How ‘Lo’ can you go?


'Wanted': Never mind a leather interior, this beast has hide on the outside.

Western Star is set to display a stunningly customised 4900EX Lo Max aptly named ‘Wanted’ at this year’s International Truck, Trailer & Equipment Show (ITTES). The show will be held on three days from March 15 to 17 at the Melbourne showgrounds at Ascot Vale.

‘Wanted’ was created by a team of custom design specialists in the US for last year’s Mid America truck show using the ‘Wild West’ theme for inspiration.

Seemingly no amount of customisation was deemed too outlandish. For instance, never mind a leather interior, this beast has the hide on the outside with fishnet-finish leather wrapped fuel tanks masquerading as saddle bags, complete with buckles and straps, along with studded leather-clad side steps, toolboxes and 22-inch deep front bumper. Taking pride of place in the bumper’s centre is a massive cog shaped ‘belt buckle’ featuring the Western Star logo.

Highlighting the immaculate custom paint job are intricate scrollwork designs etched into polished metal components including wheel rims, air cleaner cans, muffler heat shields, roof-mounted air deflector sides and rear mudguard embellishment strips.

Completing the exterior picture is a matching pair of unique ‘double-barrel’ exhaust stacks, pointing skyward as though poised to fire a volley of warning shots.  

The ‘Wanted’ truck’s cab interior, which has not been altered from factory specs, showcases Western Star’s new interior  featuring all-new timber cabinets and table, as well as ‘prairie tan’ coloured upholstery, dashboard and door trims.

Typically, Western Star’s show trucks are pre-purchased by a dealer or customer, who takes possession after the truck has been on show. However, due to its immense popularity, Western Star has held onto ‘Wanted’ longer than usual to allow show-goers across the globe the opportunity to see this sensational Star in the flesh.

The company stresses that ‘Wanted’ was built expressly as a show truck and the Lo Max model is not available in Australia.


Mack Trident Shines as B-Double Hauler

Keen to take Mack’s latest pooch on the prowl, PAUL MATTHEI recently slid behind the wheel of a Trident hauling a B-double for a run from Melbourne to Newcastle. Fitted with Mack’s flagship 535 hp MP8 engine coupled to the new mDrive automated shifter, high expectations were met with equally high results.

Bow WOW!

It’d been a few years since I’d driven a Mack on an interstate run. In fact, the last time was back in early 2005 between Adelaide and Sydney, steering a Super-Liner LT with a 550 hp Cat stirring through an Eaton AutoShift box.

Of course, much has changed since then. For starters, Mack’s much vaunted ‘New Breed’ of pups was born in Australia in late ’07, and following a few tough teething issues has matured into what is widely considered to be the finest and most comprehensive  collection of new bulldogs in the company’s long and proud history.

Furthermore, there’s no longer the option of having a hairy-chested Cat engine prowling beneath a bulldog snout, while Eaton’s underwhelming AutoShift has been largely superseded by the slicker, smoother, smarter UltraShift two-pedal automated transmission.

So while comparing the Super-Liner LT I’d driven back in ‘05 with the new Trident might seem akin to lining up chalk against cheese, there is at least one similarity that bears comparison.

That is, peak power and torque figures delivered by the latest iteration of Mack’s 12.8 litre MP8 engine with selective catalytic reduction (SCR) emissions control are within a bulldog’s bark of those produced by Cat’s C15. And remember, back in 2005 the C15 hadn’t yet been lumbered with the complicated and costly ACERT (Advanced Combustion Emissions Reduction Technology) emissions control system.

For the record, the Cat C15 produced 550 hp compared to the latest Mack’s 535 hp. In the torque department, however, the tables are turned with Mack pipping Cat at the post, notching 1920 lb ft compared to the yellow engine’s 1850 lb ft, both produced at a low 1200 rpm. The salient point about this comparison is that until its withdrawal from the on-highway truck engine business, Caterpillar was a leading powerbroker in the heavy-duty B-double business in a mix of Kenworth, Freightliner and Western Star chassis.

And herein, with its own engine now delivering such ample outputs, rests the reason why Mack can finally lay claim to having a serious contender for the hotly contested linehaul B-double market. Put simply, B-double operators generally want engines producing more than 500 hp and at least 1850 lb ft of torque, and the top rated version of Mack’s MP8 SCR engine now ticks both boxes with bold, thick ink.

It’s no secret, of course, that the MP8 engine is a canine clone of Volvo’s (Mack’s parent company) 12.8 litre D13C engine introduced some years back to provide the Swedish manufacturer with a powerplant to comfortably compete in the B-double arena. Before that, Volvo had used a complex turbo-compound system to coax 500 hp from an aging 12 litre six which was never designed to achieve such a high output. Ensuing durability issues provided resounding proof that a larger displacement engine was needed for B-double roles and the D13C with SCR emissions control has since acquitted itself remarkably well with ratings of up to 540 hp.

However, it was Mack’s insistence to remain with EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) emissions controls that precluded the MP8 from ratings above 500 hp – the main reason being the extra cooling capacity required for EGR engines. But with the introduction of ADR 80/03 emissions standards earlier this year, most manufacturers including Mack proceeded to offer SCR simply because it is now the most efficient method of mitigating harmful oxides of nitrogen (NOx) to the prescribed level.

Interestingly, it was possibly Mack’s proud American heritage that drove the company’s decision to stay with EGR – traditionally favoured by US operators – during the reign of the previous ADR 80/02 emissions regulation rather than convert to SCR. It seems the general consensus at the time was that US (and Australian) operators would be none too happy about having to regularly top up an AdBlue (liquid urea) tank as a necessary part of SCR operation. However, this assumption has proved something of a furphy on both continents as in most cases it appears drivers have taken to the new task without much fuss at all.

Indeed, our US correspondent Steve Sturgess who writes DIESEL’s State of the Union column has focussed on this issue a number of times of late with one of his most recent reports concluding that American operators are not finding SCR the terrible technology it has been regularly painted.

Anyway, back on Mack: Thanks to its Volvo parentage, switching to SCR was not particularly difficult and with its MP8 engine now punching out much the same performance standards as its Swedish counterpart, Mack is finally able to have a serious shot at the B-double business. What’s more, it can do it with its own fully automated 12-speed transmission called mDrive which, of course, is a suitably ‘Mackanised’ version of Volvo’s stunningly smooth I-shift box.

Bringing mDrive to market has been an extremely long-winded exercise and many wonder why it needed to take so long when the need, in fact, was so great. Whatever, it’s now here and best of all, it was worth the wait.

Taming the tiger

It was a blustery Melbourne morning as the cavalcade of new Macks was readied for the next leg of its Australian tour, moving from CMV’s Laverton (Vic) dealership to the NSW industrial hub of Newcastle.

As a Volvo, Mack and UD dealership, CMV is well versed in the supply of AdBlue (liquid urea) for SCR engines and even has a mini-tanker to dispense the product. Thus, filling the 200 litre AdBlue tank of a Mack Trident took just a few minutes, which sure beats trying to slosh it in using 10 or 20 litre containers!

While the Trident was the prime focus for this report, my first drive was a Granite day cab prime mover pulling a drop-deck semi with a Granite rigid tipper sitting on the deck.  Designed for urban distribution roles and with a gross combination rating of 45 tonnes, the Granite prime mover had the MP8 engine rated at 435 hp with 1655 lb ft of torque, coupled to an mDrive automated transmission and driving into a Meritor RT40-145 tandem running a 3.42:1 axle ratio.

Riding on a wheelbase of 4460 mm and with its steer axle set back 1297 mm from the bumper face, this Granite boasted a remarkably tight turning circle of 15.9 metres. It also sported a bumper to back of cab (BBC) measurement of 2960 mm and an overall length of 7272 mm, while fuel and liquid urea tank capacities were 700 and 125 litres respectively.

Apart from the mDrive experience, probably the most pleasing aspect of this drive was that it demonstrated just how well Mack engineers have tuned the MP8 engine to differentiate it from its Volvo counterpart. Quite simply, if I hadn’t known any different, I would not have suspected there was anything other than a traditional Mack six humming away under the hood.

Perhaps it’s due to a slightly freer exhaust system, but throughout the drive there was the distinct impression of a decidedly deeper engine note than what comes from a Volvo engine, which I believe is exactly what most Mack drivers would want to hear. And that’s not to say it was noisy; on the contrary these new bulldogs are quieter than their forebears by a country mile. No, it’s simply a familiar nuance that perhaps even subconsciously reinforces the fact that you’re driving a Mack.

And speaking of driving, although my stint in the Granite was short, it at least provided the opportunity to see how mDrive performed hauling away from traffic lights and such. Grossing just 25 tonnes or thereabouts, the unit certainly wasn’t working hard but the fact that the transmission software recognised this and would often skip one or sometimes two gears during upshifts was a solid recommendation for the intuitiveness of the system. I also noticed that it adapted quickly to a gentle driving style, keeping engine speed within the most fuel efficient band between 1200 and 1600 rpm.

Trident’s turn

Then it was time to park my butt in the comfortable sheep-skin covered driver’s chair of the Trident, hauling a loaded B-double set and grossing around 60 tonnes, well under the model’s 70 tonnes gross weight rating. My co-pilot for the trip was Mack driver-trainer Paul Munro and as we both scribbled in our logbooks, it struck me that there were three major departures from Mack tradition in this Trident and the Granite I’d just driven. First, of course, is the SCR emissions system while second and third are the absence of a clutch pedal and shift lever due to the mDrive automated transmission.

That’s right, there’s no shift lever at all, with gearbox functions controlled by large push buttons housed in a neat flush-fitting panel just to the left of the steering wheel, with a similarly large and easily read LED display at the top showing which gear is selected. Vitally, due to the wrap around cockpit style dash, this panel is well within fingertip reach of the driver and along with the normal selector functions, there’s another marked ‘PERF’ denoting a performance mode which allows revs to run higher on long climbs and provides better engine braking during descents.

Besides, not having a shift lever of any description beside the seat proved a boon when I decided it was time to test out the bunk for a few hours. Seriously, being able to swing both legs around the seat completely unimpeded is pure joy. And yes, the sack is extremely comfortable too!

Meanwhile, in the constricted confines of a roadhouse parking area it was similarly easy to appreciate the manoeuvrability afforded by a steer axle set back 1297 mm from the bumper which, combined with a 4885 mm wheelbase, provides a relatively compact turning circle of 17.2 metres.

At the other end, the Trident ran Meritor RT46-160 drive axles with a final drive ratio of 3.07:1, riding on Mack’s AP460 air suspension. Fuel and liquid urea capacities are 1400 and 200 litres respectively while the BBC dimension is 3775 mm with a 36 inch (914 mm) sleeper berth attached.

Pulling onto the highway, the Trident immediately flexed its considerable muscle and the 1920 lb ft of torque was put to good use as the mDrive box progressed through the gears as smoothly as any automated unit I’ve driven. Particularly impressive was the precise engine speed control that enabled crisp, fast shifts, keeping the turbo up to speed and minimising road speed drop off during each change.

Once up to the 100 km/h limit, at which the Trident’s tacho was indicating a relaxed 1500 rpm, Paul Munro proceeded to describe the cruise control operation and I soon discovered a very useful feature of the system. After setting the desired road speed and with the engine brake switched on, pressing another ‘set’ toggle switch allows the engine brake to activate when the vehicle speed exceeds the set speed by more than three km/h, such as on a downgrade. However, having the three km/h tolerance means slight variations in speed are allowed for without the annoyance of the engine brake coming on when it’s not needed. And on the subject of engine braking, Mack’s Powerleash unit is good for 315 kW (495 hp) of retardation at 2100 rpm.

After this, it was simply a matter of sitting back and enjoying the drive, with the Trident taking the task of hauling a 60 tonne B-double combination up the Hume well in its stride. For instance, on the first serious northbound climb near Glenrowan, it only dropped one gear and crested the rise at 65 km/h and 1300 rpm. Then further on at the steeper Aeroplane and Woomargama ascents it managed both in eighth gear, falling to 28 km/h and 1200 rpm on the former and 33 km/h and 1300 rpm on the latter.

The day progressed comfortably and smoothly, and with midnight approaching after skirting around Sydney and joining the F3 for the final leg to Newcastle, the Mack seemed to relish the cooler night air. Indeed, the truck romped up the Joll’s Bridge climb from the HawkesburyRiver, settling into 9th gear and holding 40 km/h at 1400 rpm on the sharpest pinch. Similarly, the run over Moonie Moonie saw the Mack cling tenaciously to 8th gear with the speedo steady at 30 km/h and the tacho registering 1250 rpm.

By any estimation it was a gutsy effort considering the all-up weight of 60 tonnes. However, in both cases the mDrive transmission wasn’t left entirely to its own devices. I found the best results were achieved by leaving it in auto but selecting performance mode at the commencement of a climb. This enabled single gear downshifts at about 1400 rpm rather than letting engine speed fall to 1200 rpm where the transmission would perform a skip downshift to compensate for the loss of road speed. Then once it had settled on the right gear for the pull, deactivating the performance mode allowed revs to drop to 1250 without a ratio change to make best use of the low down torque. This also allowed upshifts to occur sooner as the terrain levelled out which once again kept engine speed in the fuel efficient band between 1200 and 1600 rpm.

All up, the strategy seemed to work and arriving atNewcastle, a quick flick through the driver info system revealed the Trident had averaged a respectable 1.7 km/litre (4.8 mpg) on the trip fromMelbourne. What’s more, according to Paul Munro, the unit’s overall average consumption since the beginning of Mack’s cavalcade was 1.77 km/litre (5.0 mpg), achieved with a consistent 60 tonne gross weight and a wide variety of drivers.

At the end of the test, the overwhelming impression was that Mack has done a fine job of incorporating the necessary SCR technology and desirable mDrive automated transmission into its product line without compromising the traditional character of the brand.

This is perhaps best underscored by the conclusion that with this latest Trident, Mack finally has an entirely competent B-double prime mover propelled by a highly responsive six cylinder engine and automated transmission package.

Arguably the most pertinent point of all though is that none of this would have been possible for Mack without its Volvo parentage. For those who still yearn for the old days, it’s a point certainly worth thinking about.


Major Makeover for Kenworth’s Cab-Over

There’s no doubt about it! Inside and out, the K200 represents the most dramatic and most overdue design change in the 40 year history of Kenworth’s stalwart cab-over. In this detailed report, STEVE BROOKS is invited behind the wheel to sample this remarkable rework of the venerable K-series, arguably the biggest single development from the Kenworth camp in decades.


In the broadest terms of truck design, evolution can perhaps be loosely defined as those gradual updates and modifications which change and enhance the style and performance of a particular model over time.
Revolution on the other hand occurs when a great heap of major developments are implemented all at once, dramatically altering a particular design to the point where it not only looks vastly different but is also fundamentally better in function and form than anything that went before it. Subsequently, it becomes the foundation for future designs.

Kenworth K200

In our estimation, Kenworth’s K200 probably sits somewhere between the two definitions. Yet such is the extent of change on a series which from day one has been a cornerstone of Kenworth’s Australian operation, that the lean is definitely more towards revolution than evolution. Revolution with a small ‘r’.

Whatever the judgement though, the K200 – or something akin to it with the enhancements to overcome a few increasingly evident flaws in the internal design of Kenworth’s crucial cab-over – has been a long time coming. Forty years have passed since the first truck, a K-series, rolled out of Kenworth’s Bayswater (Vic) factory and since then more than 11,000 cab-overs have followed, easily making K-series the most enduring and successful of all Kenworth models. Indeed, one of the most enduring trucks to ever compete on the Australian market.

In the K200 demo truck, control tower for the Eaton Ultrashift-Plus automated shifter actually infringed on movement from seat to bunk more than its manual counterpart with a collapsible gearlever. Automated or not though, space and convenience for the driver are massively improved in the K200.

Of course, much has changed over those 40 years, not least America’s departure from heavy-duty cab-over trucks which effectively left Kenworth’s Australian operation on its own when it came to continuing development of the K-series. Yet many years back, around the late ‘80s, there was actually plenty of talk of a completely new Kenworth cab-over design being developed at Paccar’s Seattle headquarters in the US. Corporate colleague Peterbilt had already produced a radical new cab-over model and most pundits thought it inevitable that Kenworth would eventually follow with something similarly advanced.

However, changing US regulations continued to favour conventional designs, meaning that Peterbilt’s new cab-over would be relatively shortlived and Kenworth’s anticipated new model would forever remain nothing more than a rumour. As for some suggestions at the time that Australia should design and produce an entirely new cab-over of its own, well, in a relatively small market like ours the costs are simply way too high – particularly given the engineering complexities of the cab-over design – and the returns way too low to justify such an expensive endeavour. Thus, the K-series was here to stay.

Still, cab-over acceptance in Australia remained strong, buoyed greatly by the ascendancy of B-doubles. Meantime, Kenworth’s extensive engineering capabilties and world class manufacturing operation at Bayswater combined to put the local outfit in the box seat, providing the ability to quickly react to changing operational and regulatory landscapes.

It’s fair to suggest, for instance, that Kenworth Australia’s capabilities and the burgeoning B-double business delivered a much needed shot in the arm for the K-series, with no better example of this than the cab-over’s adaptation over the years to the various regulatory requirements of B-doubles and its subsequent success as a market leader in B-double roles.

Steppin’ up. The K200 is a tall truck but the steps are evenly spaced and provide sure-footed access with conveniently sited grab rails for support. On the passenger side though, there was the surprising absence of a grab handle on the inside of the A-pillar.

In fact, the K-series has probably undergone more development work over the past few decades than any Kenworth model to ever compete on the Australian market. Gradual changes based on the K100 platform have seen the evolution of versions from the K100C to the K100E, K100G, the K104 which marked the arrival of engineering modifications specifically tailored to toughening emissions standards, followed soon after by the marginally modified K104B.

In engineering terms, however, the biggest change came a few years later with the K108, a derivative created alongside its ’08 conventional counterparts to meet the massively increased cooling requirements of EGR engines complying with the ADR 80/02 emissions standard which came into effect early in 2008.

Then almost three years later, coinciding with the introduction of the ADR 80/03 emissions standard on January 1 this year, Kenworth late in 2010 shocked the socks off everyone with the launch of several stunningly restyled conventionals. The biggest shock of all though came with the unveiling of the K200.

As several senior Kenworth people have explained when asked why it took so long to introduce a vastly restyled and modernised cab-over flagship, the ’08 range consumed so much engineering time and energy – not to mention funds – in meeting ADR 80/02 that there was little opportunity to concentrate on anything other than the detailed requirements of the new emissions standard.

According to the same people though, there had been firm plans for a number of years to completely redesign the K-series. Thus, with the engineering demands of ADR 80/03 substantially less than those of the previous standard, Kenworth had both the time and the resources to go full throttle on the creation of a vastly changed cab-over series.

New looks

Development of the K200 was unquestionably one of the best kept secrets in the history of Australian truck design and despite a typically lengthy test program across much of Australia, Kenworth still managed to keep the new model away from prying eyes.

Sure, we expected a modified range of trucks fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) to meet the 2011 emissions standard, but there was no indication whatsoever that Kenworth would go to such great lengths to

address the criticisms which had dogged the K-series despite its obvious success over so many years. Those criticisms, of course, centred largely on the driver environment with complaints of poor access into and inside the cab, but it’s on the outside where you’re initially left in no doubt that K200 is boldly different to any of its predecessors.

To quote Kenworth, ‘The K200 story starts with dramatic new styling from a wider and lower grille opening and chrome surround. This larger opening, along with the standard contoured FUPS bumper, promotes greater airflow through the new cooling package which includes a new charge air cooler, moulded fan shroud and a repositioned engine to optimise exit air flow.’

The size of the radiator is, however, unchanged. According to our sources, Kenworth was able to achieve considerable gains in cooling efficiency by concentrating on air management, specifically streamlining airflow into and out of the radiator through a redesigned fan shroud.

Meanwhile, cab height has been raised by 50 mm with considerably more shielding under the cab and engine tunnel to substantially lower heat and noise intrusion.

Critically though, considerable engineering emphasis was applied to cab access. Again quoting Kenworth, ‘The new cab access system provides a larger free flowing top step that supplements existing access standards … and allows the driver to maintain continuous three points of contact at all times by utilising grab rails and steps.’

Additionally, there are LED step lights integrated with the remote control central locking system, automatically lighting the steps when the cab is unlocked. Also, the doors have been redesigned with wider armrests integrating switches for mirror adjustment and the standard electric windows.

There are also new seat options providing driver and passenger with 30 mm more shoulder room and greater leg room on the passenger side. What’s more, there’s also space under the bunk for two amply sized slide-out drawers which can be optionally equipped as 30 litre fridges. Likewise, the overhead console includes an additional storage locker and recessed panels for fitment of GPS navigation or other driver information displays.

The truly big achievements on the inside though are what Kenworth describes as an ‘almost flat’ cab floor and a clever fold-away gearlever, each combining to overcome historic K-series complaints of restricted space in the driver’s area and poor access from seat to bunk.

Look here! The curved edge of the wider, lower grille opening gives the K200 a distinctive look befitting a premium model which marks the start of a new era for the long-serving K-series. Behind the grille though are considerable gains in cooling efficiency.

So, having driven many different K-series models over the past 30 years and more in everything from express linehaul to roadtrain triples, these driver factors were the main motivation for jumping at an offer to pilot a K200 on a day-long drive through the Victorian backblocks in the company of Kenworth sales manager Rob Griffin. In effect, it was an assessment of environment and ergonomics rather than performance, and the fact that the truck was coupled to a partially loaded single trailer rather than a B-double set was of little importance.

The demo truck was a full production unit which had already covered 11,000 km on trial duties and as a showpiece for the new series was well endowed with all the latest options, not least the full suite of safety features from Kenworth’s (Knorr Bremse) electronic brake safety system (EBSS) including anti-lock brakes, electronic stability program and what Kenworth calls ‘active cruise with brakes’, or ACB. Like most modern active cruise control systems, ACB monitors traffic ahead of the vehicle and on detecting a potential collision has the ‘smarts’ to automatically apply the truck’s foundation brakes after first applying the engine brake and reducing the throttle.

Built on a 4.28 metre wheelbase and fitted with the 2.3 metre Aerodyne sleeper cab, the test truck was punched by a Cummins ISX engine rated at 525 hp, putting the power to the ground through a Dana D46-170 drive tandem running a 4.3:1 final drive ratio, mounted on Kenworth’s Airglide 460 airbag rear suspension.

The transmission was Eaton’s super-slick Ultrashift-Plus automated 18-speed overdrive and while shifters don’t come much sweeter than this latest evolution of Eaton automation, in this instance it was a disappointment … not because of any deficiency or fault with the transmission, but simply that its manual counterpart would have better highlighted the K200’s unquestionable gains in space and function. As it was, the automated shifter’s Cobra control tower was a somewhat lumpy affair mounted on the forward edge of the engine cowl and consumed more space than seemed necessary.

In fact, climbing behind the wheel of a manual model for a few minutes, it was instantly evident that the stick shift with its innovative and simple ability to be folded out of the way provided a notably easier move from the seat than the automated version. Consequently, a Cobra controller integrated into the fascia on the driver’s left would be an obvious and significant improvement on the arrangement in the demo truck. Simply stated, Kenworth can do better.

Still, in either automated or manual form, the swing out of the driver’s seat in the K200 is massively improved over its predecessors. Lightyears ahead!
Likewise, the lower floor height over the engine is a remarkable achievement which allows drivers up to six feet tall to stand fully upright. And this, combined with immeasurably easier access to and from the seat, effectively silences complaints which have hammered at Kenworth’s door for decades.

Speaking of silence, interior noise levels in the K200 are exceptionally low and Kenworth’s work on reducing noise and heat intrusion appears to have paid off … big time!

As for actually climbing in and out of the cab, the revised step arrangements are notable improvements. The K200 is a tall truck but the steps are evenly spaced and provide sure-footed access with conveniently sited grab rails for support. On the passenger side though, the ease and safety of entry and exit are diminished by the surprising absence of a grab handle on the inside of the A-pillar.

In on-road terms, the K200 behaved brilliantly. Steering and ride quality were exemplary while forward vision through the optional one-piece windscreen was superb. Sure, most operators will probably see the

single sheet as an expensive piece of replacement glass compared to the standard split ‘screen, and of course they’d be right. Similarly though, there’s no question the vision provided by the one piece of glass is exceptional.

Likewise, modified doors coupled with superbly sized and mounted side mirrors deliver an excellent view of ‘the back door’.

For the most part, the dash and switchgear layouts have undergone only minor amendments but there are nonetheless a couple of concessions to modern practice, specifically a switch on the far right of the main dash for regeneration of the diesel particulate filter. What’s more, engine brake controls in the demo unit were via a switch on the left fascia rather than on a thin wand atop the steering column. According to Kenworth, the change to the dash-mounted switch becomes necessary when the suite of safety features is installed.

So all up, the K200 is a major and unequivocal advance on its forebears and while the most important and obvious gains are in the space and convenience afforded by a comprehensive rework of the engine tunnel and floor area along with effective innovations like a collapsible gearlever, it’s more about the complete package than individual elements.
External appearance, of course, is the most striking element of the new model but on the inside there are also numerous nuances in trims, fittings and features which all add to a truck which has taken a generational leap into the modern world.

Sure, there are perhaps other cab-over brands with rights to claim easier access and better internal space and convenience, but given the established acceptance of the K-series built on its long-standing reputation for durability and operational efficiency, the substantial gains achieved by Kenworth engineers are immensely valuable.

In fact, when it’s considered that Kenworth’s cab-over has design roots tracing back 40 years, the advances contained in the K200 are nothing less than exceptional.




Seeking Savings with 6×2 Scania

Scania G440 Short Drive

What comes around, goes around, and Scania Australia is once again pushing the virtues of the single-drive 6×2 configuration for some applications where tandem-drives have long been the norm. This time ‘round though, Scania has time and technology to draw on. PAUL MATTHEI reports after jockeying a G440 6×2 on a short run out of Melbourne.

The ‘Lazy’ Option

While trucking applications like construction, quarrying, logging and other off-road ventures obviously require the superior traction afforded by the tandem-drive 6×4 arrangement, Scania suggests there’s no valid reason why 6×2 prime movers can’t operate just as effectively as their double-diff siblings in specific highway roles.

And after the smooth, untroubled performance of just such a unit on a 185 km loop north of Melbourne, it’s difficult to disagree.

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But why would you choose to operate a 6×2 prime mover when the ‘traditional’ 6×4 configuration has been the mainstay of Australia’s heavy-duty truck fleet since Adam was a boy?

Quite simply, it all comes down to two words: Saving money! Measured against an equivalent 6×4 unit, a 6×2 prime mover in the right application can provide quantifiable savings by a number of means and for its part, Scania Australia cites the following benefits:

•    Greater payload potential due to reduced tare mass;
•    Meaningful fuel benefits and reduced carbon footprint;
•    Lower capital investment as a result of fewer mechanical parts; and
•    Reduced servicing and repair costs.

Expanding on each point, Scania says its 6×2 G440 prime mover fitted with the two-pedal (fully automated) Opticruise transmission tares around 400 kg lighter than its 6×4 equivalent. In this case, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that, all other things being equal, an additional 400 kg of payload can be legally carried by the 6×2 unit.

Then there’s the fuel saving which actually amounts to more than what’s gained by simply having 400 kg less tare weight to haul. That’s because there’s no frictional losses associated with powering a second drive axle and through shaft. Furthering this benefit, Scania specifies its 6×2 arrangement with a direct drive gearbox rather than an overdrive unit which initially sounds counter intuitive given the overdrive’s inherent ability to reduce engine speed and therefore fuel usage at highway speeds.

However, it actually takes slightly less engine power to propel a vehicle through a direct (1:1) top ratio than an overdrive ratio because the latter involves the power being delivered via the countershaft rather than directly along the main shaft of the transmission. All up, Scania says it amounts to a further one percent fuel saving.

Anyway, the 6×2 unit comes standard with an ultra tall 2.71 rear axle ratio which effectively compensates for the lack of an overdrive top gear and according to Scania’s calculations, actually delivers an identical final drive ratio to that of a 6×4 equivalent with its 3.42 rear axle and overdrive top gear. Importantly, to cater for low speed manoeuvring, the 6×2 unit features a stump pulling 16.3:1 ‘crawler’ gear.

Again according to Scania, local testing has shown the G440 6×2 has the potential to achieve up to 12.5 percent better fuel economy and at 100 km/h has an additional 10 hp at the drive wheels compared to its ‘double diff’ equivalent.

Continuing the credits, one less diff and no through shaft also mean a lower purchase price and less maintenance and repair costs over the life of the vehicle. In fact, Scania says savings in regular servicing costs could amount to almost $1000 per year for a vehicle travelling 200,000 km annually, while 6×2 vehicles running within a Scania repair and maintenance contract would cost less per month than a Scania 6×4 on a similar contract. It’s also worth mentioning the lower tyre wear rate of the lazy axle and the fact that it can be fitted with steer tread pattern tyres which in most applications tend to have slower wear rates than chunkier drive treads.

These days, all Scania 6×2 prime movers are also equipped with traction control, differential lock and load transfer – a system which engages at speeds below 30 km/h to vary air pressure between the lazy and drive airbags and thus add more weight over the drive axle – to maximise traction in conditions likely to be encountered during typical operation.

First time

Scania Australia organised a test drive of a G440 6×2 running from its Campbellfield (Melbourne) headquarters, north along the old Hume Highway to Seymour before turning to join the ‘new’ Hume freeway on the return run. Sure, it wasn’t far – just 185 km – but I’d never driven a 6×2 prime mover before and was eager to find out if there would be any discernible difference in driving terms compared to an equivalent 6×4 unit.

My curiosity was soon satisfied and the short answer is that it was impossible to tell the difference. Quite simply, the G440 6×2 grossing around 38 tonnes did the job with the same quiet efficiency we’ve come to expect from each and every model in the current Scania line-up.

And on that point, Scania says it plans to offer the 6×2 option across its entire range comprising P, G and R-series cabs with either five, six or eight cylinder engines. Meanwhile, with the G 440 6×2 already available, Scania says a number of units have been trialled by a variety of Australian transport operators with most reporting exceptional driver acceptance of the new configuration.

Back to the drive though, a revealing part of the exercise centred around the use of Scania Driver Support (SDS), an inbuilt system that helps the driver modify driving style in order to maximise fuel efficiency. Indeed, the drive program typified something of a two pronged attack on fuel usage, given the 6×2 configuration and driving style are both major influences.

