck's main engine. The Cummins ComfortGuard takes an integrated approach to auxiliary power, using the vehicle's existing HVAC system, as well as the main engine's cooling system, exhausts and fuel tanks in combination with a 2-cyl. diesel engine and Onan genset.

Designed for enclosed mounting under a bunk or other cab area, the new APU will be available early next year as a factory installed option, according to Ric Kleine, Cummins' executive director for automotive engineering. In addition to cooling, it will provide both 12V DC and 120V AC power, and will offer hookups for shore power. Weight is said to be approximately 300 lb.

The engine maker also took advantage of MATS to announce a new 410-hp. rating for its 11L ISM diesel. Peak torque is 1,550 lb.-ft.

In addition, Cummins said it was extending oil drain intervals for both ISM and ISX engines for fleets using Valvoline Premium Blue engine oil. The intervals go from 25,000 to 35,000 miles for normal service and from 35,000 to 45,000 for light-duty service.


Plenty of options for '04

Fleets have a wide range of 2004 engines to choose from when buying a Sterling Truck Corp. vehicle. This year's options include the following:

  • The Mercedes-Benz MBE900 for medium-duty trucks is offered in 4.8- 6.4- and 7.2-L. versions; a 12.8-L MBE4000 is available for on-highway and vocational applications. All have electronically-controlled high-pressure injector pumps, and data logging for monitoring fuel consumption. EGR technolgoy is used to meet '04 emission standards.

  • Detroit Diesel's Series 60 in 12.7L and 14.0L versions are available for Sterling's L-Line and A-Line models. Features EGR cooler with lightweight design and new electronic fuel injector. Uses EGR to meet emissions standards.

  • Caterpillar's mid-range C7 is available on Acterra and L-Line models; lightweight C9 and C11 are available on A-Line and L-Line vehicles for vocational and daycab operations; and heavy-duty C13 and C15 are available on A-Line and L-Line models. Emission standards are met with Cat's ACERT technology.

John Merrifield, sr. vp-sales & marketing, added that Sterling's goal for 2004 is to reach 5% market share for Class 6 & 7 trucks and 7.5% for Class 8 trucks in the U.S. “Ultimately, [we] want to achieve 10% market share for Sterling in both the U.S. and Canada. It's not easy, but we think we can do it.”


Flatbed tie-down meets new regs

A sliding trailer cargo bracket developed by Ancra International lets flatbed operators secure loads according to the tie-down standards recently enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

GlideLock is a high-strength aluminum bracket that slides onto the trailer rail of any standard flatbed, according to Ralph Abato, Ancra national sales manager. Weighing under 3 lb., each bracket can handle up to a 5,000-lb. working load. It also routes the web strap behind the rub rail, which is often not weight-rated and therefore not approved as an attachment point under the federal rules.

The new bracket can be locked into position at any point on the trailer rail and accepts any standard flat-hook strap, according to the company.


4×4 ready to roll

Announced earlier this year, the new 4×4 version of the GMC TopKick and Chevy Kodiak goes into production in July. Offered with both regular and crew cabs, the 2005 model will come in 17,500- and 19,500-lb. GWVs powered by either the Vortec 8100 V8 gasoline engine or Duramax 6600 V8 diesel. or

Improving safety, keeping costs down

As Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems develops products for the future, it is concentrating on improving vehicle safety while helping fleets lower costs. This may be a tricky proposition, but it's one company president & CEO Joe McAleese believes must be achieved in order to sell safety technology to trucking.

“Economics is the critical issue,” McAleese said at the Mid-America Trucking Show. As an example, he pointed to the rise in insurance costs since the September 11 terrorist attacks. “Liability insurance rates have skyrocketed for fleets,” he said. “Preventing vehicle damage, cargo claims, and workman's compensation costs by preventing a rollover or jackknifing via electronic stability control makes such technology much more attractive to the point where even at a $1,000 premium it pays for itself.”

With that in mind, Bendix is rolling out two new brake system platforms this year: a next-generation antilock braking system (ABS) with beefed up electronic control options; and an air-disc brake (ADB) package aimed at helping fleets meet upcoming NHTSA rules.

Bendix plans to introduce the ABS-6 system and the ADB 22x package in the fourth quarter. The new ADB package is designed to reduce stopping distances with less brake fade and lower lifetime maintenance costs when compared to drum brake systems.

The company thinks ADB systems will be the most cost-efficient way to comply with stricter federal stopping-distance requirements, which will be mandated for commercial vehicles in 2007.

“Initial product cost and timely payback are the main factors involved in any technology's acceptance by the trucking industry; we think our ABS and ADB systems can meet those demands,” said McAleese. “This is technology we feel can enhance fleet productivity, improve highway safety, increase the efficiency of the supply chain, and boost driver comfort — all at the same time.”


Quiet, smooth sleeper

Mack Trucks rolled out a 60-in. mid-rise sleeper for use on its CH and Vision highway tractors. The new mid-rise is made from materials chosen to buffer engine noise, reduce vibration and combat driver fatigue, according to Mack. A major benefit of the 60-in. model is that it provides more interior space than flat-top sleeper designs, without the extra weight or cost of large-roof sleepers. Mack also offers sleepers in 45, 56- and 70-in. models.

In other news, the company is expanding its UniMax front axle line by adding 12,000 - and 14,300-lb. versions for highway use. Mack said the new axles feature the unitized wheel hubs that are found in the rest of the UniMax lineup — the 18,000-, 20,000- and 23,000-lb. models.


