Coming to terms with the death of the long-nose classic truck
August 1, 2013
The trucking industry is unique in the business world in that it hasn’t really moved with the times. One of the most commonly uttered phrases is “That’s how we’ve always done it.’ However, there are now far better...
The trucking industry is unique in the business world in that it hasn’t really moved with the times. One of the most commonly uttered phrases is “That’s how we’ve always done it.’ However, there are now far better ways to do things and the people within the industry are more accepting of change than at any time in the past. Not because they want to be, but because things are moving so fast that they have to be.
Things like satellite tracking and communication systems have shown that modern technology can have a positive effect on an operation and have paved the way for technology in trucks that can also bring benefits.
Electronic diesel control has revolutionized the diesel engine, automated manual transmissions are now widely accepted, disc brakes are starting to reappear in good numbers and buyers are starting to take notice of fuel consumption, now that fuel prices have risen to the point that they sometimes represent the largest operating cost. In competition with fuel costs are driver wages, as the impact of the driver shortage is being felt more and more, trucking companies are raising wages in the hope of retaining existing and recruiting new drivers.
So now is a great time to be buying new trucks, compared to an older truck; operating costs are lower, due to the increased productivity the newer technology brings. Yet so many people are concerned about the technology.
This is understandable to a degree; the added complications brought about by the ever-tightening emission controls on diesel engines have not been without problems. However they have mostly been addressed now. EGR has been with us for over 10 years, the DPF has been around for six years and the latest addition, SCR has been on North American engines for three years although the technology has been in use on European engines for eight years. The initial teething problems that these technologies experienced have been overcome. Sure there will be the odd problem, the truck that doesn’t break down has yet to be invented and I doubt that it ever will.
Some of the engines on the market have been designed with EGR, DPF and SCR in mind, so rather than being a bolt-on addition, it is all now an integral part of the engine. Manufacturing tolerances and the use of new materials have also helped overcome some of the issues and every day there are giant leaps being made in electronics. Engine manufacturers have had a Mount Everest to climb by trying to keep everybody happy. The vehicle operators want a reliable, economical truck, the government and mankind want to breathe air that doesn’t kill them. In some respects it is like trying to make a three-pound bacon burger with extra cheese that makes you lose weight; quite a challenge when you think about it.
Not only have the engine manufacturers made huge advances in performance and reliability, the component suppliers have, too. There used be a time, not so long ago when you bought a truck that the choices were endless: engines, transmissions, axles, suspensions could all mixed and matched, but now there is more vertical integration and it makes total sense. Some manufacturers build their own range of engines and transmissions, some go further and build axles and suspension too.
All of this means that with modern electronics, each individual part can work in harmony with the others. It isn’t just the vertically integrated manufacturers doing this either. Loose transmission suppliers work very closely with the engine manufacturers to ensure that everything works as efficiently as possible. Hundreds of messages are sent between the two every second to ensure optimum efficiency and it doesn’t stop there. Intelligent cruise control – some even linked to GPS and electronic braking systems – is helping to make driving truck a pleasure. I often hear drivers saying their truck rides like a Cadillac, well now that is not an exaggeration, they really do.
Compared with a turn-of-the-century truck, a new truck today has improved dramatically in every way. From a driver’s perspective, they are roomier, quieter, offer greater visibility, far more comfortable, more luxurious and so much easier to drive. From an operator’s point of view, they are far more fuel-efficient, have longer service intervals and even though the cost has increased, in real terms, when you take into consideration just how much more you get for your money now, they’re almost giving them away. The fuel savings alone can take care of the payments in some cases.
I’ve run the numbers on all of this. As much as I love driving my old classic long-nose truck – it’s been a lifelong dream of mine after all – it just wouldn’t make sense to buy one. At present day fuel prices, the new, far more expensive truck would be cheaper to own and operate over a three-year period; after that the new truck pulls further ahead with each fill-up and if, or should that be when, fuel prices rise again, the point where the new truck passes the old classic gets closer and closer.
I’m kind of sad about that. It’s the end of an era, an era that I’ve only recently become a part of. But I’ve been there now, the honeymoon is over, it’s time I started looking to the future and not living in the past. For now I’ll be looking at the future over a large hood, but that will surely change sometime soon and I’m ready for it.