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Time to kill the sacred cow: goodbye longnose

Just as I warned in my column “Face Reality” a few months ago, the US government is done skirting around with reducing greenhouse gas emisisons from trucks. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) division are calling for an improvement in overall fuel efficiency on class 8 long-haul vehicles of up to 20% by 2018, using 2010 as a baseline. Expect Canada to follow suit.
Heavy truck engines will have to be tweaked to contribute a 3% improvement in fuel consumption by 2014, but the remaining gains in efficiency will have to be found through decreased tire rolling resistance, lower tare weights, reduced idling and one thing some drivers won’t be happy about: improved aerodynamics. That’s right, more of those “slippery” trucks as some of you like to call them.
If the high fuel prices we saw earlier this decade and the low rates we are seeing now were not enough to kill the classic long nose conventional, over the next decade this legislation certainly will. This classic design, which is the hands down choice of many owner/operators (and company drivers if they could convince management to get into one) used to account for 25% of Class 8 sales back in 2000 but has now dropped to less than 6% of the North American market.
But that’s a very vocal 6%, as I found out this year after penning a couple of columns predicting the end of the long nose conventional in our industry. The folks that drive them just don’t want to let them go. Many have bought into the image of a long haul trucker as being behind the wheel of this classic design. And they were not too happy when I suggested they should perhaps think otherwise. I’m still getting angry calls about those columns.
Well, folks, this new legislation is a sharp dose of reality. The long nose conventional is doomed. It really is the dinosaur everyone outside North America thinks it to be, and will not make it past the next decade without significant redesign. But don’t take my word for it, read what Automotive World had to say in a recent article: “Those iconic flat-fronted, long bonneted heavy trucks, often dripping with chrome, which are beloved of many North American drivers and other transport traditionalists, are set to be outlawed by US fuel efficiency/CO2 emission standards. Or listen to what Bill Kozek, general manager of Paccar’s Kenworth division, believes: He told the American Trucking Associations recently that ‘long and tall cowboy trucks will go away’, citing as an example his own company’s W900 tractor range. Why? Because their aerodynamic drag would incur unacceptable penalties under the new CO2/fuel-efficiency rules.
The outward appearance of the traditional long nose conventional has not changed much since the 1950s; it’s too much of a sacred cow. As a result they are heavier, carry less payload, and suck up more gas.
Killing this sacred cow has nothing to do with disrespect for image or tradition. It has everything to do with coming up with an efficient design most likely to give fleets and owner/operators a chance to improve their bottom lines.
And at the end of the day, that’s what smart business decisions should be about.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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28 Comments » for Time to kill the sacred cow: goodbye longnose
  1. Stephen Large says:

    Hey Lou, I guess you are allowed to have your own opinion and write about it here, but somehow I am guessing that you are basing your post on whatever you have read or been told by someone and you have no actual hands-on knowledge about whether a long nose conventional is any harder on fuel than an aerodynamic truck when both trucks are doing identical jobs. Is a cabover even less fuel efficient than a conventional? I am betting that you don’t know anything about that except what you have been told or what you have read somewhere! I seem to remember ( and Paccar’s Bill Kozek should think about this too ) in 1982, some fool at Kenworth decided to stop building the “Longnose W900” and instantly, they lost a huge amount of sales to Peterbilt, who still built an extended hood version of their conventional. Then, in about 1985, some other fool at Kenworth decided to build the T600 aerodyne truck that was supposed to get incredible fuel mileage and was going to set the truck manufacturers on their ears. Well, we all know how that worked out-there were almost no savings on fuel and nearly all the fleets and definitely all the owner operators abandoned the T600’s and replaced them with W900L’s-that’s right, not just a conventional, but an extended hood W900 conventional which after 8 years of non-availability, was in higher demand than ever before! There were a few guys who bought the Freightliner FLD aero thingy and even a couple guys bought a Peterbilt 377?, and they also realized absolutely no gain in fuel economy!? In the early 90’s, Freightliner had to start building the ‘Classic 120’ and soon the ‘Classic 132’ and eventually, Peterbilt stopped building their standard conventional and only offered their 379 extended hood. Oh yeah, you could get an aero thingy from them too, but they were so scarce, I don’t know for sure what they even called it! Volvo and Mack were building some sort of aerodynamic trucks too, and guess what? They still were almost as hard on fuel as those old W900s and 359 Petes. After a few years, the Paccar people again tried to sell their aerodynamic idea with the T2000 and the Pete 389? which were bigger flops than the T600s were a dozen years earlier. Now, recently, we have all the truck and engine makers trying to pass off SCR, DPF, DEF, etc., and guess what? FUEL ECONOMY HAS BEEN SACRIFICED TO MEET EMISSIONS???! That makes absolutely no sense! I will keep my old long hood conventionals, thanks.

