CHARLOTTE, N.C. – With its sleek lines, bold stance and wide grille, Freightliner’s new Cascadia is about as aesthetically pleasing as they come.
But it’s the little things built into the truck to provide gains in productivity, ergonomics and comfort that will ultimately determine the success of Freightliner’s new Class 8 truck, slated to succeed the popular Columbia and Century class vehicles.
Freightliner unveiled the Cascadia to truck journalists at a recent press event in North Carolina. The truck has been engineered with 2010 in mind and is already compatible with SCR systems to be implemented in three years’ time. The company opted to roll the new model out well in advance of 2010 so customers can begin to recover some of the increased operating costs brought about by recent EPA emissions standards.
Built upon the Century class chassis, the aluminum cab is sturdy, yet light weight allowing for increased payload.
“We’ve abused these cabs quite a bit and they’re pretty stout,” said Keith Harrington, marketing manager of new product development with Freightliner.
To meet the cooling demands of the 2007 (and eventually 2010) engines, the grille has been enlarged to contain a 1,625 sq.-in. radiator. The rad will be widened to 1,755 sq.-in. in 2010 but it will fit within the same package, since the Cascadia was built to meet 2010 requirements.
Freightliner officials said the Cascadia is the company’s most aerodynamic truck ever. They’ve conducted extensive wind tunnel testing to improve aerodynamics by 20%, which translates into a 3% fuel mileage improvement, the company said.
Customers were interviewed extensively during the design process and their input was not ignored. One of the things they wanted was an easy-to-replace two-piece windshield. The Cascadia comes with a ‘roped-in’ windshield which is held in place by rubber gaskets. Since it’s not bonded in with glue, either pane can be replaced in as little as 16 minutes, Harrington said.
The rubber gasket that holds the windshield in place has been specially engineered to direct water up and over the cab rather than into the driver’s field of view. The mirrors also feature small grooves designed to direct water away from the windshield, improving visibility in the rain.
Freightliner has made hood-mounted mirrors standard on the Cascadia. About 80% of customers were spec’ing a hood-mounted mirror on the right-hand side with 60% opting for one on the left side as well. The hood-mounted mirrors can be folded down so they don’t get damaged in the truck wash. The aerodynamic side mirrors fold in for parking in tight spaces and to avoid damage when bumped.
The reflective headlights are simple, yet effective. The low- and high-beams as well as the road lights all use the same bulb, so fleets or drivers can stock just one bulb type. The bulb can be easily replaced without tools.
The battery has been moved forward so there’s a shorter run to the starter – a subtle change Harrington said will improve reliability. A three-piece front bumper allows for the replacement of just a single section when damaged.
In response to customer feedback, Freightliner spent a lot of time working on soundproofing the Cascadia’s cab.
“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort to reduce interior noise,” Harrington said. Thermal insulation and noise abatement material was generously distributed throughout the cab. The floor, side wall and back wall were all insulated and for the first time, so was the roof.
“As we quieted the cab, we found noises we never knew we had,” said Harrington, adding an insulated gearshift lever was even added to eliminate noise from the shifter. Also, the door and windows are double-sealed to keep out road noise. Noise-free material was used for the cabinets and engineers ensured every squeak and rattle was tracked down, isolated and eliminated.
A new HVAC system debuts on the Cascadia which improves airflow by 30%. It features a 20% larger condenser which Harrington said reduces system pressure, lowers operating temperatures and reduces fan-on time.
A new multiplexed electrical system is also standard. It’s programmable so fleets can customize it to their liking. For instance, they can program cruise control to shut down when the temperature reaches the freezing point to avoid spins or automatically shut off the rear lights at speeds of 10 mph or more.
“There are a lot of parameters we can set with a laptop,” Harrington said.
Inside the cab, Freightliner made some changes that reflect the fact today’s driver is typically larger than in past generations. In 1983, the average driver weighed 190 lbs while today’s average truck driver weighs in at 230 lbs, said Michael Delaney, senior vice-president of marketing with Freightliner.
“With studies showing that about 73% of drivers are on the larger side these days, it is clear that older interior sizes just don’t address the realities now,” he said.
The re-designed cab is 20% larger than that of the Columbia or Century class, featuring an extra 1.3″ of belly room. There’s two full feet between the seats, allowing for easy access to the sleeper cab. The seats themselves are also bigger – about two inches wider, two inches longer and two inches taller with longer ratchet-style armrests.
To reduce idling, Freightliner will be adding a battery-driven HVAC system that provides 8-10 hours of idle-free heating and cooling.
On the highway, the Cascadia delivered on everything Freightliner engineers had promised. The ride was extremely quiet – almost soundless when the truck was coasting. Interior noise was about 65 decibels while on the road, Freightliner officials said.
The wide, soft seats contributed to an overall improvement in driver comfort and the interior lighting has been improved over the Cascadia’s predecessors. There were also some pleasant surprises such as a button on the passenger side of the dash that, when pressed, revealed a small hook on which to hang a garbage bag. It’s a small detail, but one that drivers will appreciate.
Visibility from inside the cab was excellent, especially with the hood-mounted mirrors which will come standard on the Cascadia.
Truck makers don’t like to discuss price when introducing a new model. While officials did admit it will cost more than the Columbia or Century class vehicles, they are confident the value the new truck delivers to customers will more than make up for the increased purchase price. For more information on the Cascadia, visit www.drivecascadia.com.