EDMONTON, Alta. - During the past five years it's becoming increasingly difficult to pigeonhole the use of a medium-duty truck. Increased attention is being put into the development of medium-duty trucks by a number of OEMs, making Class 4 to 7 vehicles a valuable tool for a number of occupations.
"More and more (OEMs) are getting into the medium-duty business," noted Joe Aiello, national sales manager for commercial truck sales with GM. "Even the big truck guys are getting into the business on the high-end, and Ford is breaking in on the low-end."
There is an extensive and varied list of applications utilizing medium-duty trucks, including: pickup & delivery, dry freight, courier, refrigerated transport, landscaping, recovery, furniture moving, oil patch, flatbed, fire/rescue, emergency, utility, towing and construction. The varied use of medium-duty trucks has attributed to impressive sales numbers during the past five years. According to the North American Transportation Statistics database between 2000 and 2005 the number of single unit trucks in Canada rose from 350,000 to 430,487; while the number of tractors increased from 140,000 to 184,342.
A new era
A number of innovations have been implemented throughout the trucking industry during the past five years, but just like the Class 8 market, perhaps the biggest innovation to medium-duty trucks has been the 2007 EPA emission regulations.
"The biggest change probably just happened with emission changes to all trucks, with the DPF (diesel particulate filter)," noted Aiello. "That would probably be the most significant change."
The makers of Sterling trucks also noted the addition of the DPF has allowed the body builders to adjust the dimensions of the medium-duty Sterling 360.
"Additionally, due to the improved cooling system and a change in frame height, the Sterling 360's chassis could be lowered two inches, making it easier for operators to load and unload the vehicle," according to Sterling company officials.
Greg Stub, product development manager for Hino, agreed that emission changes have had the biggest impact on medium-duty truck innovation, but Hino has also focused on packaging the product.
"We've increased the level of standard equipment, so customers don't have to worry about adding this or adding that," Stub told Truck News. "You just need to know how big of a box you want and whether it's a manual or automatic transmission. That's the trend we're moving towards is simplicity."
Medium-duty trucks have been at the forefront of hybrid engine innovation and in 2007 both Kenworth and Peterbilt delivered their first medium-duty hybrid trucks into the market.
Two Peterbilt Model 335 hybrid electric vehicles were introduced into McCoy's fleet of delivery trucks used to deliver lumber and other supplies throughout the greater San Antonio, Texas area.
"Peterbilt is proud to be at the forefront in the development and production of green technologies that not only help save the environment, but contribute to our customers' bottom line by providing greater fuel savings and reduced maintenance costs," says Bill Jackson, Peterbilt general manager and PACCAR vice-president.
The hybrid electric Model 335 uses an electric motor that works with the mechanical diesel engine to supply supplemental torque.
The system stores energy during stopping through regenerative braking and then re-uses it for acceleration.
The combined use of an electric motor and a diesel engine is designed to reduce fuel use, emissions and noise. Maintenance requirements are also reduced from less wear on the engine and the brakes.
Meanwhile, Kenworth delivered its first medium-duty Class 7 hybrid to Dunn Lumber in Seattle.
"The new Kenworth hybrid provides a state-of-the-art, fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly addition to the Dunn fleet," said Bob Christensen, Kenworth general manager and PACCAR vice-president.
Kenworth's goal for its new medium-duty hybrid is to enhance fuel economy by up to 30% in start-and-stop applications, such as pickup and delivery and utility trucks.
Above 30 mph, the Kenworth hybrid operates like a standard diesel vehicle with all power coming from the engine during steady driving conditions. Below 30 mph, it uses a combination of diesel and electricity with the system automatically switching between the two modes of operation. Electricity generated through regenerative braking is stored and used for acceleration, assisting the diesel engine.
Kenworth is offering limited production of medium-duty hybrid trucks for municipal fleets and utility companies this year with full-scale production expected to follow in 2008.
A different class
Earlier this year, Sterling expanded its 360 model line to include a Class 3 offering. The new Class 3 Sterling 360 is the lightest product in Sterling's full range of Class 3 to 8 trucks.
Introduced in early 2006, the Sterling 360 is a low cabover truck. Every 2008 model year Sterling 360 - Class 3, 4 and 5 - will be rolling off the line with several new product enhancements, including increased horsepower and a lowered chassis.
With a gross vehicle weight rating of 12,500 lbs., the Class 3 Sterling 360 is aimed for businesses that do not require the capacity of a Class 4 or 5 truck.
"Along with the new Sterling Bullet, our versatile light-duty and mid-range vehicles were developed for a wide range of applications, including pickup and delivery, construction, landscaping, and more," said Matthew Stevenson, director of light commercial vehicles for Sterling.
