TRUCK TRACKS

TRUCK TRACKS

Ken Kelley / December 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. 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%&shyp;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."

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