CHARLOTTE, N.C. - What's the chance of a snooty editor liking a fleet-spec road tractor better than most of the others he drove in a multi-truck demonstration?Not very good, but who cares? The importa...
SMOOTH RIDE: The pumpkin drivers have it pretty good behind the wheel, suggests Berg. Photo by Tom Berg
NEW ERA: EGR is here to stay and it’s really not that bad.Photo by Tom Berg
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – What’s the chance of a snooty editor liking a fleet-spec road tractor better than most of the others he drove in a multi-truck demonstration?
Not very good, but who cares? The important thing is what real drivers and owners think about the trucks.
And Freightliner LLC, which set up a demo late last summer, wants you to know that there’s nothing to fear from the 2003-model diesels it hopes to be selling you.
The corporation’s truck-building arms, Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star, will offer the Detroit Series 60, plus the Mercedes-Benz MBE4000 diesel, a non-EGR’d model available from the three sister builders, and Caterpillar Clean Power diesels, which also do not have EGR.
There were no Cats among the five available trucks in the demo, and only one Detroit.
The others had the new Mercedes-Benz 4000, which Freightliner executives are pushing because it’s made by a sister company.
Like the other CDL-holding editors on this jaunt, I drove four of the five trucks available because there were just four scheduled legs on the Interstate highway route between suburban Charlotte and the outskirts of Ashville, in the mountains of western North Carolina.
My four assigned vehicles were (in order of driving):
Sterling L-line dump truck with a non-EGR’d MBE4000 engine;
Freightliner Columbia tractor, also with an MBE4000;
Freightliner Century S/T with an EGR’d Detroit Series 60; and
A second Century S/T with an MBE4000.
There was also a Western Star 4900 tractor with another MBE4000, but I didn’t get to drive it.
The four rigs hauled light to moderate loads, which gave us some idea of how the engines behaved.
All ran smoothly and the M-B diesels were rather quiet, just like the execs said.
The trucks themselves had distinct personalities: The ‘Star reeked of class, but alas, I didn’t drive it.
Freightliner’s Century could be called the Fleetliner, given its mostly fleet buyership, but they were nonetheless nice.
And the Ontario-built Sterling is a big, comfortable Ford, which is a good thing, as Ford Heavies were some of the nicest driving trucks out there, and still are since Freightliner sung a song to buy them from FoMoCo about five years ago.
I was pleasantly surprised at the good ride, handling and comfort of the Series 60-powered Century owned by Schneider National.
I recall myself thinking, “Hey, these pumpkin drivers have it pretty good” (which pumpkin drivers may or may not agree with, but I was thinking only about the truck).
I was thinking that as I climbed a six per cent grade in eighth gear (out of 10) at 1,300 rpm and about 45 mph, with the Dee-troit Dee-sel growling smoothly and the coolant temperature gauge not seeming to care about all that scorching heat supposedly in the engine block from the EGR system, or the fatigue-inducing (to humans) temp and humidity outside (high 80s both ways).
With the A/C set to compensate, I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Chuck Blake, a DDC senior applications engineer, was along to answer questions.
He asked at least one (albeit rhetorically):
“What’s the mileage on this? – 87,000 – and it’s still running good. I don’t think this one has given Schneider any trouble at all.”
He was referring to the fears of Schneider National and other fleets over the unknowns of EGR.
Schneider has been testing this tractor and one or two others with Detroit’s Series 60, plus others with the MBE4000.
It’s trying to pile on mileage fast.
This ’02-model tractor, repowered last spring with the EGR’d S60, came briefly out of team service, Blake said.
Don Schneider, the Green Bay-based company’s chairman, has led a letter-writing campaign against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “pull-ahead” (by 15 months, to Oct. 1) of its latest emissions deadline.
He and many other fleet execs contend that they don’t have enough time to test the ’03 diesels, with and without EGR, to know how they’ll hold up.
DDC’s Blake acknowledges that 87,000 miles isn’t a lot for an engine meant to go one million, but also notes that Detroit has about 2,500 EGR’d Series 50s, the 8.5-litre, four-cylinder version of the 12.7-litre S60, running in city transit buses – just about the toughest application in any town.
I talked with two bus-fleet managers who maintain some of those engines, and they said that overall they’re running pretty well.
Turbine shafts have broken in both EGR and non-EGR S50s, so the problems are not related to the EGR systems, whose gas coolers, valves, sensors and electronic controls are holding up well following some tweaks by Detroit engineers.
A redesign of the turbo shafts solved that weakness.
New engines run well
The point of the Carolina demo was that the new engines should not be feared – that the engines run well and are durable.
Run well they did, but a half day’s experience can’t qualify me to testify to any durability, and fleets will need another year or two to run the mills through their on-road wringers.
I liked the other Century S/T even more, mainly because of its slick-shifting Eaton Lightning 10-speed (and I never even used its Top 2 feature) with nice, tight linkage (better than on most Freightliners).
Its 12.8-litre Mercedes, by the way, feels like a Cat C12 with the same throaty exhaust note, but is mechanically quieter.
Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star will be standard with the MBE4000 (in heavies) and the MBE900 (in mediums).
The 4000 will cost about US$5,000 less per truck than the other engines because M-B wasn’t nailed by EPA, and doesn’t need to use expensive EGR until January ’04.
The M-Bs are made in Brazil.
Next up engine-wise is Detroit’s 12.7-liter EGR’d Series 60 (or S50 in specialty trucks).
The 15-liter model is on hold for a while.
Detroit Diesel is a sister to Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner LLC (all these companies, as you probably know, are owned by DaimlerChrysler of Germany), and Detroit will back the M-B engines with parts and service.
Their third choice is Caterpillar’s non-EGR’d (but exhaust-aftertreated) Clean Power range, including the heavy duty C10, C12 and C15, and the medium-duty 3126E (which may soon be renamed the C7).
Clean is costly
There’s no C16 for a while.
The heavy models don’t quite meet the exhaust limits, so Cat will pay about $4,000 per engine to EPA in penalties until the fully compliant ACERTed versions are ready next year.
Cat has raised prices, as has Detroit, to pay for the many millions of dollars in development costs.
So, you pay your money and take your choice.
Or not, which is what a lot of truckers are opting to do.
Truck and component makers are slowing production until customers get more comfortable with the idea of the new diesel engines.
Or at least until they find that they’ve got to buy some anyways, just to haul freight.
’02 Freightliner Century S/T, w/ 70-in. Raised Roof SleeperCab on air-ride, BBC 120 inches
Detroit Diesel Series 60 w/ EGR, 375 hp @ 2,100 rpm, 1,550 lbs.-ft. @ 1,200, w/ Jake Brake
Eaton Fuller FR-14210B w/ direct-drive 10th
12,000-lb. Hendrickson SteerTec air-ride
40,000-lb. Eaton RT-40-145A on Freightliner Airide, w/ 2.79 ratio
Twin 100-gal. aluminum
Tires and wheels:
295/75R22.5 Goodyear G159 front, G302 rear, on aluminum discs