KIRKLAND, Wash. — Kenworth is expecting another strong year for Class 8 truck sales in 2016, but there isn’t a lot of room for the overall market to grow.
Preston Feight, Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice-president, said at a press event this week that 2015 is likely to be the second best year ever for Class 8 truck orders, behind only 2006 when an emissions-related pre-buy drove record demand.
“It’s hard to imagine a five-year run like we’ve been having,” he said.
Feight pointed to the following reasons why business conditions are strong: US GDP grew 2.3% in the second quarter; housing starts are up 10.3% year-over-year; auto sales are up 6.1% y-o-y; freight tonnage is up 3.7% y-o-y; fleet utilization is above 90%; and fleet profitability is up 5.5%.
One of the only major concerns currently, Feight said, is availability of drivers.
Kenworth itself has grown its Class 8 market share this year to 14.7% year-to-date, a modest increase from 14.1% over the same period last year. However, when you consider the slowdown in the oil and gas sector where Kenworth is strong, Feight said the overall improvement points to the company’s growth in other segments.
Kenworth’s medium-duty share is 7.9% year-to-date, down from last year, but Feight said the company has received recent orders that will give it a bump in the second half of this year.
Feight attributed the company’s Class 8 growth to the success of its two most recent offerings: the T680 on-highway tractor and the T880 vocational truck. Together, the two models account for more than 70% of Kenworth’s build. The new ICON 900, a throwback truck that pays homage to the classic-styled W900, has been well received too, with 350 trucks sold since its launch in May.
Kenworth has also seen its glider kit business soar, according to Kevin Baney, chief engineer. It has seen sales double every year since the division was formed in 2013. The EPA plans to stamp out the glider market by 2018, but Baney said the company will continue selling them until then.
The company has also seen its Paccar MX engine gain ground. Introduced in 2010, it has seen growth every year and is now ordered in 40% of Kenworth’s Class 8 trucks.
The T680 gets 10% better fuel economy today than it did in 2013 with more improvements to come, Feight said.
“We will continue to make year-over-year improvements to the fuel economy of the T680,” he said.
Kenworth has also added several new options to its product line. A new 76-inch mid-roof sleeper will be offered on the T680 and T880 in September and the T880 will get a 40-inch sleeper in the first quarter of 2016. The Paccar MX-11 engine is coming in early 2016.
Meanwhile, Feight said the company’s dealers have invested more than $450 million into their facilities over the past few years, increasing service hours by 15% last year and another 15% this year.
Kenworth has also added new driver performance technologies to its trucks. Predictive Cruise Control uses GPS data to optimize vehicle speed, providing a fuel economy improvement of up to 2%, Baney said. For example, the cruise will reduce acceleration when cresting a hill to save fuel and the transmission will shift into neutral when travelling down a grade of 1-3%. Together, Predictive Cruise and Neutral Coast could boost fuel economy by 3%, said Baney.
An optional Driver Performance Assistant provides real-time coaching on acceleration, braking and shifting.
Also new is an ultracapacitor battery that will improve starting in extreme weather.
Kenworth’s idle management system is getting a new auto start/stop function, which will start the truck’s engine to recharge the batteries when their power is getting low. The system provides more than eight hours of air-conditioning and can save up to a gallon of diesel per hour of use compared to idling. An optional fuel-fired heater can be added to the system to provide warmth.
Baney also provided an update on Kenworth’s Truck Tech+ remote diagnostics system. He admitted Kenworth wasn’t first to market with remote diagnostics, but it was able to study systems currently in the market and come up with something the company feels is simpler and more user-friendly. About 5,000 Kenworth trucks are equipped with Truck Tech+ today. The system remotely analyzes fault codes and then advises the operator on the most appropriate course of action.
Feight said more fuel economy improvements are coming to the T680, largely due to better powertrain integration. He said Kenworth is delighted with some of the enhancements Eaton has made to its automated transmissions and the two companies are “co-developing” new systems for further efficiencies.
To spread the message about Kenworth’s expanding product line, the company is hitting the road with a 30-stop road tour that began just last week and will run through November, making several stops in Canada. The T680 with 76-inch mid-roof sleeper and T880 will be featured. The Kenworth Tour Trailer will be at each of the stops and inside, you’ll find the soon-to-be-launched Paccar MX-11 engine.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies