Mid America Truck Show 2015

021lrThe Mid America Truck Show has always been a huge indicator of things to come in the truck industry both good and bad and this year’s was no exception as Barry Flanagan reports on the  .


When the GFC hit the USA back in 2008 there was plenty of walking room and not many exhibitors, you could just feel that things weren’t right.

2015 in Louisville was a completely different story. Even on the slowest day there was standing room only, with wall to wall exhibitions and people literally elbow to elbow. The show was an indicator that the US truck industry is no longer in crawler gear but has shifted into the top half of the box and is accelerating hard.

In fact this year MATS broke previous attendance records with more than 81,000 attending the show and organisers reporting that exhibition space sold out in record time, with 1064 exhibitors filling more than 11 hectares of exhibit space.

The show was full of announcements and unveilings as manufacturers clamoured to climb aboard as the US industry gathers a head of steam. After years of tepid growth the good news and optimism was infectious.

Daimler Trucks North America CEO Martin Daum briefed media at a dinner during the show adding to the optimistic and up beat atmosphere. Daum underlined the optimism by revealing the company had registered 18 per cent growth in the first three months of 2015 compared to the same period last year

DTNA is even more bullish on its forecast for the U.S. heavy duty market forecasting total market sales of better than a quarter of a million units this year, a 19 per cent increase on last year.

To keep pace with growing demand and massive order bank, Daimler North America has increased its production capacity by 16 per cent and added 2,300 production workers in the last half of 2014, which should increase truck production in the US by 27,000 units this year.

“There is absolutely no fear that those production slots will go empty. In fact, I have a feeling that it will not be enough,” said Daum.

Freightliner unveiled its low fuel consumption SuperTruck concept at MATS. The 5.1 km/ litre (12.2 mpg US) SuperTruck is the culmination of a five-year project partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

T&TT will have a full feature on the US SuperTruck concept in our June/July issue 103

Daimler stated it intends to be the first truck manufacturer to announce certification for the U.S. EPA’s 2017 greenhouse gas regulation as a result of the technologies that were developed during the SuperTruck project which is the culmination of a five-year development process in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy and other leading industry manufacturers and suppliers.

SuperTruck boasts some impressive advances in heavy vehicle engineering boasting a 115 per cent boost in vehicle freight efficiency, compared to conventional prime movers currently being sold. Other advances include a 50.2 per cent increase in engine braking, a 54 per cent reduction in aerodynamic drag as well as that impressive fuel consumption figure of 5.1km per litre logged at 100km/h on a stretch of I-35 between San Antonio and Dallas in Texas.

In another indication of Daimler’s focus on fuel efficiency Daum cited the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission, a main component of the company’s integrated powertrain package.

“DT12 has defied even DTNA’s expectation in the two years since it was introduced,” said Daum adding the combination of fuel efficiency, driver convenience, integration and safety as reasons for its strong customer acceptance in the US.

“The integrated powertrain is pivotal in how you can engineer and build truck technology today and it is the heart and soul of our success in the market,” said Daum. “The sky is the limit with the DT12. It has changed the entire market and at such a rapid pace. Even in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have seen that.”

Daum flagged one note of caution that would ring true with Australian transport operators citing the need for improved road infrastructure as being critical  for better truck fuel efficiency.

“We can have the best truck, but if infrastructure is not up to scratch, it’s not going to work.”

“One traffic jam can eradicate all the technology that we spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop. If we don’t get our infrastructure right we can do as much as possible in research and technology but it will be blown out the tailpipe after 10 minutes in a traffic jam. It is the biggest thing the government can do to help, said Daum.”

At the other major Euro/US truck group, Volvo

President Olof Persson, briefed the media on the company’s  uture direction and strategy at a breakfast function during the show.

Volvo, which has invested $1.4 billion in North American manufacturing since 2002, reiterated its commitment to the market, even though those investments have gained only slight increases in market share for the Scandinavian in North America in that time span.

Persson told the media Volvo will throw its energy behind powertrain integration, which he says is the most efficient way to manage and maximize efficiencies. Among the ways it plans to maximize efficiencies is through connectivity, which Persson says “Will deliver uptime breakthroughs. We are rapidly approaching a point where no truck will be off-line,” he adds.

“There is also an increased awareness and a desire for the technology that exists, or is already in development,” he says noting this will cause a dramatic shift from passive to active safety systems. “When it comes to traffic safety, the vision of the Volvo group is to have no accidents in Volvo trucks.”

Persson added and underlined the company’s pursuit of DME as a viable green fuel alternative for heavy trucks .

“We continue to believe DME shows tremendous promise as an option to diesel fuel with which we have already heavily experimented. “I think DME could really be a game-changer.”

DME or Dimethyl ether is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless compound that can be made from a variety of sustainable domestic sources, as well as from North America’s abundant supply of natural gas, an asset that Australia has a huge amount of as well. DME mirrors the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel but burns clean without producing soot, meaning no diesel particulate filter is required. DME behaves similar to propane and is non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, which degrades rapidly in the atmosphere and is not a global warming agent., so it’s stored and transported at ambient temperatures in tanks similar to those used in the propane industry.

Mack and Volvo had no really new product at MATS but both unveiled their own version of a load detection system to maximize efficiency. Volvo calls it Adaptive Loading System while Mack’s version is known as Mack Load Logic. Designed for applications that routinely haul heavy and return empty, Mack Load Logic and the Volvo system both integrate with 6×2 chassis using a lift-able pusher axle designed to monitor trailer weight and adjust the truck’s driveline configuration to boost fuel efficiency without impacting performance.

