DON MILLS, Ont. - You won't find a lot of 'em at truck stops, but that doesn't take away from the fact the medium-duty truck market is currently one of the strongest in North America.While this sector...
EVOLUTION OR REVOLUTION: Medium-duty trucks like the International 4000-Series High Performance rig on the left, have come a long way since the days when old binders, like the one on the right, helped bushwhack the northern reaches of Canada.
DASHING NEW LOOK: Kenworth’s new driver command centre.
5,000-LB GORILLA: International has traditionally lead in the Canadian medium-duty market in terms of total sales.
MADE IN CANADA: The 330 is one of the models manufactured at the Paccar facility in Ste-Therese, Que.
WHAT A FEELING: Toyota recently purchased a controlling interest in niche-truckmaker Hino.
DON MILLS, Ont. – You won’t find a lot of ’em at truck stops, but that doesn’t take away from the fact the medium-duty truck market is currently one of the strongest in North America.
While this sector of North American truck sales is off about 23 per cent through June, Canada’s Class 6 and 7 sales are only down about four per cent. That says a mouthful when you consider overall numbers are down about 37 per cent continent-wide.
“Over the past few weeks we’ve seen a bit of a resurgence in the U.S. It’s certainly not a correction of the market,” says Jim Looysen, director of Freightliner’s Business Class and vocational sales. “But, the medium-duty market has actually been the saving grace for a lot of the dealers given Class 8 sales.”
The immediate nature of our society – especially in highly populated urban areas – means people need things delivered now.
In the case of goods, this means they are shipped to these large city centres and then distributed via medium-duty truck.
At the same time, service providers are increasingly moving business models employing mobile workers. They need their transportation to not only get them where they are going but serve double and triple duty as warehouse and office.
With these demands in mind, coupled with the need to have increasingly driver-friendly units – thanks in no small part to the shortage of qualified truck drivers – manufacturers have gone to great lengths to overhaul their medium-duty offerings. Here’s a look at some of the mid-sized iron you’re likely to find on the lots nowadays.
International Truck and Engine Corporation’s new 8500 regional haul tractor with International HT 530 Engine is a big medium-duty by all counts, but it still fits the bill.
The release follows International’s February launch of its High Performance 4000-, 7000- and 8000-series medium haul vehicles in Las Vegas, Nev. earlier this year.
The new 8500 aims to offer improvements in vehicle serviceability, life-cycle costs and driver productivity with features such as the multiplex electrical system, increased payload capacity, a tighter turning radius with the rig’s 50-degree wheel-cut and the International HT 530 engine.
“The 8500 is our regional haul derivative, and it was designed consistent with the medium-duty for performance and visibility,” says Steve Keate, president of International’s truck group.
The manufacturer says drivers of the new 8500 can expect excellent throttle response in stop-and-go traffic from an integrated powertrain featuring the high-torque HT 530, and service technicians will find it easy to maintain because of synchronized routine maintenance schedules.
“Everything about the International 8500 touts high performance that will mean more value to our regional-haul customers,” says Keate. “Regional haulers will see the difference on their bottom lines, drivers will feel the difference in the smooth, but powerful ride and service technicians can bank on easier serviceability.”
This vehicle sets a new benchmark in value-driven performance, the company insists.
He says this is the first regional-haul vehicle to exclusively offer an International brand engine, the high-torque 530T.
“The 8500 will have exclusively International engines, but we will be introducing, next year, 8600 models with vendor engines,” says Keate.
The International 8500 is available only in tractor configurations, and offers a strong frame rail system and air-ride cab suspension. The lightweight International HT 530 I-6 engine has an electronically controlled, variable geometry turbocharger, delivering from 280, 300, 320 up to 340 horsepower ratings with 700 lb-ft of clutch engagement torque for sure starts under full load. The company notes that no hydraulic brakes are available in this model.
Weight ratings range from 10,000 to 12,000lb for the front axle and the tandem rating is 40,000lb, with gross combo rates at 80,000lb.
Standard, parabolic taper leaf front springs with shock absorbers should offer a smoother ride and better handling. For durability and long-term investment, the hood is designed with three-piece construction and replaceable fenders and grille. The sloped hood offers a clearer view of the road. A tilted, swept-back, curved windshield has 50 per cent more surface area for superior peripheral and forward vision.
In terms of life cycle costs, important to regional-haul carriers, the International 8500 was designed to minimize downtime, with overall repair times cut 20 per cent according to the company.
Hino is introducing a new flagship model for 2002: The 9-speed SG3325. With a GVW of 33,000lb and a payload capacity of 22,800lb, Hino says the rig is ideally suited for Canadian applications such as vehicle transport carrier, construction or reefer.
The SG3325 comes with the new J-Series six-cylinder, overhead cam, turbo inter-cooled, 252 hp engine.
