THE TOP 10 OF 2012, PART 1

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Courage is required to choose 10 excellent products from the array of introductions this past year, and there’s no big jury to hide within. People will disagree; some will complain about not being represented here. It’s just me making the call, so let me declare at the outset that these are things that simply caught my eye, some of them obvious choices, and some that seem to do their jobs a little differently. They are not necessarily the ‘best’ of 2012, though I think you’d be hard pressed to exclude most of them from such a list.


As in the past, I’m not going to include trucks, though we certainly saw innovation there. Having said that, I can’t fail to mention the Kenworth T680 and Peterbilt Model 359 that stole the show at last year’s Mid-America extravaganza. All new and replacing nothing in their respective lineups, the trucks have the same DNA but Pete opted for a detachable sleeper while Kenworth chose the integrated route and created some very slippery contours in the process.


Kenworth chief engineer Preston Feight was almost giddy with delight in Louisville, telling me that no previous Kenworth had seen so much attention paid to its development. It shows, equally on the Pete, and you see it in the fine details of how body components meet, for instance.


Another truck worth noting, though it won’t hit the streets ’til next year, was the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution with ‘enhanced’ Detroit DD15 engine. It’s said to deliver as much as a 7% improvement in fuel economy over an EPA 2010-compliant Cascadia equipped with first-generation aerodynamics. It even beats a current-model 2013 Cascadia equipped with the latest aero upgrades. By a solid 5%, the company says.


And then there’s Hino’s class-5 195H diesel/electric hybrid, a first for Hino on this continent. The cabover is a new truck designed from the ground up for North America, with a straight diesel model 195 also available. The trucks are good for 19,500 lb GVW, powered by Hino’s 5-litre J05E Series diesel engine hitched to Aisin’s A465 6-speed automatic transmission.


And finally on the truck front, I liked the Mack Granite Medium Heavy Duty (MHD), a lower-cost, lighter-weight vocational option that doesn’t sacrifice durability, the company says. Standard engine is the Cummins ISL9, with both Eaton Fuller manual and Allison automatic transmissions available.


You’ll note that I haven’t included anything from the vast and burgeoning array of fleet-management, GPS, and communication systems available. There are simply too many. Way too many, some of them brilliant.


OK, so here are the first five from my top 10 of 2012, the next five to come in two weeks’ time. They’re in no particular order. I repeat, they’re unranked.


1. MERITOR’S 6×2 DRIVE AXLE,  the FuelLite, is a tandem affair that’s said to save weight and increase fuel efficiency. It’s the first member of the company’s SoloDrive Series of 6×2 tandem rears. Based on the Meritor 160 series drive axle, it’s designed for linehaul applications to maximize weight savings and increase fuel efficiency.

It delivers nearly 400 lb in weight savings and approximately a 2% increase in fuel efficiency when compared to a traditional 6×4, the company says.

Features include: Meritor’s 160 DualTrac housing that allows the option of running wide-based single tires or duals; a 2.50 to 4.10 ratio range; and a 12.7-mm wall housing that’s compatible with all current 40,000-lb tandem air suspensions.

 All SoloDrive Series axles will use the same rear tag axle for simplified maintenance.

The warranty for linehaul applications is five years or 750,000 miles with parts and labor included.


2. VOLVO TRUCKS PAID ATTENTION TO CANADA  with the addition of two new ‘XE’ drivetrain packages featuring the 16-liter D16 engine. The first, a heavy-spec XE16 package rated for combination weights up to 143,000 lb, was designed specifically for heavy and long-combination-vehicle (LCV) markets. The second XE16 package combines exceptional fuel efficiency with outstanding performance for five-axle tractor-semitrailer combinations up to 80,000 lb.


Both XE16 versions drop engine rpm by 200 rpm or more at cruising speeds, compared to traditional specs. They follow on the very successful launch in 2011 of the XE13 package centred on lighter weights and the D13 engine.


Volvo drivetrain chief Ed Saxman says XE16 directly addresses the needs of two important market segments that historically have had very few fuel-efficient powertrain options. He says it delivers the full power and low-end torque needed for higher weight applications while saving fuel by running at a lower rpm.


Each package is based on a new D16 engine rating of 500 hp and 2050 lb ft of torque, with Volvo’s I-Shift automated mechanical transmission, specialized axle ratios, specific tire sizes, and proprietary software that facilitates communication among powertrain components. The XE16 provides the full 2050 lb ft of torque while running as low as 1000 rpm to improve low-rpm driveability.


Saxman says the engine can handle such big torque at low rpm because of its "massive" connecting rods with large bearing surface areas that help alleviate bearing stress.


The heavier-spec XE16 package uses a heavy-duty air suspension and 18-in. rear axles with a 3.21 ratio instead of the 3.73 rear axle more often spec’d on North American LCVs. The XE16 package reduces cruising rpm from 1425 to 1225 at 62 mph, yielding about a 3% fuel efficiency improvement.


The second XE16 rating addresses 80,000-lb tractor and semi-trailer combinations that are spec’d with a focus on both fuel efficiency and high performance. The engine, in combination with a 2.64 rear-axle ratio and overdrive I-Shift transmission, will operate within its sweet spot throughout the vehicle speed range to improve fuel efficiency, says Volvo.


Volvo first introduced its “downspeeding” concept in September 2011 with the XE13 powertrain package. Available on all VN highway tractors, the XE13 powertrain package offers the 13-litre D13 engine with up to 455 hp and 1750 lb ft torque at 1050 rpm.


Saxman makes the point of saying that drivers won’t notice any performance fall-off even when running the mountains at full weight. The tweaks made to torque and power curves see to that.


SISTER COMPANY MACK TRUCKS says its Super Econodyne powertrain package can provide a 3.5% improvement in fuel economy. Available on Pinnacle models, I’m including it here as part of the Volvo entry in my Top 10 list.


It uses all-Mack proprietary components — MP8-445SE engine, mDrive automated manual transmission, C125 proprietary drive axles, and custom software — and is rated up to 88,000 lb GCWR.


The central idea, not unlike Volvo’s XE13 system, is what Mack calls the “down speed” feature. Super Econodyne is engineered to drop engine speed more than 200 rpm at a highway speed of 65 mph, cruising at 1160 instead of 1380 rpm. This reduces fuel consumption by up to 2% compared with previous engine models, says Mack, while its proprietary C125 drive axles are claimed to deliver an additional 1.5% fuel economy saving.


The Mack MP8-445SE offers 445 hp and up to 1760 lb ft of torque. The C125 axles have a 2.66:1 ratio. All powertrain components communicate with each other via Mack software.


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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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