The heavy-duty truck industry's growing interest in 6x2 axles

The 6×2 cometh?

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the trucking industry. Take a second to compare the trucks of today to the trucks of 20 years ago … pretty staggering. Today’s heavy-duty haulers are churning out a seemingly limitless stream of data points, running automated transmissions and achieving eight miles per gallon and beyond in fuel economy, all while running more than 1 million miles. Yesterday’s exceptional is today’s standard expectation. Each step toward efficiency presents a technological shift. With so many new and revamped technologies already successfully adopted, could the 6×2 axle be next on the list?

Taking a look at the latest suspension offerings might provide the clue. Most recently, Detroit unveiled its new integrated powertrain sporting a 6×2 axle, with a 2.28 ratio that is specifically designed to work with the downsped engine rating. It’s the latest in a steady stream of 6×2 news and highlights.

During March’s trucking tradeshow season, Dana Holding Corp. showed off the Spicer EconoTrek 6×2 tandem axle, while Kenworth touted the fuel economy benefits of a 6×2 axle configuration for its T680 Advantage. In the push for efficiency, many fleets are open to options that help them achieve their fuel goals.

Consider automated manual and automatic transmissions. While a manual transmission is still preferred by most fleets, it’s only as good as the driver. With today’s inexperienced driver pool, automated manual and automatics offer an improvement in fuel efficiency when compared to many manuals. Fleets view the automatic differently these days as it’s yet another tool in their fuel efficiency work belt.

“There’s a shift in the market as customers look for a solution,” said David Hames, general manager, marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America. “Some consider the resale value when spec’ing. They’re looking at it as a business model: You want to optimize your cost of operation while that truck is in use. The penalty on 6x2s is going away [in resale] if buyers know that it’s spec’d for top-of-the-line fuel economy. We’ve seen it with automated transmissions.”

Hames did provide a caveat: Don’t expect the entire industry to spec 6x2s. “We’re not going to have a massive 6×2 conversion, but I think you’ll see a higher acceptance in applications where they work because of its undeniable fuel economy advantages,” he said.

Currently, 6x2s are not widespread and the fleets that do run them are typically in the southern U.S. Several fleets Fleet Equipment spoke to about 6x2s were skeptical about the performance. Application is going to play a large role in the success of 6×2 efficiencies. Simply spec’ing a 6×2 isn’t going to magically produce improved fuel efficiency. There is no magic component; the key to efficiency is integration—how the individual components combine to create a system that’s more efficient than what came before.

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