This Class 7 SG model offers a full-time, flywheel-driven power takeoff (PTO) with 80hp capability. The SG is available with an optional five-speed Allison MD automatic transmission and has a wheelbase for most applicable body lengths.
The J-Series engine boasts superior fuel efficiency with some customers reporting a 20-per cent fuel-savings versus comparable units.
The company credits its new valve and cam configuration as well as a newly designed turbo charger.
Together they work to micro-mix in the fuel system.
The engine accessories are gear-driven from the flywheel, eliminating drive belts and harmful vibration.
Hino’s cooling system ensures the engine is reliable in adverse conditions, a key feature in the Canadian climate.
The company has an established national network of dealers it says is able to meet customers’ service and parts needs.
Earlier this year, Toyota bought a controlling interest in the truckmaker. Since 1997, Hino diesel truck sales have increased dramatically in Canada, making it one of the key players in the domestic medium-duty market.
Kenworth Truck Company has introduced a new dash for its T300 medium-duty conventional cab featuring improved ergonomics, contemporary styling and an improved HVAC system.
The new T300 standard dash features a wrap-around instrument panel, easy-to-reach placement of the AM/FM radio within the dash, and rotary controls for the heater/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system.
“An optional under-dash console is also available,” says Steve Gilligan, Kenworth general marketing manager. “The optional console contains both driver and passenger cup holders, ashtray and lighter, storage compartment, and a 12-volt power outlet. Also, exiting drivers can easily elevate the steering column by using an optional foot pedal release.”
Split ventilation between the defrost and floor, enables the driver to circulate heat up from the floor while defrosting the windows at the same time. In addition, two floor vents placed on either side translate into driver comfort and satisfaction.
Kenworth has also expanded its medium-duty product offering by introducing a hydraulic brake option for its T300 Class 6 model.
Bosch hydraulic disc brakes are now an option on the unit, which carries a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,000 pounds.
The braking system comes with the Bosch HydroMax brake booster, WABCO ABS modulator valve and Bosch calipers.
“The new hydraulic brake option significantly expands the range of Kenworth’s T300 model,” says Gilligan. “Many customers are already familiar with hydraulic brakes and Kenworth can now offer the T300 equipped to meet their needs.”
The hydraulic brake option is available on the T300 Class 6 models running Caterpillar 3126E engines with horsepower ranges of 190 to 250 hp, and Eaton Fuller 6-speed transmissions.
Finally, expect to see Kenworth offer tow hooks, a 14,000-lb front axle and other features for its T300 medium-duty conventional model in the coming months.
Peterbilt recently enhanced driver comfort and convenience i
n part of its medium-duty line, the 330. “Peterbilt’s Model 330, available in Class 6 and 7 configurations, is a premium medium-duty vehicle being used in a number of diverse applications – inter- and intra-city pickup and delivery, beverage distribution, fire and rescue and dump, to name a few,” says Peterbilt assistant general manager Dan Sobic. “The enhancements we’re introducing will be appreciated by drivers in most every operation, and complement the Model 330’s industry-leading versatility.”
One new optional feature of Peterbilt’s Unibilt cabs is an extended rear window. These provide an additional two inches of rearward seat travel for greater leg and belly room. The extended rear window will be optional for the Model 330 in the third quarter of 2001, and will be available in standard or dark tint.
Peterbilt’s UltraRide seat, found throughout the company’s product line is now available with an integrated air seat base for the Class 6 Model 330. The new option provides the luxury feel of an air-ride seat in the Class 6 configuration, which does not utilize an engine air compressor due to its hydraulic braking system. The seat features an electric compressor, and easy-to-reach controls for adjusting seat height.
The new floor-mounted, cup holder includes two standard-sized drink holders and one extra-large “jug” holder that will accommodate the largest of fountain drinks.
A new driver-side mounted manifest pouch is now optional on the 330, as well.
Located on the lower half of the door, the pouch creates additional storage space, useful for keeping maps, ledgers and other essential resources at the driver’s fingertips.
While Freightliner’s Business Class trucks have been around for some time, that hasn’t stopped the manufacturer from tweaking the available componentry.
“One of the things we’re touting are the Mercedes-Benz components,” says Freightliner’s Looysen. “Certainly the MB engine has been a very good product for us.”
He cites fuel economy, reliability and overall performance as the engine’s strongest characteristics.
In March of 1999, 4.3- and 6.4-litre designs of the medium-duty MB900 first found their way onto North American spec sheets.
This year, Benz manual transmissions – the MBT520S-6D and the MBT660S-6O (the latter offers overdrive) – followed the same migration path.
“We’re starting to get some out now,” says Looysen referring to seed-fleets currently trying the new products. He adds it’s too early to say how they are making out.
Freightliner LLC, the corporate parent to the truckmaker of the same name, has been restructuring its operation since the departure of former company president Jim Hebe. With this process expected to wrap up near the end of October, company spokesman Chris Brandt says to expect a new Freightliner medium-duty platform sometime after then.
“We have a very highly competitive product, the Business Class has been around since 1991,” he says. “Even back then, 10 years ago, we understood where the market was heading and knew that kind of customer needed a vehicle that was efficient and had a lot of safety features and a low cost of operation.”
These qualities have helped build acceptance of the FL50, FL60, FL70 (the company’s bread-and-butter model in Canada as well as the U.S.), FL80, FL106 and FL112, as well as their bulletproof reputation among many large U.S. fleets.
One of the keys to Freightliner’s success in the medium-duty market, says Looysen, is its somewhat unique approach to supporting sales. Rather than simply dividing the continent geographically, for the last four years Freightliner has identified 27 vocations. These form the basis for the ‘territories’ of eight vocational sales managers.
“For instance, we have a guy who is focused on the beverage industry,” says Looysen. “They then work with dealers to support customers in their areas of expertise. It has been very successful for us since it allowed us to sharpen our vocational focus.”
Paul P. Hozza, vice-president of medium-duty sales and market development, says Mack’s new medium-duty brings a host of advantages to the Class 6 and 7 cabover market. Ideally suited to distribution and P+D-type work, he stresses the new Freedom unit can also fill the bill for, “Light manufacturing, service kinds of businesses (such as landscapers), power companies and so forth.”
He insists the new vehicle, recently unveiled in Las Vegas, Nev. Covers a much broader spectrum of applications than Mack’s old Midliner design.
“The Midliner only had 22.5-inch wheels available,” says Hozza. “The Freedom gives us a low profile entry on a 17.5-inch wheel and it’s a one-step cab entry and we also have a 19.5-inch-wheel and then we still go into the 22.5-inch wheel.”
The low profile, 17.5-inch design gives Mack a truck for fleets running van bodies, such as bakeries, with roll-up or slide-back side doors. The 19.5-inch is ideal, he says for light dump or other hand-loading operations. And the tallest version, the 22.5-inch Freedom, should be a popular choice with utility companies.
Hozza says the beefiest Freedom, uniquely Canadian by the way, will top out at 35,000lb.
The four new models likely sound a little familiar if you’ve ever worn a T-shirt, but the names certainly give you an idea of what to expect in the unit.
“We have M at 25,995lb GVW in a 17.5-inch; the L at 25,995lb GVW in a 19.5-inch; the XL in GVWs of 25,995lb and 33,000lb both in the 19.5-inch; and the XXL in 25,995lb, 33,000lb, and 35,000lb GVWs in the 22.5-inch design,” says Hozza. “There are two cab versions: the short cab 63-inch BBC and the XTRA cab 79-inch.”
The extra 16 inches gives the opportunity to add storage behind the driver’s seat.
“Everything is geared to the driver’s work environment, it’s looking to the future and giving the customer a truck he can use almost as an office environment,” he says. “The center of the steering wheel has a flap, you can flip it over and it becomes a writing surface.”
A relative newcomer to the truck name game, Sterling is carving out a niche for itself in the medium-duty market. This segment of the Freightliner LLC empire is a post-buyout evolution of Ford’s commercial truck business, which the Portland, Ore.-based conglomerate purchased in the latter half of the ’90s. With two products in the medium-duty range – the Acterra and the heavier L Line vocational – Jim Crowcroft, product marketing manager for Sterling, says the company has grown its Canadian market share faster than in the U.S.
“Acterra is really our new baby, the one we are really proud of,” he says. “The Acterra was brought on about two years ago, Sterling being an approximately four-year-old company.”
The company’s share in Canada stands at 3.9 per cent since the intro of Sterling simply due to Acterra. He says the Acterra’s hydraulic brakes fill a void not covered by the product line inherited from Ford.
“Towing and recovery, emergency vehicles, utilities and then of course pickup and delivery – which of course is the biggest portion of the medium-duty segment,” says Crowcroft, “The customers who are value conscious who don’t need as heavy a truck; the hydraulic brakes have been a very popular option.”
He says the feedback he receives centres around the unit’s driver features.
“It’s basically a Class 8 cab in a medium-duty package,” he says. “Excellent visibility, features galore … you’re able to dress up the cab any way the customer wants.”
General Motors Canada is currently preparing to roll out a new medium-duty offering in late September at Truxpo 2001 in Edmonton.
While there are no details currently available, check the November issue of Truck News to get a complete review of the latest player to enter the medium-duty arena.
Currently GMC offers three medium-duty truck designs.
Best suited to light dump applications, the C-Series features four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes.
The GMC C-Series interior is designed to be functional, efficient, and a
ccommodating, the company adds. The seats have additional lumbar support and the gauges and controls are easy to see and operate.
The truckmaker also offers two cabover designs: the T-Series and W-Series.
The T-Series cab reflects the driver’s need for comfort, function, and safety.
The ergonomically designed seating positions of the W-series offer tremendous. n