The systems integrate an advanced sensor in the rear suspension with the Mack mDRIVE and Volvo I Shift automated manual transmissions.

When a fully loaded trailer is detected, the transmission operates as a direct drive, locking out twelfth gear for increased performance and pulling power. When an empty trailer is detected, the transmission switches to overdrive, enabling twelfth gear to lower cruise RPMs and maximize fuel efficiency.

During normal operation, control of the lift axle is automatic based on payload. The system offers a manual control feature that enables a driver to raise or lower the suspension for easier landing gear retraction or trailer hook-up. To deliver optimal traction, the system’s suspension pressure and ride height are continuously monitored and adjusted to maintain a load bias toward the drive axle.

To further enhance fuel efficiency gains, customers selecting Adaptive Loading can choose one of Volvo’s XE – eXceptional Efficiency – powertrain packages, including XE Adaptive Gearing and XE Economy. XE powertrain packages improve fuel efficiency by lowering engine rpm at a given vehicle speed, a concept Volvo calls “downspeeding.”

While pragmatism, efficiency and practicality were the key words amongst the Euro truck brands, US giant Paccar played heavily to the emotional side of truck operations. Paccar brand Kenworth launched its ICON 900 a customised, limited edition, premium truck which is a highly stylised and modernised tribute to its classic W900L.

“The ICON 900) is a true reward for the customers who want only the true driver experience,” says Kenworth general manager and Paccar vice president Preston Feight.

“If this truck doesn’t get you excited, you probably want to check your pulse and think about what industry you’re in,” he says

The ICON 900 can be ordered in any color and comes standard with many chrome and stainless steel accessories. The Kenworth ICON 900 features a chrome hood badge only available on the Kenworth ICON 900. Other distinguishing features include stainless steel fender guards, upgraded headlights, headlamp covers, under door panels and sleeper panels, grille closeout panel, plus large sun visor are just some of the items included in the exterior package. All of which is a stark contrast to the efficiency gains being offered by Daimler and Volvo.

It wasn’t all chrome and glitter at Paccar however, Peterbuilt underlined its commitment to alternative fuels introducing new medium-duty models powered by CNG or LNG. Peterbilt’s Model 337 and the Model 348 are now in production and can be configured as rigids or prime movers. Both are powered by the Cummins Westport ISL-G. As well Peterbilt’s Model 579 and 567 trucks use LNG configurations with production scheduled for June. Both are powered by the Cummins-Westport ISX12 G.

Peterbilt claims to be the industry’s natural gas leader with the largest market and broadest product lineup in the US. One wonders when LNG or CNG fuel will ever be embraced in Australia given our massive reserves of natural gas.

Navistar had no totally new hardware, instead using the show to highlight some of its software innovations including it OnCommandConnection remote diagnostics system which it announced it will now free and standard on all post 2007 International trucksNavistar’s senior vice president for global parts and custom service Michael Cancelliere told the press at MATS that 80 per cent of trucks on the road are not equipped with a telematics system, something he says Navistar sees as its “opportunity and obligation” to fix.

International also announced enhancements to its new International ProStar ES (or efficiency spec) and that will be the first truck maker to offer Bendix’ new Wingman Fusion active safety system which was unveiled at MATS.

ProStar ES updates include availability of Cummins’ new ADEPT powertrain, which includes SmartTorque2 and SmartCoast.

The ADEPT based on the Cummins ISX15 and uses a suite of advanced electronic features that allow the engine to interact with automated-manual transmissions. It also employs Cummins’ SmartCoast. ES also is available with Navistar’s proprietary N13 engine, coupled with Eaton’s new Fuller Advantage automated-manual transmission.

And speaking of Eaton, it used MATS to announce the expansion of the said Fuller Advantage Series transmissions

In addition it announced its new Neutral Coast Mode to the Advantage Series and UltraShift Plus transmissions. Neutral Coast disengages the truck’s driveline and drops the engine speed to idle during certain downhill scenarios depending on a variety of factors, including vehicle weight, grade and vehicle speed, to improve fuel consumption up to one per cent.

However it wasn’t just traditional truck makers unveiling new vehicles at MATS. Oil giant Shell used the show to announce an unusual alliance for an oil company, signaling an agreement with the AirFlow Truck Company to develop a hyper-fuel-efficient Class 8 truck and trailer concept vehicle. Shell announcement came during a press briefing at the Show.

The concept truck, dubbed the StarShip, is all about aerodynamics, with the critical factor being the move to rid the truck of the gap between the prime mover and trailer, a significant source of aerodynamic drag in current designs. The prime mover and trailer will be one integrated unit and its bonnet, side skirts and front end will be designed to optimize aero efficiency with some elements retracting at speeds under 60kph. However Shell and AirFlow won’t be relying on aero packages alone. The StarShip will also use advanced engine and drivetrain technology as well, with Shell offering technical consultation and of course developing new low friction lubricants to further help operating efficiency.

AirFlow President Bob Sliwa said the companies plan to complete a cross-country fuel economy test with the truck and trailer within two years. In 2012 AirFlow also built the Bullet Truck, based on a Kenworth T2000 and on a coast-to-coast test averaged around 5.7 km/ litre (13.4 mpg US) hauling a 30 tonne (65000lb) GVW. One wonders what Shell’s fuel division would be wondering about a truck that virtually halves fuel consumption.

As a colleague said at the depths of the GFC, “ Don’t worry about America, they will comeback from this bigger and better than ever, it is a country with an enormous ability for optimism as well as reinvention and reinvigoration.” If MATS demonstrated anything this year it was just those points and we look forward to the US truck industry as it steers toward another boom period.