SDS works by awarding a star rating of between one and five stars depending on how well the driver anticipates road conditions and uses the vehicle’s momentum to maximise fuel efficiency and minimise brake use. The star rating appears periodically on the instrument panel display along with the driver’s cumulative fuel efficiency score (expressed as a percentage) for the entire trip.

For example, my initial fuel efficiency score according to the SDS system was a fair 66 percent but with Scania driver trainer Alan McDonald suggesting I back off the throttle just before the crest of each hill and allow the vehicle’s momentum to do more of the work on the downhill run, my score had improved by 10 percent at the end of the trip.

Back at Campbellfield, the truck’s on-board trip computer revealed a consumption rate of 2.65 km/ litre (7.49 mpg) which, all things taken into account, was an impressive result and certainly endorsed the fuel saving potential of the single-drive 6×2 configuration.

All up, it seems there is nothing but positives for the 6×2 set-up. However, one aspect which didn’t rate a mention in Scania’s presentation is resale value. Historically, secondhand three-axle prime movers with just one drive axle are about as popular as a burqa in a bank. Obviously this point would need to be taken into account when calculating whole-of-life costing on a 6×2 vehicle, and there’s no doubt finance companies would factor lower residual values (compared to 6×4 units) into their leasing arrangements.

That said though, if the price of a new 6×2 is substantially cheaper than its 6×4 equivalent, then perhaps the reduced resale value is offset to some extent.


Isuzu Enhances its Flagship Giga Range

Isuzu Giga under test in Japan, complete with an Aussie-spec B-double set

In an obvious bid to bolster its credentials in the big end of the business, market leader Isuzu has enhanced its flagship Giga range with a number of updates aimed at ‘delivering better fuel economy and an improved driving experience’. But as STEVE BROOKS asks, will it be enough to notch bigger numbers?

Top ‘n’ Tail

With 23 years of continuous market leadership now seemingly as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise, it’d be reasonable to think the folk at Isuzu Australia would be fundamentally content with the company’s unrivalled achievements over so many years. And for the most part, they probably are.

Yet despite the phenomenal longevity of Isuzu’s reign at the top of the tree and the obvious satisfaction and pride this brings, company principals have bluntly stated many times over that there’s no room for complacency or weakness, nor blindness to windows of opportunity.

The same principals, however, have also been known to quietly concede to a weak link in the Isuzu armour; one which has existed for many years, subsequently denying the company the ability to meet the full gambit of Australian operations. Perhaps worst of all though, particularly for a highly professional outfit ultimately responsible for its own extraordinary success, it appears there’s not a great deal Isuzu Australia can do about it.

Obviously enough, that weak link is in the top tier of the heavy-duty market where Isuzu competes with its flagship Giga range. On the surface it may seem an odd weakness, given that along with being the entrenched master of the light and medium-duty classes, Isuzu is also the leading Japanese brand in the heavy-duty class and in recent years has gained considerable ground, occasionally surpassing the likes of Freightliner and Mack. However, the bulk of Isuzu’s growth in the heavy-duty arena has come from an expanded range of high-end F-series rigid models rather than galloping demand for Giga.

So despite the fact that Isuzu’s 510 hp Gigamax flagship is the highest powered Japanese truck on the market, why does Giga struggle when its smaller siblings are so remarkably successful?

There are, it seems, several answers. For starters, Isuzu’s lighter models predominantly compete against other Japanese brands in market segments which over many decades have become completely reliant on Japanese trucks. Giga, on the other hand, is battling for recognition in a field where the world’s biggest brands come to play, and play hard. What’s more, it’s a field where Isuzu’s competitive countrymen also have strong ambitions and in a somewhat strange twist, the leading Japanese seller of trucks above 350 hp is actually the least prolific of all Japanese brands on the Australian market … UD!

More to the point though is the fact that Giga is a truck essentially designed and built for the Japanese domestic market and its Asian neighbours. So too, of course, are top weight Fuso, Hino and UD models also made for much the same markets. The result is trucks of immense structural strength but largely lacking the broad appeal of their American and European peers, and subsequently struggling to achieve strong sales volumes.

It’s obviously a different story in the lighter classes where vastly expanded export goals have seen all Japanese brands throw huge resources into the development of new cabs, engines and drivetrains for light and medium-duty models competing on domestic and export markets. The downside to that, however, is that Japanese development of heavy-duty models for advanced, mature and highly competitive export markets such as Australia has in many cases simmered on the backburner.

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This was a point cautiously conceded late last year by Yoshinori Ida, the astute corporate heavyweight who over the course of the decade directed Isuzu’s return from the rim of ruin. In an exclusive interview with DIESEL, Ida-san confirmed the fundamental differences between Japanese and western requirements for heavy-duty trucks make it difficult to be all things to all people. Equally though, he agreed “something needs to be done” but was short on commitment when asked about eight-wheeler derivatives of Giga and more critically, if an advanced new engine of, say, 13 litres displacement was being developed to replace the 15.7 litre lump which some – including us – see as the greatest single detriment to Giga’s potential in markets such as Australia. “Not yet” was Ida-san’s blunt response on both topics.

There are, of course, those who will justifiably argue that a big cube engine dispensing modest outputs will live longer than a smaller engine punching the same or even bigger performance. Technology and fuel prices have, however, done much to quash that argument.

