Without a doubt, the heavy-duty trucking industry took one of its biggest leaps forward in 2014 in terms of getting the latest equipment technologies into fleets and on the road. There was no shortage of efficiency solutions as truck OEs and suppliers showcased everything from downsped engines and integrated powertrains to aerodynamic packages and vehicle connectivity and service software. There was even jaw-dropping future concepts like autonomous vehicles from the likes of Daimler, Peterbilt and ZF, as well as concept-turned reality alternative fuel and natural gas vehicle offerings from all of the truck OEs.
This year saw the emergence of trends that continue to grow. As 2014 winds down, there is one equipment trend that stands out among all others as Fleet Equipment’s biggest trend of 2014: Automated-manual transmissions (AMTs).
“Customers want solutions that contribute to driver safety; recruitment and retention; reduced downtime and improved truck efficiency,” said Mary Aufdemberg, director of product marketing, Freightliner Trucks. “This year we saw an overwhelming response to automated manual transmissions like the Detroit DT12.”
Let’s quickly take a look at some OE AMT impressions:
• Freightliner: The penetration of automated manual transmissions more than doubled over the past couple of years.
• Peterbilt: The OE has seen an approximately 7% increase in
customers spec’ing an automatic or automated transmission versus last year, representing about one-third of its total Class 8 trucks
• Kenworth: The take rate for automated transmissions has also increased significantly with customers who are using AMTs to both attract drivers as well as improve overall fuel economy.
• Mack: Market demand for the Mack mDRIVE AMT on the on-highway Mack Pinnacle was so strong this year that Mack announced the mDRIVE as standard on all Pinnacle highway models beginning immediately.
• Navistar: With AMT penetration in the single digits only a few years ago, Navistar saw AMT adoption rates pushing 30%.
• Volvo: Volvo I-Shifts represent 74.7% of the transmissions ordered in Volvo trucks this year—up 10% from last year and 30% from 2012.
“The fuel efficiency, as well as the quality, durability and reliability of AMTs is driving that [growth],” said Jodi Presswood, Navistar vice president and general manager, heavy truck product line. “Like any newer technology, there’s still some hesitancy and slower adapters—we see more of that in the secondary market—but AMT adoption rates are certainly on an upward trajectory. AMTs are also playing a larger role in recruiting and retaining newer, younger drivers, ensuring they’re achieving fuel economy performance on par with what more veteran, more experienced drivers might achieve with a manual.”
Couple the strong growth with fuel efficiency packages, like Peterbilt’s APEX drivetrain package that utilizes an automated transmission with a PACCAR MX-13 Engine for an approximate fuel economy improvement of 4% or its EPIQ aerodynamic fuel-efficiency package, which is exclusive to the Model 579 and can improve fuel economy by up to 14%, Anthony Gansle, Peterbilt marketing manager, On-Highway Product, explained.
Freightliner orders for its Cascadia Evolution aerodynamic package have now surpassed the standard Cascadia. Additionally, Freightliner has now introduced the Cascadia Evolution with the Integrated Detroit Powertrain including the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission, which will provide customers with up to an additional 5% fuel economy improvement over the standard Cascadia Evolution.
Kenworth also launched a fuel-efficient focused package in the T680 Advantage that includes optimized aerodynamics and integrated fuel-efficient powertrain.
Volvo offers its XE—exceptional efficiency—powertrain packages, which use Volvo power and the I-Shift to optimize the efficiency of the engine, transmission, axle ratio and tire size. Orders for XE are up 27% year to date.
Mack Trucks saw growing interest in its Mack MP7 405 Super Econodyne, which integrates the Mack MP8-445SE engine, Mack mDrive automated manual transmission and Mack C125 axles. The MP7 405SE was just released in September of this year.
Certainly, it’s not just the AMT that’s improving fuel efficiency. That comes from a combination of equipment working in concert, but the AMT is a common theme among all the integrated packages, and it’s driving many of the other trends.
There are plenty of other trends growing in the marketplace. Awarding a fastest growing trend to a technology is no easy feat. Among all the truck OEs we spoke to, there are two trends that stuck out: Aerodynamics and 6×2 configurations. The difference between the two is that a large majority of fleets already understand the importance of aerodynamics, both on the tractor and trailer side of things. There’s more of a learning curve for 6×2 configurations, which have battle against application concerns and work harder to educate fleets on its value.
