Test Drive 2012 in review

There have been some clear trends developing in the last few years in truck technology and the way it is moving into the future. Some innovations are driven by customer demand, but many more are driven by new technology becoming available and being adapted for use in the trucking industry. Of course, the test drives undertaken by Prime Mover in 2012 were all looking at currently available trucks but they also give us an insight into what we can expect to see in the next 12 months or possibly two years from the truck manufacturers.

The beginning of the year saw us looking at two new initiatives by a pair of truck manufacturing giants, Daimler and Volvo. Both are now seeing the process of creating a global technology company maturing, as they share technologies across many platforms all around the world. 

The arrival of the MP 10 engine from Mack has given the Australian-built brand a new lease of life at the top end of the market. Until its arrival, Mack had only been able to offer Cummins engines in their high-power heavy-duty prime movers. This was at odds with the historical position for both Mack and Volvo of having their own proprietary engines and gearboxes in their own trucks. By introducing the MP 10, a US adaptation of the Volvo 16 L engine, Mack became able to offer their own big block engine with an automated gearbox designed to sit behind it, in the M-drive.

On the road test in South Australia, the Mack Titan with a 685 hp MP 10 engine had little trouble hauling the two fully loaded trailers around our test route. Since then, the reception the new engine has received from the truck market has been largely positive and given the US brand new confidence in competing at the high end of the horsepower range.

The heavy-duty Fuso models driven by Prime Mover in both Japan and Australia also see the introduction of a new engine and gearbox from a global group. The Japanese truck manufacturer now uses an adaptation of the Mercedes-Benz OM 457 engine coupled with the European manufacturer's automated manual transmission. This is another example of group components being used to improve performance and viability of a model range. In our test drives, the combination of engine and gearbox proved to be a very smooth performer and add to the quality feel of Fuso's heavy-duty range.

Another test saw a different Fuso also appear with a new gearbox. The Fighter 1627 is now available with Allison’s fully auto transmission and also comes with a revamped engine using SCR to achieve legal exhaust emissions and better performance. By using the Allison, Fuso are showing their pragmatic side. They already have the well-received Duonic in the light-duty range and have introduced the Mercedes-Benz AMT at the heavy end, the new transmission fills a gap and allows the Japanese manufacturer to offer autos throughout the range. The test also served to reinforce the effectiveness of the new Allison auto transmissions since the level of electronics, both in the transmission and information being supplied by the vehicle, has enabled them to react swiftly and effectively to road conditions and driver demand.

We can expect more global integration in the future as components developed by Volvo make their way into all of the products the group offers around the globe. The next new truck we can expect to see from the group here in Australia is the heavy-duty UD, fitted with the latest version of the Volvo 11 L engine, the GH 11, and the ESCOT 5, a Japanese version of the Volvo I-shift gearbox. This means the Volvo group will have utilised one basic technology in both engine and gearbox across three separate brands by adapting their performance to suit local requirements. This kind of global integration was the company's original aim when they created the global group, as the European Volvo swallowed up both Mack in the US and UD in Japan. We can expect this process to continue further as Volvo develop their relationship with Dong Feng of China, a company in which they have taken a 45 per cent stake in.

The introduction of the Eaton Ultrashift Plus gearbox into the Cat truck range is further proof of the increasing demand within the trucking industry for AMT gearboxes. In the past, a truck, like the one used in our road test, offered as a basic prime mover or working as a tipper and dog would have had an Eaton Roadranger just about all of the time. However, now the vast improvement in the technology used within the AMT and a decline in the manual gearbox skills of the driver population means the AMT is now having its day.

This trend is set to continue well into the future as more precise electronic control is introduced and the automated changes become ever more precise and well timed. Of course, there will still be a large number of North American prime movers being bought with constant mesh gearboxes, but the overall trend is towards the automated solution and we can expect there will be a tipping point where larger and larger parts of the driver population will have little experience outside of AMTs. At that point, we can expect the manual gearbox to become a niche product.

