Over the last nine months, during the lead up to the release of the new Cat models, very little detail of the trucks has been available. Since the official launch in late 2010, the trucks have now become available for test driving and Prime Mover took the CT 610 and CT 630 out on the roads of Victoria to see how the new models stack up in the real world of Australian trucking.
The CT 610 is fitted with the Caterpillar ACERT C 13 engine, previously available from 2007 but discontinued back in 2009. This model is destined for applications like single trailer semi and heavy rigid, like tipper and dog. The larger CT 630 uses the Caterpillar ACERT C 15 engine with power ratings up to 550hp. This truck will be capable of working both as a B-double prime mover and a high-powered semi hauler.
The test route used by Prime Mover sees the new Cat models heading out of suburban Melbourne into the Victorian countryside travelling on both major highway as well as smaller highways in undulating countryside, through to Castlemaine before returning to Melbourne and the heavy traffic of the major arterial roads connecting the city’s industrial areas. As a route to assess the capabilities of these new trucks, it has the right mix of stop/start driving, open four lane highway and winding two track roads to enable the driver to get a feel of how these new models will perform in the real world on Australian roads.
The first impression of the new models, overall, is one of familiarity. We have seen much of this styling in other US brands. The demands and restrictions of the North American truck market sees truck manufacturers coming up with similar solutions and similar designs for a market which needs conventional trucks with light tare weights, a Roadranger gearbox, etc. Yes, this is clearly something different, but it is only the very different grille design incorporating a large and prominent Cat logo which clearly marks this truck as a different kind of US design.
In both the interior and the exterior there are elements which can also be found in Sterling, Freightliner, Mack and the International models produced by Iveco in Dandenong up until last year. The main difference between these new trucks and all of their rivals is the availability of a Caterpillar engine, the C 15 or the C 13, as the power supply.
Recent developments in computer based modelling and the use of large wind tunnels has seen a steady improvement in the aerodynamic performance of bonneted trucks coming out of the US. The overall cab design used on the new Cat trucks comes from the Pro Star truck range sold by International in the North American market. This has been assessed as being the most efficient in the US, bating, in aerodynamic terms, Freightliner’s Cascadia models with which the Pro Star directly competes.
The new models, as tested, looked to be very good at dealing with the airflow over the various cabin surfaces at speed. With a rounded drooping bonnet plus rounded, integrated bumper design and smooth wheel arches into which the headlights and indicators are built, these trucks do slip through the air easily. The test trucks also include a standard aerodynamic aerofoil fitted to the roof and the trailing sides of the cabin.
Also, the air cleaners are mounted inside the bonnet and the exhaust pipe is neatly hidden against the back of the cab behind the trailing edge of the aerofoil. Left alone, this truck will perform well aerodynamically. Once operators decide to add extras onto the truck like bull bars and driving lights, this performance may be impaired.
Once the truck is out on the road, the driver finds out what is so important about this truck, the Caterpillar engine. The engine maker spent a large amount of money developing the two engines fitted to these two new Cat models, the CT 610 and the CT 630. Although based on the traditional Caterpillar engine, both the ACERT C 13 and C 15 were new when ADR 80/02 was introduced back in 2007. They perform well, combining some good old conservative Caterpillar engineering with some state-of-the-art engineering from the same company.
This is what fans of the Caterpillar engines have been missing. There is something special about the performance of these engines, the sound and feel as well as the response when the accelerator pedal is pressed, has been missed by some buyers of new trucks. The yellow engine doesn’t have the rip snorting torque rise associated with Cummins or the more laid back feel from the quieter European style engines. The engine has an aura of dependability, power and good torque at low rpm levels which has sustained Caterpillar engines for so many years.
These two engines are no exception to the Caterpillar tradition. In the CT 610 there is plenty of power from the 470hp (350kW) rated engine, the response to pressure from the right foot is pleasing as the truck takes off and it is possible to indulge in some skip shifting up through the gearbox. The torque levels hold on well as the rpm levels drop when climbing. Maximum torque, at 1650 ft lb (2237Nm), is available all the way down to 1200rpm and can only be felt to be falling away below 1100rpm. It’s possible to let the revs die and depend upon the C 13 to pull the fully loaded semi up and over the rise.
