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A new Phoenix rising

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Freightliner has unveiled its ticket to keeping fleets flying in true business class style without paying outrageous fares for customized specs and service.Almost 11 years ago Freight...

PHOENIX, Ariz. – Freightliner has unveiled its ticket to keeping fleets flying in true business class style without paying outrageous fares for customized specs and service.

Almost 11 years ago Freightliner flew dealers and the industry’s top trade writers to Phoenix, Ariz. to roll-out its industry-changing Business Class medium-duty trucks. In February this process was repeated as the next generation officially stepped into the world. Now the Portland, Ore.-based manufacturer is banking on the Business Class M2 lineup to not only keep existing customers happy, but to power a serious run at league-leading International for top-spot in medium-duty market share.

In 1991, just prior to the advent of Freightliner’s wildly successful less-than-largest offerings, the company’s share of the medium-duty market stood at 6.9 per cent.

In 2001, this number had grown to 23.4 per cent – moving it from a distant fourth to a solid second in the race for sales supremacy in Classes 5-7.

Significant enhancements incorporated into the M2’s design have Freightliner executives hoping for a repeat performance.

“In 1991, there was a clear opportunity in the medium-duty market,” says Rainer Schmueckle, Freightliner LLC president and chief executive officer. “Most (offerings) were either downsized highway trucks or upsized pickups.”

His motivation for hoping so is clear: “A strong medium-duty presence partially shields us from inherent fluctuations in the Class 8 market.”

New roster

The M2 line includes a full slate of Class 5-8 trucks, the first of which to grace the industry will be the 106-inch BBC configuration. Hitting dealerships in about June, the cornerstone of the unit’s bolstered safety is its 2,500-sq.-in. windshield. Coupled with a low-profile dash design, while sitting in the cab of this conventional you can almost see the front three-piece bumper thanks to a 28 per cent larger unobstructed view.

“To operate as safely as possible, excellent visibility from the cab is crucial,” says Michael von Mayenburg, Freightliner LLC senior vice-president of engineering and technology. “There also will be less need for backing up, (which is) when problems tend to occur.”

Capable of tight U-turns depending on the specified wheelbase, the M2 combines wider king pins, altered front axle positions and a unique hood design. The result, as von Mayenburg indicates, is a maximum of a 55-degree wheel cut powering the M2 through cramped areas more safely and effectively than not only its predecessor but also the majority of its competitors, too.

The initial design is available with two primary choices for power: either an MBE900 (offering 170-280 hp) or a Cat 3126 (offering 175-300 hp).

“With its durability and driveability, the Mercedes-Benz MBE900 delivers outstanding performance and low cost of operation,” says Mark Lampert, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Freightliner trucks.

“We’ve specified the MBE900 as standard equipment in the new Business Class M2 because this engine delivers the power, fuel economy and day-to-day performance that our customers expect.”

As featured in the March issue of Truck News, MB medium-duty engines feature a competitive power-to-weight ratio and generate high torque levels at lower rpm levels. They achieve peak torque in a wide range from 1,100 to 1,800 rpm, which the builder insists offers good low-end driving and better hill climbing without requiring frequent shifts.

Blowing away previous Business Class heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, the retooled design eliminates binding cables replacing them with electronically controlled “smart switches.” The new blend air platform delivers not only increased personal comfort but faster, more complete front and side window defrosting.

The smart move

Built for maximum uptime, Freightliner insists toughness and durability were not sacrificed in the M2’s construction. Simply walking up and closing the driver-side door with a single finger results in a resounding whomp of confidence that only comes from observing a tight truck.

“With their rugged design, redundant seals and steel re-enforcement, Business Class M2 doors are designed to stand up to the daily pounding,” explains von Mayenburg.

Throughout the unit, the manufacturer has employed components and features to resist damage and corrosion. Highlights include corrosion-resistant aluminum fuel tanks, a covered plastic battery box, powder-coated steps, composite headlamp covers resistant to chipping and breakage and breakaway mirrors.

Red reading lamps inside the cab – a design borrowed from aircraft engineers – allows the driver ample light to review a map or directions in night driving applications without impacting the eye’s iris protecting most imperative night vision.

If buying an M2 is in fact, ‘the smart move,’ as Freightliner’s marketing team suggests, then it is probably fair to say the real brains behind this truck is its fully multiplexed electrical system. Although it’s the truck maker’s first crack at a system like this, it truly is an engineering masterpiece.

Multiple electrical signals are carried along a simplified set of wires, eliminating large wiring bundles. The system also features intelligent controls, which allow technicians to quickly pinpoint any problems easily using ServiceLink – Freightliner’s advanced diagnostic software.

Driving around Phoenix with development engineer Paul Johnson in a prototype beverage truck, he explained the rigors the company has gone through in testing the new system.

“We cold tested the multiplexing system down to -40*F,” he explains. “Components inside the engine have been tested to temperatures as high as 212*F and outside the engine to 185*F.”

Riding in style

Building on recent trends in the medium-duty marketplace, Freightliner has been sure to give the Business Class M2 a distinct look to carry with it on the road.

“We styled the Business Class M2 to be a source of pride for the truck’s owner and its driver,” says von Mayenburg.

A sloping aerodynamic hood (some models actually have almost the same hood height as a Dodge Ram), combined with a stylized air-intake, optional chrome grille and redesigned headlights give the truck a chic, albeit somewhat familiar, look.

Another recent trend in the mid-range market has been to reduce the number of configurations available – allowing the manufacturer to maximize efficiencies in the manufacturing process. Freightliner insists it will not be going this route.

“We can’t give up on the small markets,” says Lampert, insisting the company is very reliant on, and thus in tune with the needs of, small niche carriers.

“At Freightliner, we remain the best choice for customized equipment.”

The only knock against the new M2 design might be the access to the windshield washer reservoir: it’s inside the passenger door at a bit of an awkward angle. Fortunately more often than not, fluid suppliers now package their wares in containers designed to reach into these tight spots. Engineers are also quick to point out the design enables a driver to do a quick finger check to ensure the proper level of juice before hitting the road.

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