Market movers

by James Menzies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The trend towards faster axle ratios and slower engine speeds will continue, and the adoption of 6×2 axles is likely to slow.

Those are a couple observations John Nelligan, head of sales and service for Meritor, shared in a one-on-one interview with Truck News at the Technology & Maintenance Council’s spring meeting.

“We are seeing faster ratios and slower engine speeds and that movement is gaining speed,” Nelligan said. “It’s amazing how fast ratios are coming down and how far they are coming down. We introduced a 2.47 ratio in 2011 and the number of those units went from 2% then, to the vast majority now.”

Nelligan said this is being driven primarily by the large fleets employing downspeeding, which small fleets are also adopting. And ratios are likely to get lower still.

“The industry is talking about, and has a path to, ratios as fast as 1.80,” Nelligan said, noting that’s likely about five years away.

The challenge this creates, is that trucks employing downspeeding become less versatile, especially in Canada which handles heavier payloads not always compatible with fast axle ratios and slower engine speeds. Nelligan said fleets may have to start spec’ing trucks to run specific lanes.

“It’s not a great spec’ for east-west,” Nelligan said of downsped powertrains. “It’s a good spec’ for north-south. It’s not a truck you can do much else with. It really can’t do P&D, and you can’t go east-west with it one day and north-south the next day. In the old days you could put 425 hp in the truck and run the mountains or run north-south, but those days are going away.”

Nelligan said Canadian fleets may have to spec’ certain trucks to run east-west and others to run north-south, if they wish to take full advantage of the benefits of downspeeding.

Downsped powertrains are generally only approved for GCWs of 80,000 lbs.

“We’re really seeing them decide what their core business is and the trucks that are going to be slotted into those aren’t going to be able to do multiple jobs like they used to. That is going to be a continuing trend,” Nelligan predicted.

On the subject of trends, the excitement over 6×2 axles seems to be waning. Nelligan said as the efficiency of 6x4s improves, there’s less reason to sacrifice traction and potentially residual value by spec’ing 6x2s. A report by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE) suggested the use of 6x2s would double every two years, but Nelligan said that’s no longer expected. NACFE agrees and is planning to re-issue the report.

“There are three reasons,” Nelligan said of the reduced interest in 6x2s. “A lot of fleets have tried them and seen the drivers in cold weather don’t like the traction. The second is, residual is an unknown. Units are expected to come in at a much lower value than a full tandem. But also, if you look at where tandems are today, their efficiency is not far off. When we started this, a 6×4 was 94-95% efficient and a 6×2 could be 98% efficient. Now we are at 97% with a tandem. We still believe for certain fleets, the best solution is a 6×2.”

On the other hand, interest in disc brakes continues to rise.

“We are seeing disc brakes really starting to be adopted in a much faster manner than we’ve seen,” he said.

Nelligan said Meritor is working to optimize its disc brake offerings, which will reduce weight.

“The products we have as an industry still need to be optimized,” he admitted.

On a whole, Nelligan said he likes where Meritor is positioned. It’s in the midst of a major product overhaul and has grown its axle business from a presence in about 50% of the total Class 8 market about five years ago to about 70% today.

“Seven out of 10 Class 8 trucks are spec’d with a Meritor axle,” Nelligan said. Asked how the company has been able to grow its share, Nelligan credited the investment in its field support team and its focus on technology. This includes the launch of the 14X tandem axle, which was developed when Meritor was under severe financial duress during the economic collapse of 2008-2009.

“There has been a product drive with this company, to say we are going to be the leaders in technology in our space,” he said. “If you’re going to battle vertical integration, you need to have better products. We get up every morning and think axles, brakes and drivelines.”

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