Kenworth road show introduces new T880 vocational product

by Jim Bray

CALGARY, Alta. – Kenworth’s T880/T680 Road Show stopped at Greatwest Kenworth in Calgary recently, providing local drivers and fleet owners with their first glimpse at the company’s latest offerings.

The road show, which includes a trailerful of info and a couple of real-life samples, is a way for the company and its dealers to give potential customers (and truck nuts in general) an up close and early look at the T880 before its wide availability next year.

Truck West caught up with Greatwest Kenworth’s Corey Prediger when the caravan rolled through Calgary, an event that gave Greatwest an excuse to fire up the barbecues, while some 300 guests got to see the latest and greatest in Kenworth’s vocational line.

“Last year we did the T680 road show which was the introduction of our on-highway model,” Prediger said, “so this is just a natural progression, moving from our highway equipment into our vocational side.”

Accompanying the display trailer were a pair of T880’s (which in Calgary consisted of a dump truck and a flatbed truck) and some corporate folk who were available to answer questions from a guest list Prediger said the dealership culled mostly from its oil and gas and construction sector customers. Guests could take a walk-around of the units as well as climb into the cab to get a feel for the new design.

The T880 is a major upgrade to Kenworth’s popular T800, a truck that served customers well for decades. Prediger said the new truck isn’t just an upgrade, however; it’s also a way to help companies fill empty drivers’ seats – by introducing a variety of new features designed to improve on-road comfort and safety as well as upgrading the overall driving experience itself.

“The industry has really been pushing towards having more room, more space, more creature comforts for drivers,” he said, “and being it’s so difficult to find drivers in the industry now, (Kenworth) really wanted to push towards that.”

One step Kenworth took with the T880 was to shorten the bumper to back of cab (BBC) specification. “What that means to operators is better visibility, a tighter turning radius, and just a little more compact package,” Prediger said, noting that despite the shorter bumper and axle settings, there are no changes to the cab size itself.

The T880 also offers a larger windshield, and the outside mirrors have been moved off of the doors. “Kenworth wanted to increase the visibility from our cab, so our windshield is actually 45% larger than the current model,” Prediger said. He admitted the new, bonded style windshield actually takes longer to replace, but said the increased visibility it offers was more important to the company.

As for the mirrors, they’re now cowl-mounted, moving the mirror package forward so the driver doesn’t have to turn their head as far to each side to see them.

“It’s just a quick glance to the left or the right,” Prediger pointed out. The new location also means that when you open the door, the mirror stays put. “You can actually continue to see behind the vehicle when the door’s open,” Prediger said, adding that, “if you had a door-mounted mirror, it would be useless.”

Inside the cab, the doors sport new handles and a two-piece hinge design. Prediger said the new door configuration also helps offer better sealing and a quieter drive.

“We’ve got door rubbers actually on the door itself,” he said, “and the system offers substantially more sound attenuation, which really decreases the exterior noise inside the cab. It’s incredible how quiet it is – it’s like a luxury car – even on the highway.”

As far as drivability is concerned, “Everything we’ve done on this cab has really been to increase driver comfort and to make it easier to drive,” Prediger said. “The functionality of switches and gauges and everything else has been tailored to help the drivers perform their tasks in a much more efficient fashion, and to be comfortable as well. We really wanted to make the driving experience better.”

That includes a new, air-assisted, hydraulically-activated clutch Prediger said will help make the T880 nicer to drive, an especially handy feature for drivers who spend a lot of time in stop-and-go traffic.

Kenworth has also gone to a five-piece hood design with the T880.

“The issue to the owner and operator is serviceability,” Prediger said, “especially in vocational applications where you get into some tight and messy areas. If there is an issue with a hood piece, it’s easily replaced.”

Reflector-style headlights replace the old seal beam style headlamps, too. There’s no xenon option yet, but Prediger said it’ll probably be available “in the next year or so.”

Coming up with the new design apparently required Kenworth to do some cat herding.

“They took a number of people from different aspects of the trucking industry – and they all had different ideas – and this is what they all came up with,” Prediger said. He noted that the company spent millions of dollars developing a cab model in which they could actually move different pieces around, so drivers could sit in it, try things out, and give their feedback to, as he put it, “come up with the ultimate design.”

That “ultimate design” can include a new, 52-inch sleeper Kenworth is making available for both the T680 and the T880.

“It’s really about creature comforts and features, trying to make it more home-like for drivers,” Prediger said. “They spend so much time in these units and we want to try to make it comfortable for them.”

The sleeper should be available as an optional feature on the T880 in the first quarter of 2014.

Prediger also pointed out the company, which is celebrating its 90th anniversary, wanted to honour the new truck’s heritage by connecting it to its older trucks.

“That’s why we have bright grille work, the large Kenworth emblem on the front of the hood and the stainless steel surround,” he said. “You can see that it still has that very stout stance to it, it’s a little wider hood than the 680 package, but still maintains that vocational look to it.”

The new truck also takes advantage of some state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies to create efficiencies and flexibility.

“Our cab now is designed to go into a jig set up inside of our factory, which allows us to assemble our cab without manual labour in significantly less time,” Prediger said, claiming the machine can create a set-up for the cab in about 15 minutes.

But just because it’s put together in great part by robots, that doesn’t necessarily mean customers will be confronted with cookie cutter cabs.

“Kenworth has always been known as a custom truck builder,” Prediger said. “We build to suit. We don’t just take a specific highway-style tractor or vocational-style tractor and try to wedge it into a slot that it shouldn’t be. You come to us with your specific problem and we build a chassis around that to solve that issue.”

Prediger said the T880 will go into full production this December, and should be available for delivery in January. That said, “We’re ready to take orders now.”

The Calgary road show appearance followed one in Langley, B.C., and from Calgary it headed to Edmonton, followed by Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. After that, the caravan will take a quick trip below the 49th parallel before heading back to Ontario and Quebec and then swing south again to wrap up in Greensboro, N.C. in mid-December.

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