Introducing the SHORTER CAT

With the introduction of the new CT630S model, and a couple more models later in the year from Cat Trucks, the brand may have found just the right formula for the Australian truck market. Tim Giles looks at what will be on offer from Cat in 2014.

The development of Cat Trucks in the Australian market has had its ups and downs since the launch of the brand, with an impressive fanfare, over three years ago. The company has suffered supply problems and difficulties with the specification on offer not quite fitting with the preferences of the Australian market. According to Cat, these issues are all behind them, the new manufacturing plant in the US is supplying a consistent flow and the new models being introduced are better suited to the Australian truck buyer.

The premise on which the truck brand has been built is basically a good one. There is a lot of positive feeling towards Caterpillar and their engines, as a result of their performance over many years here in Australia. When the engine maker decided to pull out of producing engines for the highway market, the intervention of Navistar seemed to be one of a logical and workable partner with plenty of truck manufacturing experience leveraging off the reputation of the yellow painted engine.

The subsequent years have not demonstrated this to be a bad plan. In fact, it still looks like a good idea. Unfortunately, factors such as legislation timing, financial difficulties within International Trucks and the restructuring of the Navistar truck manufacturing operations in the US, all contributed blips to the steady progress of Cat and stymied its development.

“We did all of the initial design work here in Australia.”

Now, Cat believes all of this is behind them. The trucks are now being manufactured in the Navistar plant in Springfield, Ohio. International Trucks seems to be travelling on a reasonably even keel and has settled its legal disputes with a number of other truck manufacturers in the US courts. Plus, the organisation here on the ground in Australia appears to be focused on the job ahead and on proving the brand has a future in Australia.

This year will see the introduction of a new model which is designed specifically to suit Australian truck applications. The design incorporates the reliable and well liked power of the C 15 engine with the dimensions in a conventional truck, capable of hauling a 34 pallet B-double set and still remaining within the 26 metre envelope. These are the requirements for any truck brand to meet if they want to be considered a serious player in the heavy duty market, here in Australia.

In the past, the models have been straight adaptations of the trucks offered in the US by International, but based on the same architecture and locked into the kind of dimensions required in North America, where vehicle length is never an issue. It has been the instances where Cat has taken its own initiative and developed its own technology and design, that it has come up with solutions which fit well with the Australian philosophy of trucking.

The first all-Australian initiative was the innovative solution to meet the exhaust gas emissions limits of ADR 80/03 in which a Caterpillar C 15 engine has the engine control computer remapped and two large diesel particulate filters added into the exhaust system. This was a pragmatic solution that ticked all the boxes for Australian truck buyers and created a demand for the CT630LS model.

With the new model, the CT630S, Cat has gone one stage further and redesigned the layout of the truck to enable it to meet the BBC requirements of B-double operators and still have a sleeper option available. This is a smart solution and the company appears to have come up with a genuinely Australian truck. All Cat needs now is a good steady and consistent supply of trucks from the US and it may start to see some decent numbers stacking up in the future.

“This is the product we should have been launching three or four years ago,” says Kevin Dennis, Managing Director of Cat Trucks.

“Sometimes, you save the good things until last. With CT630S, the first trucks are in the country and we have had a highly successful test program. The reception for these trucks, from the fleets we used for testing, has been outstanding for ride, fuel economy and comfort.

“One company we have been testing with actually gave us an order after three or four weeks of testing of the vehicles. Full production release is March 2014, so this product will be hitting the roads very shortly.”

Another model will follow the CT630S and start arriving later this year. This is the Cat CT630CS and this will feature similar dimensions but will include a stand-up sleeper as part of the package. This is a product developed here and Cat will be using an Australian manufacturing partner to create the finished cabin.

“I think the CT630CS will be the cornerstone of our brand, moving forward,” says Kevin. “This is the most important product we have.”

Heavier Cat in the pipeline

These two models are to be quickly followed by heavier duty options utilising the C 15 engine. This engine has traditionally performed well in the segment between 90 and 130 tonnes GVM. Cat is talking about having these heavier models available by the end of 2014.

This new heavier duty Cat truck in the pipeline is aimed to take the brand above its current 90 tonne GVM limit. With thicker chassis members, up from 9.5 mm to 11.1 mm frame rails, and a number of other changes, Cat hopes to get its GVM rating up over 130 tonnes. Apart from the heavier frame, the new models will include a beefed up front suspension, upgraded steering, plus a number of other specification improvements to handle the heavier gross mass. The kind of applications this truck will be suitable for include on-highway triple road trains, but not those handling extremely rugged applications like livestock triples. According to Cat, the segment of the market they will be targeting with these new models is currently running at about 1000 units per year. The progression is clear, Cat is going through a process of designing new models, market segment by market segment, and more precisely targeting the trucks to the application, a lesson the company has learnt over the past three years.

“The concept of the CT630S was quite straightforward,” says Adrian Wright, Cat Trucks Engineering Chief.

“To get into the B-double market, you need a short bumper to back of cab dimension. If you are running heavy, you need at least 550 hp and high torque to maintain the kind of road speeds you need to maintain. In reality, driver acceptance means you really need a 15 litre power plant.”

The first proof of concept was the prototype truck Cat displayed at the 2012 International Truck, Trailer and Equipment Show in Melbourne. This had been put together by the engineers in Australia to demonstrate it was possible to fit a 15 litre engine into a shortened version of the CT630 which had seen the cabin raised and moved forward and a shorter bonnet fitted. This was the start of the process which saw Australian engineers cooperating with those in the US who would eventually be building it.

