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Cummins and Eaton rolled out some tractor trailers with SmartAdvantage Powertrains for test drives last week How did they stack up to the big expectations of Cummins39 Redefining Tour Photo by Aaron Marsh
<p>Cummins and Eaton rolled out some tractor trailers with SmartAdvantage Powertrains for test drives last week. How did they stack up to the big expectations of <a href="" target="_blank">Cummins&#39; Redefining Tour</a>? (Photo by Aaron Marsh)</p>

VIDEO: Can Cummins and its partners "redefine" trucking?

Driving with Cummins-Eaton powertrains in some aero-slick Class 8s

It's one thing to say it, and quite another to deliver. Cummins rolled out some trucks that'd come from its Redefining Tour last week, and industry reporters got a chance to see what they really think.

It was at Eaton's proving grounds facility in Michigan, and the companies announced new options for their integrated SmartAdvantage Powertrains. The breaking news included that there's now a direct drive ratio — said to help optimize fuel economy for regional and less-than-truckload carriers — available along with the small-step overdrive options, and Eaton and Cummins engineers said that theirs is the only integrated powertrain to offer those configurations.

But the engineers also discussed other technologies enhancing the SmartAdvantage Powertrains, including a SmartCoast feature that they said boosts fuel economy by another 2%. Fleet Owner got a chance to see some of these new features in action out on roadways.

Have a look (and listen) to some of the trucks on hand to test; note that the orange and white Internationals have upcoming 2017 Cummins ISX15s under hood:

Showcasing the Cummins-Eaton powertrains were some slick Class 8 machines, including a Kenworth T680 with a current-spec Cummins ISX15 with 450 HP and 10-speed small-step overdrive; an International ProStar+ 6X2 with one of the new 2017 Cummins ISX15s in development, also with 450 HP and 10-speed small-step overdrive; and an International ProStar+ 6X4 with another of the 2017 Cummins ISX15s, this one with 400 HP and paired with a 10-speed direct drive transmission.

All those trucks had Eaton Fuller Advantage automated manuals. For good measure, Eaton also threw in a 2013 International ProStar with 450-HP Cummins ISX15 and Eaton Fuller Advantage 10-speed overdrive automated manual.

Can your trucks match the fuel economy of this current-spec Kenworth T680 with SmartAdvantage Powertrain loaded to over 65,000 lbs.? Have a look and read on...

Ease of use/power delivery

A claim that these trucks offer comfort and ease of use is no hollow praise. Similar to what Eaton also demonstrated with some vocational trucks, for this first-timer behind the wheel of a Class 8 tractor, it was a fairly simple matter to back up to a 53-ft. trailer and connect it thanks to the Eaton automated transmission's new Blended Pedal feature, which allows the driver to manipulate clutch slip using just the accelerator pedal for very incremental, controlled movements.

And then driving off to the proving grounds' oval track, the Cummins ISX15s and Eaton transmissions delivered smooth, ample power. Again thanks to an Eaton transmission feature — this time Urge to Move, which can creep the truck forward or in reverse, if enabled, just by the driver taking his or her foot off the brake pedal — it was easy enough to back a tractor-trailer up a curved incline.

Fuel economy

But there was also the fuel economy factor. A major drive of Cummins' Redefining Tour across the United States and Canada was to show off the capabilities of Cummins' ISX15 engine — including the new 2017 model being tested — and the fuel economy it can achieve, thanks in part to integration with Eaton transmissions.

Ryan Trzybinski, Eaton's global product strategy manager for line haul commercial powertrains, touched on that point before reporters took the trucks out for drives. He said Cummins and Eaton have continued to refine the integrated SmartAdvantage Powertrains to share more data between engine and transmission, and "that's part of what enables us to increase fuel economy and give the performance we can — we're optimizing our shifting for each environment."

Though the Cummins folks hinted at significant gains but wouldn't talk specifics yet about potential fuel economy of the new 2017 ISX15s, the Kenworth's current-spec SmartAdvantage Powertrain helped the truck average 9.3 mpg on the trip to the proving grounds facility, according to Patrick Fosdick, a program manager and technical specialist at Cummins. And that was pulling its trailer and loaded to 65,460 lbs.

"A lot of fleets would love to be getting that kind of fuel economy," he quipped.

Cummins' Patrick Fosdick discusses the SmartAdvantage Powertrains' fuel economy capabilities out on the road with driver and Cummins engineering associate Craig Holok:

Advanced tech

Eaton's Trzybinski had discussed the SmartAdvantage Powertrains' SmartCoast feature, which selectively shifts to neutral on certain down-grades to drop the engine to an idle, and the driver just steps on the accelerator to re-engage the appropriate gear. Together with other technologies, Trzybinski added a claim that the Cummins-Eaton SmartAdvangtage line beats competitor integrated powertrains by some 7% in fuel economy.

SmartCoast is a noticeable difference. On a trip outside the proving grounds facility in the Kenworth, SmartCoast grabbed neutral and dropped the engine down to about 600 RPM in an instant — growing very quiet as it did so — and it felt smooth and seamless when the transmission re-engaged 9th gear.

"If you're on a hilly route, you're talking big fuel economy savings," Fosdick said. "It's not a big herky-jerky motion or anything like that; it just happens very naturally."

Listen and watch as SmartCoast engages and disengages on the Kenworth T680:

Fosdick also told Fleet Owner about other new refinements for the SmartAdvantage Powertrains, including compatibility with the Cummins ADEPT feature suite that uses GPS data to improve cruise and transmission functionality by examining the roadway ahead, selecting optimal gears or helping trigger SmartCoast. "For 2017, we're incorporating GPS technology into Cummins' own version of 'predictive cruise,' which others refer to 'look ahead.' Also, the 2016 Cummins ISX15 engine and SmartAdvatage Powertrain is compatible with Kenworth, Peterbilt and International predictive cruise," Fosdick said.

"Once we add GPS technology, it really enhances these features because it knows a hill is coming up, for example. So it knows how big the hill is, how long it is," he continued. He gave the example of a loaded truck going down a long, steeper hill, and to prevent over-speeding, SmartCruise may shift back into gear rather than coasting in neutral.

"I would love to even have some of this technology on my own car," Fosdick said. "It'd be fantastic to see some of these fuel economy and other improvements that we see in heavy duty trucking applied to passenger cars."


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