  2. Jason says:

    CABOVERS… I heard a while back from some Int’l engineers that cabovers were actually more slippery than conventionals? (proven in their wind tunnel testing). Can you confirm this? If this is true, it makes sense that they should be reintroduced to the North American market to help meet the fuel economy targets. We had Freightliner Argosy’s in a previous fleet and the drivers loved them! They fit the length restrictions for LCV, had more cab room, more maneauverablility, etc.

    • David Cherbonnier says:

      The flat front is more aerodynamic because it builds up an boundary-layer/cushion, in front of the vehicle that has a better coefficient of drag than the surface of the long nose. It sounds strange but is true and is similar in concept to, a round bow on a ship offers less resistance than a pointed bow. Anyone who has driven the old VW van can tell you it gets remarkable mileage even though it is big, boxy and bulky.

  3. jimh says:

    Quote from Lou Smyrlis:
    “The outward appearance of the traditional long nose conventional has not changed much since the 1950s; it’s too much of a sacred cow. As a result they are heavier, carry less payload, and suck up more gas.”
    GAS Lou? GAS?? It’s been decades since heavy trucks in North America used gasoline for fuel. Do you really know anything about heavy trucks at all? I think that perhaps Mr. Large is correct in saying “that you are basing your post on whatever you have read or been told by someone and you have no actual hands-on knowledge” at all.

  4. claude Robert says:

    Reading your comments, I have to confirm that you are absolutely correct. My last visit in Germany has confirmed everything you just said. You should see the pictures of the trucks of tomorrow, Cab over, front end looks like the new buses (Think Newell), entry in the truck from the back, driving position in the middle of the cab, no mirrors only camera.
    We are testing the camera to replace the convex mirror, it works very well.
    I am personnally putting pressure to import some of the european technology in our fleet. We know we can improve or fuel consumption by at least 10%. Energy is the challenge for today and more for tomorrow. We need to provide the comfort and the security to our drivers and this will also come with the european technologies. I hope the Volvo, Mercedez, Daf and others will be available son in North America.
    For the skeptical drivers, I drove one of the above vehicle, so smooth and so powerful, unbeleivable; one thing, speed is 90 km/h.

  5. Cecil Lambert says:

    If the long nose is doomed because of bad economy and only the ‘slippery’ trucks which supposedly save fuel are the answer, why is Europe exclusively Cabovers that get much better fuel economy than North America?
    They are using planetary axles, automatic transmissions, higher horsepower by far than ours and yet burn less fuel?
    Could you do a article and comparision on why this is so?

  6. Jason says:

    I think Cecil had a great idea on a story about why only Europe is running the slick new fuel efficient cabovers. I heard that the extinction of CO’s here was mainly due to a few big companies deciding to stop buying them and also cooling issues from the new engines. However, looks like cooling issues have been resolved in the Argosies that are being sold in Australia. Anyway, sounds like there may be some support out there to revive the cabover in North America … and save more fuel at the same time…

  7. paul says:

    it would be interesting to see some stats. on the cabovers being used in Europe,but I am old school and to a degree I agree with Stephen Large.
    The only thing which I did not like about cabovers was that you were always the first one at the accident.

