On-Site Magazine

2013 Vocational truck report



Fuel economy, safety, size, comfort, weight, durability, strength and durability: Today's trucks have it all

Ask five economists a question, someone once said, and you’ll get five different answers.That could just as easily apply to equipment manufacturers.

Nearly everyone has a different answer as to what customers are looking for when selecting a vocational truck, be it a dump truck, concrete mixer, crane, tar spreader or stone slinger.

In this issue we ask five manufacturers what’s top-of-mind for their customers and how each manufacturer is responding to their customers’ needs. 



Back in 2007 American emission regulations demanded that particulate matter emissions on large vehicles be reduced. That year Mack installed a Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) on its vocational trucks and a DPF/SCR catalytic conversion combination in 2010. Trouble was, after adding equipment, lift axles or even twin steers the trucks were getting a bit cramped for space. 

“Especially for Ontario the twin steer was an issue because the spacing on the SPIF law kind of changed as we were going,” says Stuart Russoli, product manager for construction vehicles at Mack. “So a big thing with that is how do you package your DPF, SCR, fuel tanks and everything? Because we’ve taken up so much more frame rail space.” 

According to Russoli, the answer is a series of after treatment packages. In one, both DPF and SCR components are positioned underneath the cab. In another, the DPF is placed underneath and the SCR in a vertical position behind the cab. Twin steer vehicles, meantime, feature a “vertical-vertical” configuration where both sit behind the cab on a rack.

“That way your frame rails are clear for your two steer axles,” explains Russoli. “And that’s really good for mixers because they have a water tank, fuel tank, battery box and chutes. There are so many things on there, they run out of space to mount anything.” 

In addition to moving the fuel tank and battery box back, and mounting the after treatment system behind the cab on the rail, Mack has re-designed its fuel tanks to provide greater frame rail space.

For example, a traditional 22-inch round 88-gallon fuel tank mounted under the driver’s side of the cab will stick out 25 inches rearward of the back of the cab. By contrast, a D-shaped version of the same capacity tank sticks out 18 inches rearward, saving seven inches of rail space. 

Whatever you choose will depend, of course, on your job requirements, says Russoli: you may need more space at the front of the truck—or you may want greater weight at the back or greater overall weight distribution. 

“We have so many different options you can pick to optimize it, whether you’re a mixer or a dump or you have a long wheelbase and you can fit extra things in.” 


Is space at a premium at Kenworth too? “Absolutely,” says Stephan Olsen, director of vocational fleet sales.

Kenworth features a “clear back of” Diesel Exhaust Filter (DEF) tank, which like Mack’s DPF sits underneath the cab. “So we can configure a day cab truck with 75 gallons of fuel, three batteries and a compliant exhaust system and have 100 per cent rear back of cab frame space available.”

But a larger concern for Kenworth customers, Olsen says, is uptime. Trucks have to be reliable, durable, and when they do go down put back on the road again lickety-split. 

“One of the features that Kenworth has are engines that sit entirely forward of the cabs,” says Olsen. “There’s no engine doghouse, which maximizes access to the engine and its accessories so technicians spend less time doing maintenance and repairs.”

Kenworth also colour codes and numbers its air and electric lines for quicker diagnostics and repair, “things not all our competitors do,” adds Olsen. 

2012 was Cat’s first full year in the vocational segment but it’s hearing the same thing from its customers: keep us on the road.

Cat’s answer, says product manager Dave Schmitz is its Product Link telematics package that sends a signal indicating any problems directly from the truck to the dealer via cell and satellite.

How well does this work?

Well, Schmitz recalls one incident in which a dealer called to advise a customer about a potential problem in the coolant system of a truck he had just purchased. No problem with it here, the customer told him. Well, bring it in when you have some time, he was told, just to be sure. 

“They found it did have a small coolant leak that was not an issue at the time, but would turn into a major issue if he was hauling in a remote location and ran out of coolant.” Within an hour the leak had been fixed and the client was back on the road. 

The other important factor for maximizing uptime, says Schmitz, is vehicle durability.That means choosing the right truck at the time of purchase.

Are you ordering the correct frame rail? Is it robust enough? Have you settled on the right suspension and axles for your application?

Again, the nature of the job and payload will dictate how rugged or heavy a vocational truck should be.

Schmitz says it’s standard for the industry to equip their trucks with a 10-inch to 11-inch rail, for example. Cat takes it one step further. “All our trucks come with a standard 12-inch rail so that when you get into the tougher applications and you load up the truck more you don’t have to jump to double rails as quickly.” 