The CT 610 is fitted with a drive ratio on the Meritor axles of 3.4:1 and this gives the truck 1600rpm at 100km/h. In the kind of applications this truck can be expected to be facing in its working life this should work well, there’s still a little left in the pocket as the C 13 reaches maximum power at 1800rpm.
The grunt available to the CT 630 from the C 15 is also a known quantity for the typical Australian truck buyer. Rated at 550hp (410kW), this engine, with its 1850 ft lb (2509Nm) of torque available, has plenty in reserve and copes well with hauling the 58 tonne B-double around the Victorian countryside. It is possible to get the job done well, and at quite low rpm levels with this engine and the 3.1:1 gearing ratio in the Meritor backend. At 100km/h the engine ticks along at 1500rpm and when the truck encounters a rise it digs in and uses all of that torque, which is available all the way down.
One of the issues encountered with the ACERT was in getting the gearchanging right on the part of the driver. When coupled with an AMT gearbox the settings had to be just right to get the best out of the engine without over revving it and wasting fuel. The new Cat models are only available, at this time, with manual Roadranger boxes, so it will be up to the individual driver to get those changes right and keep the rpm levels low. It’s simply a matter of trusting the engine to supply the torque down at the lower levels of the rpm range.
Australian truck drivers will be familiar with all of the components in the driveline and, as a result, there will be no surprises for them, it’s a known quantity. For many it will be the look and feel of the Cat truck itself which will be new to them. In fact, there will be little which is unfamiliar to most drivers when they climb into the cab of the new Cat.
The wraparound dash is familiar in just about every truck brand these days. Switching and controls are laid out in a typical North American fashion with an array of switches, cruise control etc, available to the left-hand and an uncomplicated group of dials to be seen through the steering wheel. There is a small LCD screen to provide the driver with information but this is small and difficult to see beyond the large centre of the steering wheel. The large cushioned centre has just three switches, one for the air horn and two for the cruise control, but it leaves room for a large Cat badge.
Visibility is excellent from the driver’s seat. The slope of the bonnet on the CT 610 means it is virtually invisible to the driver, anything directly in front of the truck can be clearly seen. The longer bonnet of the CT 630, to accommodate the larger C 15, does mean it is more visible to the driver but its shape means it does compare well to all of its conventional competitors. Well set up mirrors and relatively large door windows make side visibility good and a rear window in the day cab deals with one of the worst blindspots, the nearside drive wheels.
When it comes to the driver’s seat, the CT 610 is supplied with a basic US model but the CT 630 comes with a much more comfortable higher specification seat, vital for long journeys on rough roads. Ergonomically, the cab is well designed and all of the instruments and controls are easy to find and use.
From the driver’s point of view, the feel of the truck out on the road is good with positive feedback from the steering and suspension which deals with the condition of our roads relatively well. Out on the highway, the truck’s cabin does seem quite noisy. There is wind noise from the leading corner at the top of the cabin, surprising in such an aerodynamically efficient truck design. There is also quite a lot of engine noise in the cab. This will be a boon for the real Caterpillar enthusiasts who just love that sound, but easy conversation in a normal voice can be difficult when the truck is working hard.
The overall impression from the truck is one of a good solid performer. There are no earth shattering innovations and most of what makes the truck tick is a known quantity. The star attraction is, of course, the good old yellow Caterpillar engines and these will not let the enthusiasts down. As to the rest of the truck, it is a good solid performer, it does its job well and with little fuss.
The look of the new front grille is arresting and is immediately recognisable out on the road. On the test run truckies were keen to stop and have a look at the newcomer. The Cat badge is used well and the look of the truck is clearly different from its close competitors. It seems a shame the designers of the new range did not take on a stronger Caterpillar style when designing the interior. With their experience in developing the Cat look, with its rugged image stamped into brown leather, the company could have come up with something much more striking for the cab interior. Instead, we are met with a bland grey interior with large distinctive Cat badges.
What cannot be in doubt is the interest the new brand has generated, and with good reason. These are good looking trucks with well-known and reliable components backed by a large and long-standing group of Caterpillar dealers all around Australia. In many cases, truckies can’t wait to get their hands on them to see how they look and feel. The impact these trucks will have will be testament to the strength of the Caterpillar brand here in Australia and the enduring qualities embodied in that name.