The design has involved raising the cabin by about 50 mm and moving it forward by 225 mm. This gives the design a BBC of 2845 mm, adding the sleeper cabin pushes this out to 3505 mm. The taller stand-up sleeper proposed to be introduced pushes the BBC out to 3590 mm. These are the dimensions inside which any truck will need to fit if it is to pull a 34 pallet B-double set and stay within the law. By raising the cabin the engineers have actually improved the airflow through and underneath the cabin itself retaining the same cooling performance overall.

The new CT630S will be available with the C 15 engine rated at 550 hp (410 kW) which produces 2508 Nm (1850 ft lb) of torque. As can be expected, the gearbox options are between an 18 speed Roadranger and its Ultra-shift Plus automated alternative. The only rear axle suspension on offer will be the Hendrickson Primaax.

“Another thing we had to take into account when we designed the new truck was we didn’t want to lose the strengths we had with the original models,” says Adrian.

“We didn’t want to compromise aerodynamics or visibility, we were already getting good feedback on those aspects of the design.

“The previous model had missed out on being able to fit within the B-double dimensions by just a matter of 6 inches or so. That’s a small amount, but just enough to ensure 26 metres just couldn’t be done. When we brought out the first models, their design was leveraged off of the International based product. They had never built a truck with a big bore engine in a short BBC cabin design. We are the first market in the world to do this on the Navistar platform. At the start of this program, we were told it couldn’t be done but we have proved that it can be done.” Moving the cabin forward 225 mm was not quite enough to get the kind of dimension change required so the front bumper of the truck was recessed under the bumper by a further 25 mm to get the BBC back to the number required.

The overall design of the truck retains the original shape for the CT630 which has proven to be very efficient, aerodynamically. By setting the front axle back it was possible to curve the front profile of the truck and the aerofoil design fitted to the roof of the cabin serves to split the airflow, sending much of it down either side of the truck and trailer. The curved windscreen also shepherds airflow around the side of the vehicle without creating too many vortices and the consequent drag caused by them.

“We did all of the initial design work here in Australia, including the cab modelling before we passed it over to the US and the Global Engineering Group,” says Adrian. “We had done all the physical work and developed the concept, their job was to ensure the new design met up with all of the requirements of the Navistar system. Just this one change impacted many different aspects of the design of the truck. Even something as simple as the gas lines for the air conditioning had to have their length changed to suit the new design.

“We have had to re-engineer many aspects of the truck’s design, things like the recirculation shield on the cooling package needed to be changed. Steering shafts, front suspension and cab mountings had to be redone, along with intakes, battery boxes etc. Every part of the truck needed some kind of change to fit this new architecture.”

The electrical wiring used in the new truck is multiplexed and, therefore, there is a much reduced level of wiring in and around the cabin. However, the multiplexing used on this particular model has been simplified from that which is available in the US, bringing all of the information to one central control box and not linking up a number of separate computers around the truck.

The decision to go with a policy of only offering the Primaax was made due to the company’s experience with the first batch of CT630 trucks. Both HAS 460 and Primaax were offered on this model and the vast majority of customers chose the heavier, but more stable, Primaax option.

When the mid-rise 40 inch sleeper, on the CT630SC, becomes available later this year, it will have a 2250 mm internal width and 1985 mm of standing room in the centre of the cabin. The bunk inside the sleeper is 711 mm wide and will be equipped with a fully sprung mattress. Underneath the bunk will be toolboxes with external access and a lift up under bunk storage compartment.

At the time of Diesel’s visit to the Cat Trucks headquarters in Tullamarine, Victoria, the first examples of production built CT630S models had arrived from the boat and were being prepared for release out into the marketplace. The facility at Tullamarine gives Cat an opportunity to do a comprehensive check on the truck to identify any production faults and also a considerable proportion of the kind of pre‑delivery work normally carried out in truck dealerships.

At first sight, the trucks seem almost indistinguishable from the current CT630 models, but when placed side by side, it is clear that a number of changes have been made. Apart from the obvious shorter bonnet, the integrated bumper FUPS looks like a cleaner, smarter design.

More power from the C 15?

For now, Cat will be offering the C 15 at 550 hp as its top power but Adrian did concede the company will be investigating the possibility of increased power and torque further down the track. Unfortunately for all the big bore enthusiasts, he was unwilling to elaborate on how long it may be before any more powerful engines might become available here in Australia.

The new heavier models, scheduled to be available before the end of 2014, see the Caterpillar engine return to its spiritual home, where its grunt and dependability in the past earned it such a good reputation. Although the new models are an extension of the current CT630 range, it is likely Cat will come up with a new model name or number to differentiate it from its stablemate and indicates it will be working in different applications to the current model range.

Cat appears to be getting itself to the point where it can have a real shot at breaking into the Australian truck market, if all of the trucks previewed here make an appearance. Cat Managing Director, Kevin Dennis, was confident about the brand’s prospects.

“We are expecting to end 2014 with around 320 to 340 truck sales overall,” says Kevin.

“I would be happy with 3 per cent of the overall market, it represents a significant step up from our performance last year. These kind of numbers are in line with the growth pattern we have projected for the business going forward, where we want to take it up to a 800 to 1000 truck business, over the next five years.”

These are fine words and have been recorded here, to be recalled at the end of 2014 to see if the plan is taking shape. The prospects look good for Cat. After a rushed and badly thought through entry to the Australian market, the Cat organisation seems to have a new pragmatism in its ideas and confidence in its ability to deliver on its promises.

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