Cabover vs. conventional
Most OEMs offer both cabover and conventional models of medium-duty trucks, to appeal to a wider range of customers.
International offers the CityStar low-cab forward (LCF) model in both Class 5 and 6 models; and the conventional DuraStar is offered in Class 5 to 7.
"There are more and more low-cab forward trucks," noted Aiello. "It's basically Japanese oriented, ours is the GMC W-Series, and it's taken from Japanese design and used for urban areas. It's good for working tight streets and very maneuverable. We've done very, very well with those."
While cabover models may be able to drive into more constricted areas, some OEMs are focusing on the aesthetic appearance of the trucks.
"What we've done here is, starting in 2004 we changed from a cabover to a conventional, to make it more appealing to North American customers," explained Stub.
The primary factor in designing medium-duty trucks is to provide a drivable vehicle. Although the entire package is important in the end, driver comfort is at the forefront for many OEM designers.
"One objective of ours is to design trucks with drivers in mind," explained Mark Johnson, marketing communications manager for International's Medium-Duty Vehicle Centre.
"This is the reason we have all new interiors for the International DuraStar in the 2008 model year; including a new instrument panel and redesigned seats, door handles and map pockets. This is also why we have designed our HVAC system with 28% more airflow. Finally, this is one of the reasons why the MaxxForce 7 was designed to be significantly quieter than its predecessor, 71% quieter at idle. We want drivers to want to get behind the wheel of one of our trucks."
The medium-duty products have a distinct range and are designed to have a truck-feel, despite handling more like a large passenger vehicle.
"It's taller, wider, bigger and stronger, and carries more payload; so instead of driving something that feels like a big mini-van, you feel like you're driving a truck. But the Class 4 and 5 use the same engine as a mini-van, it's a four-cylinder. The smaller one anyone can drive it and it drives just like a car," explained Stub. "The larger trucks with a heavy payload delivering steel, you wouldn't want to just throw any 18-year-old kid behind the wheel, but if it's a Class 4 just delivering flowers on the weekend anybody could drive it."
How the truck feels tomorrow is just as important as how the truck feels today.
"For most people the truck is their livelihood or main point of business, so from a GM point of view we try and put together a truck with longevity, durability, reliability and major uptime. There are creature comforts such as air-ride seats and air suspensions," said Aiello. "To a degree it's car-like, but they're not like a pick-up truck. Many applications are using automatic transmissions, that's a big use in medium-duty trucks."
Body building considerations
Medium-duty truck manufacturers have also been striving to simplify the body-building process.
Freightliner, for instance, developed a Business Class M2 Body Builder Resource CD which is now available for download at www.M2BodyBuilder.com.
"By putting electrical and chassis information in the same location online, our customers don't have to look in different places anymore to find the information they need," said Tanya Appuhn, medium-duty product manager for Freightliner Trucks. "Freightliner Trucks continuously works on finding innovative ways to provide body builder information about the M2 family to those who need it. We strived to make this resource more user-friendly and adaptable to our customers' needs."
The present day medium-duty market has a different landscape than it did five years ago, and customers should expect more changes in the next five years.
"We continue to develop game-changing products that meet our customer's needs," explained Johnson. "In 2007, we are once again making great strides, this time with our MaxxForce engines. Our MaxxForce 7 engine has actually shown a double-digit percentage fuel economy improvement versus the engine it replaced. As our customers now have a heightened awareness of diesel prices, the launch of the MaxxForce 7 comes at just the right time."
The increased sales of Class 4 and 5 trucks could also be an indication of fleets utilizing smaller trucks to get more drivers behind the wheel, as the smaller class of trucks do not require a driver to hold a Class 1 or A/Z licence due to the use of hydraulic brakes.
"The Class 5 is our biggest seller because they have hydraulic brakes," said Stub. "Because of the shortage of skilled truck drivers, no question about it. That's why there's also an increase in automatic transmission sales, even the big trucks have fewer and fewer manual transmissions."
Aiello admits GM is experiencing sales growth in its Class 4 and 5 market as well, and credits the universal drivability of the vehicles.
"The Class 4 and 5 trucks we sell are running at 20% of the market share and the low-cab forward design is 35%," he explained.
"I'm sure that helps, a lot of our sales are to individual owner/operators. We do sell to some big fleets but they are mostly rental fleets, so they do need trucks that either you or I could jump in. The whole style of customer buying our trucks right now is ease of operation. The next big thing in the market will be the 2010 emission standards and everyone's gearing up for that."