The Australian Coronado

Historically, Freightliner have sold trucks in Australia that were purpose-designed for the US market – only making some adaption of the basic designs to suit our conditions and regulations. Even the Argosy was originally developed for the US market, although it has been dropped in North America and the latest iterations of the model have only been developed in a right-hand drive version for the Australian, South African and New Zealand markets.

Now Freightliner have come up with a model designed specifically for the Australian marketplace. The Coronado 114 constitutes a major re-design of the Coronado range, responding to what tipper-and-dog, highway semi and 26m B-double operators have been asking for. By re-engineering the truck with a shorter bonnet and a set forward axle, Freightliner have come up with a solution which should prove to be a flexible and adaptable truck in many applications where they currently struggle to compete.

In fact, this new model constitutes a major change in the thinking behind Freightliner both in the US and here in Australia. The global downturn and a struggling US and European market have seen the Daimler organisation become more responsive to pressures from their smaller markets, as their major markets continue to bump along the bottom. The Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) business, which owns both Freightliner and Western Star, has learnt that truck markets like the one in Australia may be difficult to service with mass-produced trucks, but there has been consistent demand for quality product through the downturn.

As a result, Freightliner allocated US$2.2 million and 35,000 engineering hours to develop the new Coronado 114. Again, this was to be a right-hand drive, short bonneted truck specifically for our 17.5m axle spread regulations and the 26m B-double envelope – representing a commitment to try and fill the gap in the range where models like the Kenworth SAR, Mack Trident and Western Star 4800 have been selling well.

That gap in the Daimler portfolio was created through the loss of the Sterling brand, especially the HX9500. Although the 112-inch BBC Columbia has been able to replace some of the model's market share with its smaller engine, Freightliner have been unable to offer a big bore engine in this dimension-specific segment. As there is no equivalent market segment in North America, Freightliner Australia had to go down the road of developing their own specific model for that class.

“It's quite a significant part of the marketplace,” says Gary Wheatley, Freightliner Senior Manager National Sales. “It's 12 per cent of the overall truck market at the moment and represents some 1100 trucks. Our objective is to come in, get 28 per cent of that market and really make a difference in that part of the business. Our estimations are for about 300 Coronado 114s to go into that market section.

“We need to enter this segment and we want to do it aggressively. From our point of view, with what we are going to offer the marketplace, there is no reason whatsoever why we can't take it to the others who are competing there. The truck will also go into other segments and, quite often you find you sell a big engined conventional truck thinking is going into road train work and find it working on a single trailer Sydney to Melbourne.”

When these trucks arrive in Australia, they will be set up in four specific configurations. These have been designed to fit the requirements of the sectors Freightliner are targeting without cannibalising too many sales from the current Coronado 122. There will be a day cab, a 34-inch sleeper plus two versions of the 58-inch sleeper, one with a raised roof, one without.

The day cab version will suit both tipper and dog operators and those looking for a compact, low tare conventional prime mover. The 34-inch sleeper will suit a full-sized B-double trailer set and still come in under 26m. The larger sleeper cab options will be aimed specifically for the long-distance semi-trailer operators, giving them a big truck with a large living space and bullbar, capable of staying under 19m when pulling longer single trailers.

There will be only one engine option in the new Coronado 114, the Detroit Diesel DD 15, available with up to 560 hp. The company appears to have enough confidence in their own power plant to save on the extra development dollars, which would have been required to engineer a Cummins alternative. Further development savings are also made as the new design will be capable of a simple upgrade when the new ADR 80/04 exhaust emission regulations kick in around 2016/17. The design has taken into account the change which will occur in the Detroit engine range when moving to the next level of emissions, with the inclusion of an SCR system.

The decision to only offer a Detroit engine in the driveline is also in line with Daimler’s worldwide strategy. The company continues to include more of its own brand components and drop more and more from outside suppliers. This trend is moving apace in the North American market where Freightliner are already offering front and rear Detroit axles on all of their trucks and will be introducing a new Detroit transmission (the 12 speed Mercedes Benz AMT rebranded) this year. This will see truck buyers in the US being offered a Freightliner truck with a complete Detroit driveline.

“The Coronado 114 has been five years in the planning, since the Sterling disappeared,” says Wheatley. “There has been thousands of hours of engineering time invested in it, not only in the US but also our engineering team back in Australia. This truck is not just another bonnet stuck on the front of the 122-inch Coronado, there is a hell of a lot more involved in bringing a truck like this to market.

“We've gone in with the most advanced American engine on offer, the DD 15. We have deliberately chosen the in-house engine, it has proved popular in Australia and is powering 85 to 90 per cent of the trucks we are selling now, where it is available.”

The new design includes a 1700 in.² radiator package enabling the truck to cool the current and future engines. It also includes improved noise and heat insulation between the cabin area and the driveline. The bonnet is now fitted with a new headlamp design, which will be included across the whole Coronado range over time.

“A lot of the development work was done on this chassis,” says Greg Nightingale, the Freightliner Engineer in charge of the Coronado 114 project. “Packaging the DD 15 in the shorter BBC was a real challenge. So, the cab went up and the hood went up a couple of inches, new cabin mounts were designed. The packaging development contributed to a large number of the development hours.”

One of the more interesting aspects of the new design, for Australian eyes, is the return of upright exhausts fitted just behind the cabin doors. This gives the truck a more traditional look and is better aligned with the taste of Australian truck buyers than the current trend to hide upright exhausts behind the cabin to improve aerodynamics. Freightliner's concession to aerodynamic efficiency is to re-design the exhaust shape to improve airflow around it.

Overall, to the Australian viewer, this truck does look more like the kind of truck we are used to seeing on our highways. The large square front grille, 16 inch polished aluminium bumper (including FUPS), exhaust stacks and other shiny accessories give it a much more aggressive look than some of the other models available in the Freightliner range.

The Freightliner designers have utilised their full-size wind tunnel in Portland, Oregon to maximise the aerodynamic efficiency of the design as much as possible. For instance, the new design optimises airflow under the bonnet and around the engine. The cabin mounting and the under slung cross member have also had their design improved, to tighten up ride and handling as well as free up chassis real estate for fuel tanks etc.

When the first of the new Coronado 114 models start to arrive in Australia towards the end of the year, they will be seen as looking like a true Australian style truck. By shortening the bonnet, returning the exhausts to the side of the cabin and incorporating a genuine Aussie FUPS front bumper, Freightliner have come up with something which will look right on our roads. The new look gives the Coronado a more punchy, down to earth and hard-working image.

Initial impressions would suggest this model is likely to sell quite well for the Freightliner brand in Australia. The question is whether most of its sales will be new to the brand. The shorter BBC dimension and the set forward axle do mean there are applications in which Freightliner can now compete where they had nothing suitable before. This gap is likely to give overall Freightliner sales figures a boost.

On the other side of the coin, the company now offers an attractive conventional B-double prime mover and it may cannibalise some of the Argosy sales. Operators will have a clear choice between a cabover with a large living space or a conventional with a much more restricted area for the driver. The new truck may also affect 122-inch BBC Coronado sales; when buying a new conventional prime mover this new 114 model will offer more utilisation flexibility to a fleet than its longer nosed brother.

What this new truck does well is demonstrating a profound change in Freightliner thinking, not in Australia, but in the US. The recent global financial crisis has woken North America up to the fact that the rest of the world is out there. When truck sales stalled as the American economy ground to a halt, markets like Australia kept on buying trucks. Freightliner in North America seem to have taken on board the fact that making a serious attempt to put together a truck specifically for the Australian market will get them results and stimulate consistent sales.

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