Freightliner expands vocational line to fill Sterling’s void

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A (trucking) tool for every job. That was the theme of a recent Freightliner press event in which the company introduced two trucks and proclaimed its recommitment to the diverse and sometimes complex vocational marketplace.

The new models, 108SD and 114SD set-back axle – the numbers indicate bumper-to-back-of-cab (BBC) measurements – expand Freightliner’s severe-duty (SD) family from two to four vehicles. (A Coronado SD was introduced in 2009 and a 114SD set-forward-axle was introduced earlier this year).

The additional iron will enable Freightliner to serve a full range of Classes 7 and 8 vocational market segments, from construction to logging, municipal to utilities and refuse. It was not coincidental that the company’s event was held in Las Vegas on the eve of the massive Conexpo-Con/Agg show, North America’s largest trade show for the construction industry.

Of course, Freightliner has offered vocational products in the past, with varying degrees of success. During the late 1980s, the company began selling a steel cab version of its FLC model. A few years later, it introduced a FLD 112SD and FLD 120SD, both adaptations of better selling, and similarly named, on-highway models.

The manufacturer purchased Ford’s heavy truck line in the late 1990s and renamed it Sterling, hoping to capitalize on the blue oval’s popularity among vocational buyers, especially governmental agencies. That effort fell short of expectations, however, and Daimler Trucks North America pulled the corporate plug in late 2008, as the US economy headed for recession and more stringent emissions requirements loomed on the horizon.

Company officials were determined to get back in the game, though.

“When these decisions were made, we committed to return to the market with a complete product portfolio that would close the gap left by Sterling’s exit,” said David Hames, general manager of marketing and strategy for DTNA.

The reintroduction of Freightliner’s SD designation began in late 2009, when the company rolled out the Coronado SD.

It featured a durable fiberglass hood, impact-absorbing fenders, improved forward lighting and a new single air filter that reportedly offered better filtration.

The cab doors, composed of an aluminum outer shell and steel inner reinforcement, were said to be more rugged than those found on the truck’s on-highway sibling.

In January, the company publicly doubled its SD lineup when it launched the 114SD set-forward axle. Company officials said this truck was intended to fill a gap in Freightliner’s product line between the M2 series, from which it borrowed a cab, and the Coronado SD, from which it borrowed a chassis. The truck’s extra two inches of BBC, relative to that of the M2 112, was designed to provide enough spacing between front and rear axles to meet certain states’ bridge laws. The front axle, with weight ratings up to 23,000 lbs, was available in one of two positions: 29.5 inches or 31 inches (measured from the bumper). The standard engine was a Detroit Diesel DD13 (rated at 350 hp and 1,350 lb.-ft. of torque). A 450-hp rating was optional. Later in the year, company officials said, buyers could choose from an 8.9-litre Cummins ISL (with ratings up to 350 hp) or the lighter 8.3-litre Cummins ISC.

The most recent SD “family” expansion includes all previously announced features and adds greater vehicular selection to the mix. Now the 114SD is available in a set-back axle configuration – 48 inches from the front bumper is standard – and a new model, the 108SD, fills out the lighter end of Freightliner’s severe-duty spectrum.

A broad range of options and customizing choices define the SD product line-up. These include front frame extensions, radiator-mounted grilles, hood hatches, front and rear engine power-take-offs, body specific chassis layouts and a wide assortment of suspension and powertrain choices, including alternative-fuel engines that run on compressed or liquefied natural gas.

The 108SD can be built with front axle ratings from 10,000 to 20,000 lbs, and single or tandem rear axles from 21,000 to 46,000 lbs. It will sport Cummins ISB or ISC engines (from 200 to 350 hp and 520 to 1,000 lb.-ft. of torque). Buyers can also choose from a day cab, extended cab or crew cab. The 108SD is intended for work in government, refuse, construction and utilities applications. GVW ranges from 31,000 lbs to 66,000 lbs. This particular unit will begin production in the late fourth quarter of 2011, about the same time as the 114SD set-back axle. The set-forward 114SD is available now.

The breadth of SD versatility was on display at the pre-ConExpo event in mid-March. Freightliner officials had set up a cone-studded obstacle course of tight switchbacks, swooping turns and straight acceleration lanes. Attending journalists were invited to drive, or ride in, any of eight rigs built as snowplows, dump trucks, cement mixers and municipal drain cleaners (affectionately referred to as “super suckers”). Everyone seemed quite impressed with the fleet’s maneuverability, handling and performance.

One 114SD set-forward axle fitted with a crane was stationary, but media members were encouraged to play with the joystick-operated boom and experience the apparently seamless communication between truck and body equipment controls.

Freightliner officials attribute this integration to the company’s proprietary SmartPlex multiplex electrical system, which is said to simplify and enhance the connections required by body manufacturers.

Throughout the event in Las Vegas, executives expressed their commitment to the vocational market and their interest in building trucks that precisely meet the needs of both equipment manufacturers and end users.

It’s all about working smarter, they said, echoing the company’s recently coined tag line: WorkSmart.

“We recognize that, to be in the vocational business, it’s not enough to just provide a truck,” Hames said. “You need to be a partner to the industry and understand that only the completed piece of equipment provides value to the end user. We have challenged ourselves to change how we do business in this market. Our goal is to become the best chassis partner to the industry by providing smart solutions.”

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