IT’S been a long time coming, but US truck operators have been infected with the same insatiable drive for fuel efficiency that has possessed the Europeans for a decade or two.
And it’s not just a matter of Euro 5 or 6 compliant fuel squeezing engines.
Aerodynamics, component weight, chassis technology, low rolling resistance tyres and driver education are all crowding the to-do lists of owners and fleet managers.
I met Jorgan Peterson, regional manager of the Mountain West region for Rush Enterprises, a giant listed dealer group that sells most truck brands across the US.
Jorgan steers the Rush organisation in Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Ontario and has a keen eye for the trends that are surfacing across the industry.
He also had a ringside seat as the Navistar group kicked a series of own goals over engine technology and emissions regulation for International trucks, leaving customers stunned, dealer volume slashed and the brand damaged.
He sees another couple of years before the network recovers its full potential, but was quick to point out that the major changes made to technology and engine choice availability are doing the job and enabling International to regain its market share.
The CAT CT series trucks we see here in Australia are clones of International’s ProStar model.
I drove the latest ProStar+ for a short run westwards along Interstate 80 and was super impressed with the comfort and handling.
The new MaxxForce 13-litre engine is without doubt the quietest diesel I’ve driven in a prime mover.
I had to feather the throttle and listen hard for any sign of the characteristic diesel clatter.
It produces 475hp and 2305Nm of torque and in this model has Eaton’s 10-speed manual as the standard gearbox.
Navistar has now made Cummins engines available across the range, enabling the dealers to offer power up to 600hp for their Class 8 (heavy-duty) truck range.
After I figured out how to flick across the gate and range change with my right hand, the ProStar+ was a breeze, and I could see myself doing big miles across the US with little difficulty.
The truck had the 73-inch Skyrise sleeper with bunk beds and as much room as a small motel room. Oh, the joys of more liberal length regulations.
I commented on the soft feel of the front end, expecting Jorgen to tell me about the front airbags, but instead he noted that this model had steel front suspension.
The rate may be softer than the Australian CATs, but when combined with hefty steering assistance it made the ProStar very responsive and easy to steer.
CATs have always impressed me as the most precise steerers on the highway – I can see why.
The US truck industry faces many of the same problems we have here.Driver availability is tight, with many big fleets having trucks laid up as a result.
Many larger fleets run their own driver training schools, with subsidised training linked to an indentured period of service.
Telematics is gaining acceptance, with a wide range of after-market products available to the brands that don’t provide it as standard fit.
The Cummins-developed emissions system is the simplest on the market and I think CAT can expect strong market support from its new 13-litre offering.