  8. Our wallets, in the end, will determine what trucks are on the market. It is nice to drive a big shiny, and we will always spend more to get what we want. But, it what we want must also do it’s job. If it don’t we will have to get rid of it, or it will get rid of us.
    Wow. I started out describing nice trucks and ended up saying what we should do with most of our politicians.

  9. don bell says:

    i drove a columbia and a clssic both with same running gear.the only diference being when you get out of a classic or a star or a big hood pete your not all crippled up. fuel milage comes from the driver not the truck

  10. Bruce Phelps says:

    After reading Lou’s comments about the so called sacred cow and had to put in my two cents worth. I spent many years behind the wheel, from long nose to cab overs. My experiences taught me some very important lessons. Firstly, fuel economy, like one of the guys wrote, is accomplished by the driver. A good operator, and this goes for any equipment, will become tuned to his machine and will know when his engine is needing more pedal, for me it is between 105 and 110kms, then I feel that engine needing more fuel to maintain higher speeds. My other pet peeve with the truck industry is pushing their ugly trucks to save fuel aerodynamics, and then shove an engine into it that uses more fuel to curb emissions so you drive a real ugly truck, have to buy freezable fluid or the computer shuts you down – I’ve said enough! We have an old ’95 IHC with a 600 cat in it and I would not trade it for a brand new one. It has lots of power and is the most fuel efficient engine I have ever known. We will probably look for a newer truck in the next year or so and put our engine and tranny into it. It’s cheaper to rebuild an older truck than it is to buy new stuff. It will be a long nose Kenworth or Pete by the way! Much better ride and much easier on my drivers! And by the way, your statement about the long truck being around since the 50’s, the reason for that is because if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! They worked and worked well, so why in the world should we give in to the tree huggers and try making something better that isn’t!

  11. Stephen Large says:

    Hey Bruce, it good to see that you get it! There are too many people in this industry who make statements and make decisions based on only what they have read or been told. Obviously, you are making your points based on experience. I also run a couple older trucks and wouldn’t trade them for new ones! Just over a year ago, I was recognized by Shell Oil for running over 2 million miles and over 60,000 hours on my 1990 Longnose Kenworth W900L with a mechanical 3406B Cat engine with no major overhauls using only Shell oil. My other truck has a 3408 (V-8)18 liter Cat engine, and if I pull the same load in the same conditions, it’s fuel mileage is very similar, and when comparing with other trucks pulling the same thing under the same conditions, guess what? That’s right, my 30 year old longnose KW and my 20 year old longnose KW and everybody else I know that hauls heavy equipment around here gets about 5.5 – 6 mpg. The difference I do see though, is I don’t have to add UREA fluid, I don’t have to pull over and wait while my truck does an exhaust re-gen, I don’t ever, ever have to be towed to a shop at my own cost to have some “mechanic” (I use the term very loosely) re-program my ECM or RESET the parameters or try to figure out which sensor keeps shutting the engine down for no apparent reason! In fact, a lot of the work I get is hauling new trucks on my RGN lowbed back to a dealership because the thing has quit for some unknown reason. And you guessed it, warranty does not cover towing?! Last night and tonight, I had calls to haul broken down trucks into a dealer, both trucks only a couple years old with the latest technology. Also, both trucks were the so-called ‘slippery’ trucks that Lou was yakking about, and, according to the drivers, they are getting a whopping 5.5 – 6 mpg hauling legal loads??! Another thing both drivers were quick to point out; they sure wish they were driving an old Longnose Pete or KW with a mechanical engine, earning 40 cents/mile, instead of riding with me for free, paying truck and lowbed hourly rate to get hauled home!