Don’t focus on strength and durability at the expense of weight, advises Bob Mann, vice-president of Vocational Sales at International Trucks. “Weight is Number One.”

Many of the mixers International sells in the U.S. and Canada are single-frame rails to keep the weight down. It also provides multiple options for cross members, again depending upon the application. 

“Some people want to build stuff that’s just indestructible and other people are very concerned about weight. So we will put some of the lighter cross members in selected applications where we’ve validated that they will work.” 

Despite the continued focus on rugged durability weight targets have dropped, says Mann, particularly in the U.S. “In the states we see some people wanting to move from 13-litre engines into 9-litre engines. In Canada we see the opposite
: much larger mixers, tri-drives, and twin steer tandems.”

Mann’s colleague, Martin White, director of vocational sales, agrees. “They’re not really concerned about the weight. They’re concerned about uptime and durability.” 

Russoli doesn’t see the issue of weight dissipating any time soon. “[Customers] are always looking to lighten their trucks so they can get more pay load,” he says. “That means lighter suspensions, lighter everything.”

Mack’s newest offering is a single rear-axle version of its MHD Granite tandem rear axle truck. “For a Class 7 GVW you can actually spec it down for lighter duty; for example, a service truck out in the field or a lighter duty dump.” 

In the meantime Cat is supplementing its CT660 set back axle vocational truck with the launch of a new set forward line of trucks. This is because many jurisdictions use a bridge formula involving front and rear axles to determine how much weight you can put on your truck.

Setting the axle further forward of the cab will help Cat meet those requirements and also provide a better ride for the driver. What won’t change, says Schmitz, are the features built into the original line. “When we introduced our CT660 the comments were the quietness, the ruggedness of the truck and the way the cab is set up for ease of use.” 


For many “the writing is on the wall,” says Western Star product manager Dan Silbernagel: Safety is no longer optional, but a “national mandate.”

In most instances customers are insisting on safer vehicles because they naturally abhor the idea of their drivers getting hurt or worse; but they’re also keen to take advantage of lower insurance costs by installing safety systems on their vehicles. 

To answer that call the Cleveland-based manufacturer is in the midst of a transition from roll stability controls that rely solely on rear axle sensors to enhanced stability controls featuring rear and front axle sensors as well as steering angle and yaw sensors.

The enhanced system, says Silbernagel, is available now in its 4700 tractor truck and is scheduled for its 4900 this November. “The system with enhanced stability control knows which position the steering wheel and steer axles are in. Also, with accelerations laterally, your vehicle will react to information from that yaw sensor to stabilize the vehicle if it feels like it’s becoming unstable.” 

Increased safety and comfort is of concern for another reason: driver retention. Drivers are getting older and retiring, while drivers entering the industry expect more creature comforts such as trucks with better ergonomics that are also simpler to drive.

One innovation Kenworth introduced to attract and keep new drivers, says Olsen, is the Extended Day Cab on its T800 and W900. “This increased cab depth by six inches, head room by five inches and over 22 cubic feet of storage feet.” 

Most agree a more comfortable driver is also a safer driver. But it won’t end there, boasts Olsen. A new “benchmark for comfort” will be set when Kenworth’s brand new T880 vocational truck goes into production this fall, details to follow.

Not to be outdone, Cat boasts switch layouts that help drivers see what’s happening inside their trucks quickly, says Schmitz, with “every switch, every handle, every lever” within easy reach. 

One area where it may be harder to achieve major improvements is fuel economy.

Russoli says that’s because of the nature of fuel use in vocational trucks. “Fuel economy is hard to quantify because you do a lot of hours just sitting and waiting to get loaded, waiting to unload.”

What we will see, he says, is a continuing trend towards automatic transmissions. “It definitely has picked up and when you go out it seems more and more are going in that direction. But it’s always more expensive so there’s a tradeoff.” 

Supporting all this, says Russoli, is an economy that has begun to rebound from the 2008 financial crisis, particularly in the concrete pumper industry.

Olsen agrees. Kenworth has seen a steady increase in the demand for ready mix trucks. “That’s a positive sign that the construction segment is beginning to grow…because we have not seen movement there for a number of years.” 

More sales movement in vocational trucks sales may continue despite rising costs. A case in point: Western Star.

Silbernagel says Western Star is not going to be the cheapest truck out there, but that durability still matters.He suspects those who are purchasing despite a down market “will be looking to purchase something that is going to last them a long time.” 

David Godkin is a B.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to On-Site. Send comments to editor@on-sitemag.com. 



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