CALGARY, Alta. - When Kenworth Toronto took delivery of its very first Kenworth T600 20 years ago, the first thoughts to cross sales manager Gary Crudge's mind was: "How are we going to sell something...
NICE NOSE: Kenworth dealers were introduced to the T600 in 1985. By the end of that year, the new model represented almost 40 per cent of Kenworth’s new business.
CONVERTED: Kenworth’s first T600 fleet customer was Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI) in Joplin, Mo. CFI chairman and CEO Glenn Brown is shown here with the company’s original T600 purchased in 1985, at right, and one of the company’s new 2006 Model T600s with new cab interior, at left. CFI has more than 1,600 Kenworth T600s in its fleet today.
CALGARY, Alta. – When Kenworth Toronto took delivery of its very first Kenworth T600 20 years ago, the first thoughts to cross sales manager Gary Crudge’s mind was: “How are we going to sell something that looks like this?”
The T600’s sloped hood was a drastic departure from the cabover engines and long, square noses that ruled the road at that time. It wasn’t long before the truck was being referred to as ‘The Anteater’ and ‘Vacuum Cleaner.’ After all, aerodynamics were essentially an afterthought for most truckers at the time.
Across the country, truck enthusiasts were equally baffled by the new-look Kenworth. Calgary owner/operator Gord Cooper remembers seeing the T600 for the first time in the corner of S&M (now Greatwest) Kenworth’s lot. That truck helped fuel Cooper’s interest in Kenworth and he’s now widely known as one of the most passionate Kenworth enthusiasts in the West.
“The T600 really sparked my interest, especially with the daylight windows in the side of the cab,” Cooper says.
That same truck was also the first one S&M salesman Norm Gossett laid eyes on.
“Sure, there were some traditional W900 guys wondering where Kenworth was going,” he recalls. “But overall, I think it was fairly well-accepted by the majority of our customers. When you started talking about fuel economy, it got their interest.”
Kenworth Toronto’s Crudge says fuel economy represented only about 10 per cent of an owner/operator’s cost when the T600 made its debut in 1985. While the cost of fuel was not nearly as high as it is today, it still represented a significant concern for some truckers who were willing to give the truck a shot, despite its peculiar appearance.
“Everyone was pretty astounded when we first saw it,” says Crudge. “But almost overnight it became half our sales.”
He says the key to selling the T600 was getting drivers behind the wheel. Even the most skeptical customers could appreciate the improved sightlines and enhanced ride resulting from its longer front springs.
“The big thing was, you had to take the customer and put him in it and get him to drive it,” says Crudge. “He could finally see something in front of him and it turned on a dime.”
The turning radius of the T600 was 23 per cent less than other conventional trucks, allowing drivers to get into places they previously could not.
And it didn’t take long for drivers to realize they were improving their fuel mileage – by half a gallon or more.
“In just two years, it became 50 per cent of our sales,” says Crudge, noting the T600 still represents about 35 per cent of Kenworth Toronto’s sales. Other dealers also reported T600 sales were accounting for more than 40 per cent of their business.
The T600 was the brainchild of a small team of Kenworth engineers who used wood and wax models to test various shapes and configurations of trucks at the University of Washington’s Seattle wind tunnel. By the early 1980s, the team had built a prototype and testing “confirmed the whole idea of aerodynamics and fuel economy,” the late Larry Orr said in a 1997 interview.
In addition to the sloped hood, the T600 also featured a set-back front axle, 64-inch taper leaf springs and a 50 per cent reduction in splash and spray.
The very first T600 to rack up real-world miles belonged to Glenn Brown of Contract Freighters Inc.
“I recognized that it was innovative and different,” Brown remembers.
“We were looking for ways to improve our efficiencies and decided to order 100 of the trucks. We were hoping the design of the T600 was something we could use to get a head start on the rest of the industry. It was definitely a gamble to be the first in the market to put the truck on the road, but it proved out.”
He said the fleet improved its fuel mileage by 1.5 mpg. The company now has more than 1,600 T600s in its fleet, including the original.
Another early customer was Don Digby Jr. of Denver-based Navajo Shippers/Digby Truckline.
“When the T600 first came out, I thought ‘Cool!'” Digby recalls. “It had a different look and was making commotion in the trucking industry. Back then, we weren’t as concerned about fuel economy as we are now. With the price of diesel today, fuel expenses represent 36 per cent of our total revenue. That’s huge.”
By the mid-1990s, the T600 and its slope nosed cousin the T800 accounted for more than half of Kenworth’s production.
To date, more than 108,000 T600s have been sold across North America. The truck has received the U.S. Department of Transportation’s national award for the Advancement of Motor Vehicle Research and Development and it was the 250,000th truck to roll off Kenworth’s Chillicothe, Ohio assembly plant.
Throughout the last 20 years, the T600 has certainly earned the respect of the industry. You don’t hear many people call it ‘The Anteater’ anymore.