“Whether customers are running aerodynamically styled trucks or traditionally styled trucks with aerodynamic enhancements, aerodynamics are more important than ever,” Gansle said. “We’re continually looking for ways to improve aerodynamic performance and fuel efficiency on both existing products and new product designs.”
Chassis fairings (including ground extensions), side fairings, roof fairings and trailer gaps, to name a few offerings, are cutting through the technology skepticism and increasing efficiency for fleets. Wind resistance and rolling resistance are what trucks are battling every day to pull more efficiency out of their routes. The big focus on aerodynamics speaks to mitigating as much wind resistance as currently possible.
“Aerodynamics remain an important factor in our customers’ spec’ing decisions,” said Wade Long, director of product marketing, Volvo Trucks in North America. “For every 2% reduction in aerodynamic drag, the customer sees about a 1% improvement in fuel economy, which translates to about $600 per truck per year for a typical long-haul customer.”
Freightliner points to aerodynamics as one of the major drivers for the success of the Cascadia Evolution.
“Customers are embracing aerodynamics as a verifiable means to reduce vehicle drag and increase fuel efficiency,” Aufdemberg said. “While all of the aerodynamic components on the Cascadia Evolution work together as a package to improve aerodynamic flow, the most significant contributors are the flared chassis side fairings and 20-in. side extenders. These components are instrumental in directing air flow around the trailer and reducing the effects of cross winds.”
On the other hand, 6×2 axle configurations have more of an uphill battle in terms of acceptance, but that’s changing.
“At first, customers are concerned about traction, but after they learn of the traction enhancement technologies that are available, they often make the move to a 6×2 and are pleased that they did,” explained Kurt Swihart, Kenworth marketing director. “Six-by-two configurations are continuing to grow in acceptance with customers who want to leverage the fuel economy benefit from 6x2s or are weight sensitive.”
Much of the 6×2 spec’ing is driven by application. For those applications where the benefits of a 6×2 axle configuration can be implemented, Mack Trucks has seen growing customer acceptance.
“With 6x2s now being more widely known and understood, most of Mack’s education and information is centered around matching the customer’s needs with the right technologies in order to maximize the benefits,” said Roy Horton, Mack Trucks director of product marketing.
It’s an education process that is ongoing between truck OEs and fleets. Navistar’s Presswood explained that load biasing controls and appropriate use of interaxle differential locks are key to taking advantage of the fuel economy and weight benefits of 6×2 configurations. While that message continues to penetrate fleets’ 6×2 impressions, 6×2 spec’ing is a growing trend that will likely continue to gain acceptance in 2015.
Connecting the data dots
Like most technologies in today’s trucking industry, connected IT solutions are exploding. If you’ve purchased a truck in the past 12 months, it’s likely that the equipment sports or offers some type of telematics and/or connected vehicle service offering that can help improve your fleet’s operational efficiency. The early adopters were large fleets that could put the data to work quickly and effectively, but as the products become more sophisticated and the implementation seamless, fleets of all sizes are jumping on the analytics bandwagon.
“While larger, sophisticated fleets have been big users of telematics data for many years, any data-driven customer looking to maximize vehicle uptime and drive productivity improvements can benefit from a product like our OnCommand Connection remote diagnostics system,” Presswood said. “Utilizing an open architecture, OnCommand Connection leverages a fleet’s existing telematics system, providing fault code severity ranking available via real-time vehicle health reports. Corrective action plans are then derived for each failure helping fleets maximize their vehicle’s uptime.”
Across nearly all the truck OEs, adoption of telematics solutions has been seen across all fleet sizes, and it’s changing the way assets are managed. Mack Trucks has expanded its analytics offering with GuardDog Connect and the recent introduction of Mack Fleet Management Services, a suite of software and technology offerings that enhance operational performance, reduce costs and increase safety. According to Mack’s Horton, the benefit fleets are seeing from GuardDog Connect come from the proactive diagnosing and problem reporting that takes place before the driver is aware of the problem.