2012 also was the first chance Prime Mover got to drive the new DAF XF 105 as a new truck to the Australian market from the Paccar organisation. This truck has been very successful in Europe and, running as a B-double, it proved to be very effective and a smooth drive in Australia as well. This was an opportunity to see just how well the Paccar MX engine performed under a heavy load at its top power rating of 510 hp.

This performance may be pointer towards the future, as the MX engine is due to be introduced into the Kenworth range sometime soon. Work has been going on at Kenworth's Bayswater HQ for some time to integrate the 313-litre engine into the current Kenworth range. There are still some questions to be asked about the nature of its introduction, like whether the power plant will be coupled with the ZF AS Tronic automated gearbox, with which it was originally developed, or go with the Eaton Ultrashift Plus with which Kenworth customers will be much more familiar.

The introduction of the MX engine into the Kenworth range will be a major milestone for the company that has dominated the heavy-duty truck market in recent years. This will be their first proprietary engine, a move away from their traditional philosophy of trying to offer a choice of engines to their customers. The choice will still be available in many cases but it is quite clear the Paccar engine will be the more economical option for the customer.

The middle of the year saw Prime Mover driving the new Cat highway prime mover down through the centre of Australia. This was a chance to see just how well the Caterpillar C 15 engine performs in its new guise, which complies with ADR 80/03 exhaust gas emission regulations. They have managed to meet the rules without resorting to either SCR or EGR, simply using dual diesel particular filters and refining the fuel injection mapping. As the prospect of the next step in exhaust gas emission regulations appears to be moving further away, to 2017 or 18, this new engine configuration should have a long service life for the company.

The delay in the implementation of the next exhaust gas ADR will give a few engine manufacturing companies the opportunity to further refine their current offering and wring every last drop of productivity improvement out of their engines. The long period between engine changes will enable them to offer choices to customers between EGR and SCR, for example, which both Scania and Cummins are already doing. Others are expected to follow down this route.

The SCR version of the Scania 480 hp 13 L engine was given a test by Prime Mover as well, hauling a B-double set from Adelaide to Melbourne. This proved to illustrate something which many in the industry are starting to find, namely, the improved performance and better driver feel of an engine using just SCR when compared to an alternative using EGR. This is another trend we can expect to see more of over the next year or so as customer preferences for SCR continue to increase.

Cummins' SCR engine was also tested in the latest Chinese trucks to arrive on our shores. With a Cummins engine and a ZF gearbox, the JAC light-duty trucks include some familiar components for the Australian truck market. This enterprise represents the first major introduction of a Chinese range in Australia and they can expect to come across the familiar pitfalls of a new entrant to the Australian way of doing things. Our market will always be wary of products from China and concerned about consistent fit and finish in the vehicles. 

But the concerns Australian customers may have about the new trucks will not stop the Chinese from making inroads into the Australian market, where they can test out both technology and strategy in preparation for future assaults on the larger Western markets like the US and Europe. Undoubtedly, the quality of trucks coming out of China will improve – we have already seen it improve over the last couple of years. There is a certain inevitability about the progress of Chinese products and we can expect to see more of the same into the future.

In fact, there is a whole range of new products that is meant to be unveiled in the next year or so, and Prime Mover will be there to test the vehicles as and when they become available. We can already look forward to the first drive of the Freightliner Coronado 114, a truck that looks genuinely Australian and was indeed designed specifically for our market and, as such, should fulfil the requirements of many in the trucking industry.

More technology we can look forward to is the new CT 13 engine from Caterpillar, which will be available in the Cat CT 610 model this year. This is a completely new engine for this brand and sees the introduction of a 13 L engine adapted by Navistar from the original MAN design and now further adapted for use in Cat Trucks here in Australia. The new, lightweight, and torquey engine is likely to give the lighter Cat truck a performance boost as well as a tare improvement.

Of course, every new release that will appear here on the Australian market will also get tested in Prime Mover. At the moment, many of these new introductions are under wraps, but it is highly likely they will be revealed around the Brisbane Truck Show, which will be with us in May.


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