  12. John B. Sloop says:

    with over 30 years in the transportation I have seen many changes – I saw the computers come in.
    I was there personally, I drove some of the first computerized test trucks, the fuel economy really suffered, engine performance suffered, engines ran much much hotter, oils turned to a burnt almost tar hard matter, Yea I was there.
    Then there was the A train, the b train, and all we had was single or tandem axle trailers,
    then R-Tac came along and then there was a extra axle on our trailers and our loads got bigger
    and heavier — wow what a fine mess and the roads stayed the same — the roads were just as rough and just as narrow back then as they are today.
    I get 700 plus horse power out of My old frieghtliner cabover top speed is 52 mile a hour and if I drive it sanely with the 3 axle low bed, on the same trip I used 42.75 gallons of fuel mile to the gallon on 310 miles 7.25 mile a gallon
    the kids truck with a C 16 Cat on the same trip used 58.37 – 5.31 mile to the gallon
    the new truck with the same specs as the kids truck used 63.55 gallons of fuel 4.87 mile gal
    and used 2 liters of oil a trip and I was told it was normal to burn that much oil.
    on a 161 trips a year
    between the kids truck and the new truck, the new truck used 833.98 gallons or 3794.60 liters more a year
    and using 2 liters of oil each trip, or 322 liters of oil in 161 trips over $ 300 of oil
    and there is no way having a aerodynamic truck would help us, it is those dang computers and all that emission stuff on the engines
    our next purchase is a old truck with no computer !!!

  13. meslippery says:

    Anyone remember glider kits from back in the day?
    Old truck was rebuilt and a new cab was installed.
    Also the electronic engines of the late 90s were reliable and the cruse worked better
    than the old throttle lock. But given a choice between speed controlled electronic
    and mechanical I ll take mechanical.
    Some technology is useful, Cell phones. But so much of the latest technology makes more
    problems that it solves.

  14. Stephen Large says:

    Good idea, meslippery. Apparently, you can still get a glider kit from Peterbilt( and maybe from the other truck builders too ), but I have been in this industry since 1983, and I have seen a few trucks that have been ‘glidered’ and lately, I have seen quite a few older trucks on sale lots and listed for sale online where the serial # includes a ‘G’ or a ‘GL’ which indicates that it was a glider kit. ALL of the ones I have seen were KW W900A or W900B, 359 or 379 Petes, either standard hood or long hoods and I saw one Western Star conventional. I DID NOT SEE ANY: T600,T2000,Volvo,Aeromax,377,Silveraero or Century or Argosy or any other sloped hood piece of crap that was chosen to replace it’s older donor truck. I think that a good business to get into would be to ‘custom build’ 1980-1994 W900’s, W900L’s, 359 & 379’s both short and long hoods, FLC 120’s, R600’s and 4964’s with mechanical engines. There have been almost no improvements to trucks since those models were built! Most drivers of today have never driven a ‘real’ truck like the ones I just mentioned, but almost every owner/operator that was out here for 20 or 30 years or more would go back to one if they could. Sure, some drivers say they like the newer models, but they are not the ones who have to pay for all the fiddly little electrical and computer crap that is forever needing attention. What I am trying to say is, its very seldom that you hear anybody say “I am sure glad I got rid of my old longnose Pete or KW with 3406B and got this new ‘slippery’ truck with it’s electronic engine!”

  15. Gary Brown says:

    OK.. lets face some facts that are not being addressed. The set back axle,slope nose hood,automatic tranny,plastic component pieces of junk being pushed on us are easily driven by low skilled drivers. A long nose 379 Pete takes more skill to drive than an automatic Volvo/Columbia disposable style truck. By the way…. ya don’t have to have road/fog lights on all the time to drive one.(Had to throw that in). Fuel economy is best achieved by the driver of the truck not the truck. Lets improve the quality of drivers and drive quality trucks.

