In this case, I got behind the wheel of a CT680 tractor configuration, one equipped with Caterpillar’s CX31 automatic transmission – six forward gears married to one reverse gear.
[You can view more photos of the ride and drive event by clicking here.]
Impressions? Well, this harkens back to a similar experience obtained with Mack Trucks a few weeks ago: it’s so simple to drive even a journalist can do it.
Seriously, though, isn’t that the point? With drivers not only in short supply, a simple push-button-automatic completely removes the hassle of shifting gears.
Both hands are on the wheel and both eyes are on the road – just where most fleet managers want them to be.
I talked to Charlie Pepper, a Caterpillar sales manager serving the company’s California region, about what aspects of the CT680 should appeal most to customers.
He quickly highlighted three areas:
- Driver recruiting & retention
- Lower lifecycle costs
- Improved safety
The lower lifecycle costs derive from eliminating manual shifting needed in heavy traffic as well as in crowded urban and suburban locales – especially the wear-and-tear on clutches.
Finally, safety: with two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road, drivers can improve their “situational awareness” because they aren’t worrying about stalling out due to a poorly-timed gear change.
Those are some pretty compelling reasons for why OEMs continue to develop commercial trucks – on-highway as well as vocational – that treat simplicity as a major design hallmark.