On-Site Magazine

2014 vocational truck report

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October 1, 2014 by PATRICK CALLAN

In our latest heavy equipment roundup, we took an in-depth look at some of the most recent options to hit the vocational truck market.

With each new model designed for North American users, manufacturers are consistently aiming to strike the perfect balance between features like power, comfort, cost, safety, performance, efficiency and durability, all while meeting strict environmental standards.

These features, and many others, are especially important when it comes to vocational trucks (dump trucks, cement mixers and garbage trucks), which are typically used to haul materials, equipment, or to perform a specific job or group of related jobs.

What follows is a synopsis of how five leading construction manufacturers are adapting their machines to meet the evolving demands of vocational truck drivers.


Caterpillar (Cat) recently expanded its heavy-duty line of Class 8 work trucks with the CT681. Designed for customers who prefer a longer wheelbase truck and need to meet restrictive load limitations on bridges and roads, the CT681 is Cat’s first set-forward axle truck. Applications include snowplow, concrete mixer, water truck, dump and super dump.

“Many of our customers are affected by bridge law formulas in their [provinces] or on the highway, and the set-forward axle design helps them maximize their loads,” says Dave Schmitz, product manager for Cat’s global on-highway trucks. “Other customers prefer a longer wheelbase truck for better ride quality on long hauls or rough haul roads. For them, a set-forward axle model like the CT681 is ideal. We built it to haul heavy loads, work hard and last for years, even in the toughest applications.”

The CT681 joins the CT660 (which has a set-back front axle) in Cat’s line of vocational trucks. Schmitz explains the biggest differences are the features available on the front of the truck—the CT681’s optional front frame extension and front engine power take off. These options make it quick and easy for customers to mount attachments like snowplows, hose reels, winches and hydraulic pumps.

“We also worked to maintain a short (114-inch) bumper-to-back-of-cab to allow more room and flexibility in installing bodies behind the cab. Mixer installation is simple, too, with vertical tie-in plates mounted behind the cab,” he adds.

Cat unveiled the CT681 in March 2014 at CONEXPO-CON/AGG in Las Vegas following an extensive field-testing program—equivalent to more than three years of truck use—that involved over a dozen customers across North America.

The CT681 is powered by a Cat CT series vocational truck engine and is available with a Cat CX31 automatic transmission. It also features a spacious, ergonomic cab designed to boost driver productivity and safety.

“It’s a product that we’d been looking for to get into the business of being a bumper-to-bumper full truck line dealer,” says Bill Mitchell, general sales manager for on-highway trucks at Holt Cat (a Cat dealer). “We’re pleased with the product. Our customers are pleased with it. The product is growing every day. It’s opening again, more opportunities for us.”

Severe duty

Freightliner’s Severe Duty (SD) family of work trucks—108SD, 114SD, 122SD—combine toughness and efficiency. The SD line features front frame extensions and radiator-mounted grilles for body attachment installations, front and rear engine power-take-offs, and body-specific chassis layouts.

For the construction market, the SD line works well for heavy applications such as dumps, cranes, roll-offs and mixers. The lightweight and durable SD cab maximizes payload and offers extended service life.

For the municipal market, the SD line accommodates a range of specialized applications from sewer vacs to snow plows and refuse vehicles. A Cummins ISL G natural gas engine is available in the 114SD set-back axle, which provides municipal customers with a factory-built, environmentally friendly, and low-cost-of-operation vehicle.

For body builders, the mid-chassis packaging capabilities of the SD line offer a variety of fuel and DEF tank configurations, combined with under-cab after treatment systems and battery boxes for efficient body installations.

 “We know that vocational customers have operating requirements that are different from our on-highway fleet customers, and we have structured our efforts to focus on those needs,” says Mark Lampert, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for Daimler Trucks North America.

Freightliner’s most recent vocational truck, the 122SD, joined the series in August 2013. It is designed for heavy-duty applications such as oversize hauling, logging, oil/gas field service, crane, dump, or towing/recovery. Features include a durable, non-corrosive aluminum cab reinforced with e-coated steel, west coast style mirrors, hood durability, an impact-resistant back window, and halogen headlights with serviceable glass lens reflector and bulb.

“Freightliner has had a strong presence in the vocational arena, specifically with the FLD SD product line,” says David Hames, general manager of marketing and strategy for Daimler Trucks North America. “The next generation of severe duty products will build upon that legacy and expand Freightliner’s presence in the vocational marketplace today.”

Robust and reliable

Launched at the 2013 Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., Kenworth’s T880 vocational truck is designed for durability and reliability in dump, mixer, refuse and heavy haul applications.

The T880 is standard with the PACCAR MX-13 engine rated up to 500 horsepower and 1,850 lb.-ft. of torque. The PACCAR
MX-13 provides a lightweight, fuel-efficient engine for vocational applications over 100,000 pounds. The T880 can be ordered with a 116.5-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab hood optimized for the PACCAR MX-13 engine or with the 122.5-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab hood.

“We designed the T880 with distinctively sculpted lines that form an evolutionary, but uniquely Kenworth look,” explains Kevin Baney, Kenworth’s chief engineer. “The T880 features a panoramic windshield for enhanced visibility, quiet cab with its triple-sealed and robust doors, five-piece hood for easier and faster repairs, air-assisted hydraulic clutch, complex reflector headlamps, excellent maneuverability, and new lightweight, factory-installed lift axles.”