  16. Ray Cotton says:

    I work at a Kenworth dealer and have a strong love for the long & lean W900 long nose. It is everything everyone says it is, and the classic look makes it stand out in the crowd. Unfortunately, those of us who love this style of truck aren’t the ones who will ultimately decide what gets built in the future.
    I agree with what has been posted by the different experienced truckers. Fuel economy is for the most part dominated by the drivers experience and knowledge. As we’ve seen, new technologies have not proven to improve fuel economy, but have added to the cost of the truck itself, the maintenance, the warranty costs, and ultimately added considerable costly downtime. This has not proven to be a step forward in my estimation. But I also agree somewhat with Lou’s comments. The real people pulling the strings are the politicians and EPA know-it-alls. They’re ultimate goal is honorable, but unfortunately they are not experienced or educated in real world, on-the-road, results. They only get hypathetical data from tests done in wind tunnels and realatively short tests done in the field. With laws being introduced such as CARB and Smart Way, I hate to admit, I think the day of the traditional long nose is slowly coming to an end. This pains me to admit this and I truely hope I’m wrong. This traditional legacy should be handed down to future trucking generations.

  17. Dear Lou:
    “Where’s the Silver Lining”. An excellent video discussion (on your site) with people that “get it”. They know the score. This is value added to the Transportation industry. I would encourage anybody that has not seen it, watch it.
    Mark Borkowski
    Mercantile Mergers & Acquisitions Corp
    Columnist for Motor Truck – Fleet Executive

  18. John Thomas says:

    Good comments all. Having owned both long hoods and rubber hoods, I can state catagorically that a rubber hood will cost you more money long term. They burn up steer tires in half the time that a long hood truck does, and there are issues with transmission heat as well if you pull heavy. As Gary mentioned, (and I agree about the fog lights), the big fleets buy them as there is less stuff to break than on a proper truck.
    By the way, can you actually buy those Freightliners with the side extenders already pranged into the back of the bunk, or do you need to hire a particularly gifted professional steering-wheel holder to do that for you?
    Merry Christmas everyone!

  19. Jim Chareo says:

    As a mechanic I’d like to point out that long nose trucks are easier to work. You open the hood and there it is. Check the flat rate book for repairs and there is always extra time for the job if you have a cab/over with the same repair. That is worth dollars too.

  20. Bob (Dutch) van Noggeren says:

    What a sad day it will be if long-nosed conventionals cease to be produced. I’ve been to Europe several times and they don’t have much choice. Narrow streets and tight turns demand a shorter tractor. Most of the configurations that I saw were single axle tractors pulling trailers with 2 or 3 tight axles (which were never all the way to the back) on trailers that did not appear to be much longer than 40′. We do not have that space problem in North America. Sales may have dropped for long-nose tractors, but I don’t understand why. I wonder if it’s because so many in the media say we need to be aerodynamic. Personally I own an older W900L with a C15 bridge engine. I pull a dry box and gross between 70000 and 80000# 90% of the time. In the summer I average over 7.5 MPG (Imp). As a mechanic stated earlier my truck is easy to work on. My repair costs are low. But even if it cost me more to operate, shouldn’t that be my decision. Friends, our freedoms, our choices are becoming more and more limited. A few have made us install speed limiters. Now they want to push aerodynamic trucks on us. What will be next?

  21. meslippery says:

    Whats next? Bob
    Cannot drive old trucks.
    prohibiting trucks built prior to the 1994 model year from entering the cargo terminals.

  22. Fred Webster says:

    After reading your column, it appears that both you and government regulators think members of the trucking industry are incapable of making an intelligent decision as to what specifications they require for their equipment. As a member of this industry for over 40 years (I have probably been trucking longer that you have been alive), I have operated a fleet of trucks in our family owned business during the regulation years where motor carrier licenses were required. In the late 1980’s, our government deregulated our industry. What has happened since that time is there is now MORE REGULATION in a de-regulated environment than there was when we were regulated!!!!! The issue regarding the long nose truck should be left up to the industry and the market(AND NOT THE GOVERNMENT!!!!). There are many, many,efficient and intelligent operators out there who can determine if it makes economic (AND PRACTICAL) sense to operate a long nose. If it makes sense and there is demand, then the market should decide it-not a bunch of uninformed regulators who have never got their hands dirty and wouldn’t know the end of a wrench or gear shift if they saw one. Lou-you should be running for public office. Some of your column(s) remind me of the same crap I get from some of our elected officials. Gawd, I miss the days when there was some “balls” in this industry! Enough said.

