Half a dozen new or heavily refined models had a turn in the spotlight this fall when the Great American Truck Show was inaugurated in Dallas. Among the manufacturers, Freightliner and Sterling, both subsidiaries of Mercedes-Benz, dominated the show. Stronger components and improved service plans from other producers were other show features.
Freightliner’s new Sterling subsidiary claimed that it now has 6%of the Class 8 market. Overall, Freightliner is shooting to have its two lines ranked first and second in sales volume of Class 4 through Class 8 trucks by expanding products, dealerships and geographic markets. A new mid-range Acterra series from Sterling was unveiled just one year after design work started. It combines a Freightliner Business Class chassis, Sterling cab and a new hood. Standard powerplant for Acterras will be the Mercedes Benz MBE900 engine, however Cummins and Caterpillar engines rated between 170 and 350 hp also will be available. The series will include 5500, 6500, 7500 and 8500 models, with hydraulic brakes available up through the 7500 units. A top rating of 64,000 lb gross will be available on 8500 models.
Sterling’s Silverstar tractor now carries a new grille design that incorporates the full "Sterling" name in bright chrome letters. A new "Stellar" premium trim package has been introduced on Silverstars that includes Freightliner’s new proprietary EZ Rider seat. Beginning in early 2000, Eaton’s AutoShift transmission will be a standard offering along with the SmartShift column-mounted shifter.
Sterling will continue to expand its St. Thomas, Ontario, plant to meet production needs. Currently, output is at 120 trucks per day, although plans call for increasing that to 170. To sell the new Acterra trucks, dealers are being required to provide a stand-alone Sterling location. Other news includes a hint of two more Sterling product introductions in the next 12-18 months and a continuing short supply of automatic transmissions in the medium-duty range. Sterling says it has 6,500 trucks on the order board that can’t be scheduled for production due to a lack of Allison automatic transmissions.
Projections by Freightliner’s CEO Jim Hebe include industry total sales of 260,000 Class 8 models in 1999, with the possibility of a slight downturn in 2000. Freightliner’s 1999 sales are pegged at 200,000 units for all classes. The company’s market share has risen to 388 representing a 262improvement over the last 12 months.
Freightliner sees fleet operating costs, including driver wages, continuing to increase. Other projections include continued consolidation within the component supplier market.
One of two new models introduced at the show, Freightliner’s new Century S/T will offer the latest in safety and technology features, including a standard driver’s airbag, AutoShift, SmartShift and a road temperature sensor. The 10 on-board computers work together to make each truck an entry or "node" on the carrier’s network. A "black box" data logging unit collects operational data during system faults to aid in shop diagnosis at the end of the run.
When, not if, accident data recording is required by federal standards, the data logging unit will accept the accident data as well. Other features of the S/T include a battery protection system to maintain adequate power for starting and a driver feedback system for instantaneous monitoring of fuel economy.
The Columbia is Freightliner’s new effort to remain price-competitive with the rest of the Class 8 field. Although the Columbia does not incorporate all of the latest features found in the S/T, it is designed to be a reliable, durable, cost-effective buy where price is a major issue.
The Columbia will be available in seven cab configurations and will include a standard one-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Other new product news from Freightliner included a 575-hp-rated Detroit Diesel engine, exclusive to Freightliner. Meanwhile, Hebe projected that a cab/chassis "brain" will takeover most of the truck’s computing functions from the current generation of engine controls, leaving the engine computer to handle only injection management. This is necessary to provide flexibility in the various drivetrain and equipment combinations desired by today’s customer, he said.
Other new model items from the Texas show included continued additions to trucks in the Bering line founded in Korea and now headquartered in Front Royal, Va. Latest additions are Class 3-4 retail delivery units that feature a generally high level of standard equipment. The Chevrolet-GMC truck lines unveiled a new service program that pledges repair diagnosis and estimates in two hours and next day parts availability.
Among component makers, Caterpillar’s reported tear downs of the relatively new C-12 engines at 800,000 miles indicated that with proper care operators could expect one million miles of service from the powerplants.
Exxon, which is in the process of merging with Mobil, projected that upcoming exhaust control rules and operators’ push for extended drain intervals will usher in improved engine oils. Also unveiled at theTexas show was an addition to the Eaton-Dana Roadranger drive train system—an HP40 high performance tandem rear axle designed to work with high-power engine offerings to 650 hp.