The T880 uses Kenworth’s 2.1-metre wide, stamped aluminum cab, which is robotically assembled and has 23 inches of room between the seats. The cab is also equipped with cowl-mounted mirrors for better visibility, increased durability and reduced adjustment.

The T880 is available with five factory-installed and lightweight Watson & Chalin lift axles, including a 10K offering and a 20K version with a 200-pound weight savings. Also offered are new steering gears for improved steering feedback and increased wheelcut for greater maneuverability.

“The Kenworth T880 offers truck operators and fleets a very comfortable work environment for drivers, lower operating cost and enhanced productivity,” adds Preston Feight, Kenworth’s assistant general manager for sales and marketing.

Extreme efficiency

Western Star’s 5700XE is a fuel-efficient on-highway truck designed to combine style, reliability and fuel efficiency. “XE—which stands for extreme efficiency—summarizes what this truck is all about,” says Michael Jackson, general manager at Western Star. “By blending Western Star ruggedness with aerodynamic innovations, and the most fuel efficient powertrain available
, we have built a powerful solution that is the best of both worlds.”

The Class 8 on-highway truck is suited for owner-operators and small to medium fleets in truckload/LTL, bulk, and long-haul
applications. The 5700XE features a 126-inch back-to-bumper-of-cab with a set-back axle, and is available in a range of spacious and lightweight sleeper configurations.

“The 5700XE builds on proven aerodynamic technologies from parent company Daimler Trucks North America and adds edgy styling to set it apart from other trucks,” says Ann Demitruk, director of marketing for Western Star. “Inside and out, the 5700XE is one of the most technologically advanced trucks, with innovative safety features that keep drivers secure while on the road.”

The 5700XE features an adjustable steering column and modern steering wheel with integrated controls for the stereo and cruise control, as well as a Bluetooth connection for mobile phones. In addition, a turn signal stalk includes integrated wiper and high beam controls. A transmission control stalk on the right side of the column allows fingertip control of the engine brake and Detroit DT12 transmission. “The 5700XE will change the way people look at aerodynamic trucks and the way they look at Western Star,” says Demitruk.

Medium heavy-duty

Mack Trucks unveiled its Granite Medium Heavy Duty (MHD) 4×2 model during the 2013 National Truck Equipment Association Work Truck Show in Indianapolis. The truck is offered in Class 7 or Class 8 and is designed to meet the needs of customers demanding a lighter yet rugged work truck. Available in heavy-duty or medium-duty configurations, the MHD 4×2 is the latest version of the Mack Granite MHD launched in 2011.

“The MHD 4×2 offers a great option for customers needing a truck tough enough to manage their daily operations, but in a lighter weight configuration to increase their ROI,” says Curtis Dorwart, Mack’s vocational marketing product manager.

Equipped with a Cummins ISL9 345-horsepower engine, with a maximum torque rating of 1,150 lb.-ft., the MHD 4×2 provides power, durability and reliability. A back-of-cab design helps the MHD 4×2 accommodate a wide variety of body options, including those required for utility, dump and municipal applications. The short bumper-to-tire distance offers front-end swing clearance and improved wheel cut, which is crucial for navigating tight turns in municipalities and construction sites.

The galvanized steel cab is mounted on airbags and shocks so the driver stays comfortable during the workday. The Mack
Cornerstone chassis, built from high-strength steel alloy for a stronger and lighter frame, is offered in four frame rail thicknesses ranging from 7 to 11.1 mm.

The MHD proved up to the task of plowing the tight and narrow streets of Wilkes-Barre, Pa. during the snowstorms last winter, so much so that the city bought five of them.

Butch Frati, director of operations for the City of Wilkes-Barre, said he’s been impressed by their performance. “I’m pleased that we chose Mack,” he said. “The MHD vehicles outperform others. The MHD models are durable, cost-efficient because of their fuel efficiency benefits, and an overall pleasure to drive. Our drivers consistently report that.

“Wilkes-Barre is about eight miles long and two miles wide, so we have a lot of hilly, narrow neighborhoods that can prove to be difficult to plow,” he said. “The MHD models have excellent maneuverability and they easily handle the tight roads. The Mack MHDs easily handled the streets and the snowfall.”

What will they think of next?

In a recent report from Truck News (a sister publication to On-Site), Mack’s sales manager for the Mid-Ontario Truck Centre, Steve Bates, highlighted five vocational truck trends at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar that he expects to see more of in the future: automation, twin steers, disc brakes, stability and change.

Bates said the mixer market has skyrocketed from five to 10 per cent automatic transmissions to about 85 per cent in the past four to five years—a trend he expects to continue in other segments. “My prediction is almost every truck will be automated or automatic.”

As for disc brakes, Bates suggested the upcharge of about $4,500 for a vocational truck remains cost-prohibitive for many buyers, but that is likely to change. “Right now there’s a cost factor. People don’t want to spend the money. But costs are going to come down. It’s coming. In three to four years we’ll be almost fully disc.”

And finally, with regulations regarding greenhouses gases becoming tougher across jurisdictions nationwide, we can expect to see manufacturers consistently evolving their machines. “Get used to constant change,” says Bates. “It will be continuous.”

Make sure to check back with us around this time in 2015 to find out how the vocational truck market is keeping up with the times.

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