  23. thanks for the great info. I always enjoy reading your site. I came across a post the other day called netgear wn3000rp review which had some good info about wireless range extenders which I need because I can never get a good singnal on one side of the house.

  24. Caleb Havens says:

    here’s something for everyone to think about my cousin bought a 2012 W900L with an ISX 600 cummins in it when he got it thing was getting about 5 mpg and pulled like an old 400 big cam truck was a piece of garbage so he took it sent about 10 grand and got every emission restiction piece of sh!t on it taken off had it turned up to a true 800 horse the truck makes an easy 7 mpg now and can pull a loaded set of super b’s like they arent there, I haul up in northern canada to the oil feild i spent all summer on a pipe haul 4 hours into the bush now i ran with every kind of truck out there now through all the hell i put my truck through hell out there and replaced one shock after it was all done the freightliners the volvo’s all those slope nosed trucks wnt home in parts. i drive what this goof considers one of the dinosaurs i got a 1990 kw w900 long nose with 3406c cat i bought my truck as wreck when i was 16 and put years of blood sweat tears and every last cent i had to get her on the road she goes to work on some of the nastiest roads you can throw at her and comes home to win truck shows now i got this old girl twisted up 600 horse its 23 years old 100 percent mechanical and get 5.5 – 6mpg constant now i see these brand new “slippery” trucks getting the same or less and you gotta be a computer wiz to fix a damn headlight in them im 4th generation trucker i live to drive its all I have ever known but 80% of the fun in this job is having pride in your truck pulling into a truckstop and talking to other drivers about their rig…. the problem is we are dying breed its companies that like swift and bison that these new trucks work for cause they got cookie cutter trucks for cookie cutter drivers theres no pride in it anymore its just about these big companies pulling the same trailer and same loads to the same destinations we cant compete the problem for them is there will always be a need for the independent trucker i dont care how many safety awards your company your uniform drivers will never due job the proud trucker will do… everyone blames the government and goofs like this lou and yes they are partially to blame but the big enemy is the big companies when was the last time you saw a nice pete or kw running down the road for swift that wasnt the owned by the driver… the thing is you make me slope nose i’ll hang up the keys otherwise ill drive long nose kw till i die

  25. mac says:

    European gallon is larger than us gallon. So same truck will always be more efficient in Europe. European trucks limited to 55 mph. That also helps in mpg. Cab overs maybe more aerodynamic( I doubt they are but are probably not worse then a conventional) but there popular in Europe because of length, and it’s just easier to maneuver in tight spaces which Europe is known for. Only reason cab over was popular in North America was due to length laws. They only reason the long nose would be on the endangered species list is because the new generation has no patience ( myself included) and skill is lacking.( I have some of that) If the truck can do 110 kph at 1600 -1700 rpm they will do it, ride brakes down Hills( use of the runaway lanes is much more common now) come to complete stop at light instead timing them. These are people we have trained to pay attention but are not willing to change including owner operators. It’s the reason I shift is so popular it allows the guy who can’t shift to keep on par with seasoned veterans, ( no thinking required just stomp on go pedal) giving the newbies a false sense of security even though they can’t chain up or tell you if there is black ice on road.

  26. Arnold Schwarz says:

    Some people assume that all commercial trucks spend most of their time driving down the highway at speed.

    This is simply not true. Highway guys do, but my truck is run locally, with relatively small time on the highway.

    I will see very little gains switching away from my Kenworth W900, with the work that I do mainly around town.

  27. Chris F says:

    I e driven a few different volvo trucks now, until they fail to do the job as usual. And what i still don’t understand is how a more expensive unit can replace the reliable ones. The one thing that bothers me most is burning urea which contains ammonia is supposed to be better for the environment than diesel alone. Not to mention that a driver is 100% dependant on electronics not failing to keep earning an income or operating safely. One solenoid failure and congratulations you have not transition auto or manual. To me it seems careless and public endangering to keep this current trend going

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