TRUCK TRACKS

Dec. 28, 2000
The 25th anniversary of the Mid-America Trucking Show, held in Louisville, Ky., earlier this spring, solidified its standing as the nation's largest exposition of the vehicles, their components and the services which back them up. Nearly two-dozen new-model heavy trucks were on display in large numbers.
The 25th anniversary of the Mid-America Trucking Show, held in Louisville, Ky., earlier this spring, solidified its standing as the nation's largest exposition of the vehicles, their components and the services which back them up. Nearly two-dozen new-model heavy trucks were on display in large numbers. Technical advances-especially from improved electronics-plus gains in aerodynamic styling, to reduce drag and save fuel, stood out.

If anything, the trucks took a back seat to a long list of new and more helpful components that should make truck operation easier as they come into wide use. Diesel engines; transmissions; clutches; air suspensions, which are enjoying a sales boom right now; and brake hardware, led by ABS systems with electronic controls that provide antilock capability, vied for a share of the show spotlight.

For those looking for something that is better in a different way, two diesel engine suppliers, Caterpillar and Mack, made news in Louisville.

The diesel engine field has experienced a horsepower race recently. About a year ago, Caterpillar engine division moved into first place with a 550 hp diesel. This spring's offerings included the C-10 diesel with a top rating of 370 horses and a C-12 engine with power up to a 410 rating.

Caterpillar said the diesels have a large number of the new features that have proved popular in the line's engines in the recent past, especially electronic controls. They appeared to be what many operators need for specialized niches in the market.

The major engine modification plan at Mack, for this year, included component changes and software modifications for the V-Mac II electronic-control system for the company's E7 diesel. New and more efficient Schwitzer turbochargers, a new, high-efficiency camshaft and a high-capacity engine block made of changed materials lead the component alterations. Software modifications include a theft deterrent, added trip-recorder functions and improved on-off fan control. Mack said the modifications should deliver a 1%­p;3% fuel-efficiency gain.

There was a time when producers of transmissions for big trucks consisted of the makers of manually shifted gear boxes and the Allison Division of General Motors, which made automatic transmissions.

A growing scarcity of drivers skilled enough to handle manual transmissions plus other factors have been pushing the trend toward various forms of automatic, easy shifters. In the spotlight at the Eaton Fuller display at Mid-America was the Super 10 Top 2, a 10-speed transmission in which the top two gears shift automatically.

The bulk of the shifting in over-the-road heavy trucks is done in the top two gears. The recent past has seen Eaton's arch competitor, Dana-Spicer, add a box with a similar top-two-gears automatic feature. While this was happening, Eaton was making other moves into the automatic field.

Eaton's Top 2 relies on the engine's electronic-control module for management of shifting, a setup which holds down the cost of the transmission. Improved fuel economy was listed among the other benefits of the Top 2.

Meanwhile at Allison, they are earning extra attention with the new family of World Transmissions. At Mid-America, Allison introduced a special version of its MD 3066 automatic, which is rated upward to work with engines up to 360 hp.

Upcoming federal regulations have a way of dominating the outlook for truck-related products. Major items effecting the industry this year include a rule that calls for under-ride guards on large trailers in 1996 and regulations that will put electronically controlled antilock brakes (ABS) on all big trucks by 1999. The devices are mandated to go on air-braked tractors in 1997, a year that is the equivalent of tomorrow in truck design work.

When first proposed in the '70s, underride guards, designed to prevent car operators from crashing their vehicles under the rears of big vehicles, met with a great deal of protest. The passage of time and a spirit of cooperation among operators, regulators and manufacturers seems to have calmed the protests. To listen to the discussions at the show, it sounds like the truck and trailer operators designed the guards themselves.

Antilock brakes or ABS have an even stormier past. They were ordered on all air-braked vehicles in 1975 and found wanting. Producers said that regulators required the use of ABS systems before they were fully developed and tested.

During the two decades when ABS systems were not required, producers worked hard to perfect new hardware, and now current offerings are set for a comeback starting in March 1997. The four likely producers say the bugs have been cleared out and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association confirms this.

Leonard C. Buckman, president and general manager of Rockwell WABCO Vehicle Control Systems, a supplier of ABS systems, stated, "We are confident we have done the development work, and completed the testing, to have no fears about standing behind our products".

Because trucks with hydraulic brakes never became part of the 1975 ABS troubles here, Buckman was asked how hydraulic ABS setups will fare when required on big trucks here in 1999. "We have complete confidence in our hydraulic systems," he said. "WABCO, the partner in our joint venture, got a great deal of experience with hydraulic ABS in Europe while few were being sold here. They helped us develop sound offerings."