New bypass

The Zgard bypass spin filter from Luber-Finer was designed to boost removal of soot and corrosive acids from the motor oil used in EGR engines. Brent Birch, engineering lab manager at Luber-Finer, emphasized that the new filter works in conjunction with existing full-flow filters.

“Handling 12 to 15 gal./min. of oil flow doesn't give the primary filter time to take out all the soot EGR engines generate,” he explained. “By using a bypass filter, fleets have a chance to better manage that situation and possibly increase oil drain intervals.”

Birch said the Zgard is the result of an 18-month development program that began in August 2002. “It's no secret that bypass filters work to help remove more soot from the engine oil. But the key with the Zgard is that it removes both soot and acids, protecting the engine from corrosion that could occur from the formation of sulfuric acids as a result of the EGR process.”


Safety economics tied to driver behavior

Dimitri Kazarinoff, Eaton's marketing manager for truck components, says safety technology is becoming more attractive to trucking companies for one simple reason: Highway accident costs, especially for medical treatment, are skyrocketing. And nothing is more critical to reducing those costs than altering driver behavior.

“Medical treatment and related insurance costs have escalated far more than the rate of inflation over the past few years,” Kazarinoff pointed out. “The industry is much more cognizant of safety technology and the benefits it can provide. The challenge is that the trucking industry is quite fragmented and no two fleets calculate accident costs alike.”

One of the most important benefits of safety technology is that it can help change driver behavior, he said. Yet this is not something fleets and drivers really expect from safety technology.

“You have to use safety technology to influence driver behavior, to get them to drive better even though they think they are already at their best,” said Kazarinoff.

“For example, some [otherwise] top-notch drivers might not leave enough safe following distance between themselves and the vehicle ahead because they feel they can react in time to any situation,” he explained. “Using safety systems such as our SmartCruise feature, however, makes sure they always have that safe following distance. And it's something fleets can monitor and record with our technology, helping them encourage drivers to operate more safely on the road.”


4900 goes on a diet

Debuted at the 2004 MATS for weight-sensitive applications like bulk or regional hauling, the Western Star 4900 SA has a dry chassis weight of only 15,300 lb., even with its premium-equipped 68-in. Stratosphere sleeper. Weight-saving specs include a 435-hp. MBE 4000 diesel, an Eaton Fuller Lightning 10-speed transmission, lightweight carrier housings for the drive axles, and Michelin X-One single tires on tandem axle wheel-ends.


Focus on trucking

As part of an overall push to provide trucking with a full array of communications services, Sprint has signed a WiFi roaming agreement with The agreement extends wireless Internet connectivity from the 500 truckstops in the system to all of Sprint's nationwide “hotspots,” found in airports, convention centers, hotels and other public areas.

As a provider of both wireless and wired services, Sprint will offer fleets total communications solutions, says Jerry Koontz, group manager for transportation. In addition to the WiFi agreement, the company is looking to offer fleets a menu of mobile connectivity solutions ranging from cellphone to secure wireless intranets, as well as integrated services that will let them extend enterprise applications to drivers and other mobile workers.

“The important thing is that we understand how this industry uses technology and then use the resources we have to develop solutions around that,” Koontz explains.


Dry van carries more

Utility Trailer hopes to grow market share this year in part through the introduction of its 4000 D-X dry van trailer. According Jeff Bennett, vp-product development, a key feature of the new unit is that it weighs 450 lb. less than Utility's current models, enabling customers to carry more cargo.

The 4000 D-X can also be equipped with an optional Hendrickson suspension package that features Michelin's X-One wide-base single axle tire, further reducing the trailer's weight and improving fuel economy from 4% to 11% in some cases, Bennett added.

Also new is an 80,000 psi high-tensile steel “wear band” for added strength, siding stiffness, and impact protection.


'07 engines ready for the field

Caterpillar said that planned to wrap up lab test on its '07 engine program by the end of April and would have field test units ready for fleets by the fourth quarter of the year. By '05, the company expects to be selling '07-compliant models to the industry.

”By mid-2005, we expect to provide engines that meet the 2007 regulations for sale to customers,” said Jim McReynolds, gm for Cat's on-highway engine division. He added that Cat is not pursuing SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction) technology for its 2007-grade engines either, relying instead on its Advanced Combustion Emission Reduction Technology (ACERT) to meet the tighter standards.

“Customers asked us to have 2007-grade engines available for 18 to 24 months worth of testing before the new standards go into effect. So we're doing this to make them more comfortable with the technology,” McReynolds added. “We expect to be in full production of 2007-compliant engines by the fourth quarter of 2006.”

McReynolds said Caterpillar plans to release the pricing for its '07 engines this summer and is in the midst of working with the Engine Manufacturing Assn. to develop national “fuel corridors” where fleets using these engines can get the ultra-low-sulfur diesel that's integral to achieving the emission reductions called for by the '07 standards. Ultra low-sulfur fuel isn't mandated for national introduction until June 1, 2006.


Deals for first-timers

Fleets that switch to Allison automatic transmissions from manual or automated manual transmissions can take advantage of a one-time incentive. The plan offers substantially reduced prices on both on-highway and vocational models of the Allison automatics.

Available through all truck OEM dealers, savings for the one-time purchase plan range up to 50%, according to Mitch Murray, manager of North American market development. For example, a non-Allison user will be able to spec the 2500HS Allison automatic for $1,600 or the 300HS for $2,600, he says.

Prices vary by product line; details are available at Allison dealers or at

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