Thus, in a modern heavy-duty world where advanced 13 litre engines are fuel efficient, powerful and popular, Isuzu Australia appears stuck with the 15.7 litre engine which in all versions except the 510 hp Gigamax delivers peak power of just 338 kW, or 450 hp. Yet even at the top 510 rating, it’s not much muscle for an engine of such copious capacity.

Nor is peak torque of 2255 Nm (1663 lb ft) in all ratings particularly inspiring from such a hefty piece of hardware; and even less inspiring when measured against UD’s top GW470 model which plucks the same amount of torque from a 13 litre placement. But the heavy Isuzu engine takes an even bigger beating when lined up against the top rating of Volvo’s 13 litre six cylinder engine, delivering a brawny 397 kW (540 hp) and tenacious 2600 Nm (over 1900 lb ft) of torque. And this, of course, is the sort of competition Giga faces.

In the meantime, little is likely to change for Isuzu Australia until Japan develops a new heavy-duty engine in a size and form consistent with leading world technology.

Local Initiative

Typically though, Isuzu’s local leaders are striving to do the best with what they have. In fact, in an upbeat press release the company recently pronounced, ‘A series of enhancements to Isuzu’s heavy-duty Giga range is delivering operators greater fuel economy and an improved driving experience.’

According to Isuzu, ‘… engineers have undertaken two years of research and development to refine the current Giga range, offering its most attractive heavy-duty transport solution to date.

‘The result,’ the company states, ‘is up to 10 percent improvement in fuel economy across the range – depending on application – heightened driver comfort, and four new Giga variants.’

“We recognise that there’s always room for improvement,” said Isuzu Australia product planning and engineering support manager Colin White. “On the fuel economy front we’ve made several refinements to the Giga range designed to deliver a marked improvement.

“We’ve revised the engine control software of the Giga range to enhance fuel efficiency at low engine speeds, adjusted the rear axle ratios on some models to provide low RPM at cruise, and modified shift strategies in the transmission software to reduce average engine RPM.

“And the reprogrammed engine software has adjusted the ‘sweet spot’ so optimal fuel economy is reached at lower engine RPM, and over a greater operating range.

“To take advantage of this change, axle ratios were revised on some models to reach optimal fuel efficiency when cruising at 100 km/h.

“The shift points on the AMT (automated mechanical transmission) have also been adjusted downward in the engine operating range on both 12 and 16-speed models,” White explained.

Additionally, three ‘highway’ variants have been introduced to the CXY 455 18-speed and CXY 455 Premium models, fitted with Michelin Energy Tyres to reduce rolling resistance and fuel consumption while minimising cabin noise, the company states.

Additionally, the flagship Gigamax model is now being offered in a ‘general purpose’ variant known as the EXY 510 GP, said to be engineered to deliver greater fuel economy in single-trailer and B-double applications due to the reduced axle ratio and Michelin Energy Tyres.

Furthermore, Isuzu advocates the use of a range of aerodynamic accessories to reduce drag and fuel consumption.

“We always recommend that operators consider adding the full complement of aerodynamic accessories to their Gigas as this can reduce drag by up to 15 per cent and deliver significant fuel savings,” Colin White concluded.

For now and perhaps several years to come, Isuzu Australia will obviously continue to make the most of what Giga offers. Eventually though, Japan must bite the bullet on heavy-duty engine development before its highly successful Australian offshoot can hope to be little more than a bit player in the big end of the business.

New Generation Argosy Dressed for Success

Freightliner’s new generation Argosy is finally out of the box and with a striking new appearance, new engine and driveline options, a stack of new and improved features, all wrapped in a swag of newfound confidence by the folks at Freightliner, this Argosy is already being hailed ‘the best yet’. And on first impressions, it appears to be exactly that. STEVE BROOKS reports.

JAWS Strikes

Make no mistake, the importance of the new Argosy to Freightliner’s Australian performance cannot be overstated. Sure, new conventional models led by the premium Coronado are the spearhead of a rejuvenated Freightliner assault on the Australian market and executives within Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific admit they’ll be going all out to increase the brand’s coverage in conventional classes.

But again, make no mistake, it’ll be Argosy which will continue to forge the foundation for Freightliner’s Australian presence. In fact, Argosy already accounts for around 50 percent of all Freightliner sales in this country and the likelihood is that even with an increase in conventional conquests, this vastly reinvented version will maintain the momentum by accounting for at least half of Freightliner’s business.

So what exactly makes Argosy so critical to Freightliner’s local fortunes and perhaps more to the point, so successful given its well documented periods of disappointing durability dilemmas?

When it’s all boiled down, the simple answer is B-doubles. Whereas its bonneted brothers vie for business in a heavy-duty market congested with a motza of models from fierce competitors like Kenworth, Mack, Western Star and Iveco, Argosy is one of just two US-sourced cab-overs battling primarily for domination of the linehaul B-double business. The other contender is, of course, Kenworth’s K-series and collectively their grip on B-double roles remains unrelenting despite the best efforts of European brands.

Likewise though, competition between Kenworth and Freightliner has been brutally intense almost from the moment Argosy first set rubber on Australian soil in the late ‘90s, effectively ending Kenworth’s monopoly as the only all-American cab-over on the market.

And to be blunt, Kenworth had plenty to worry about! Argosy, after all, was an American cab-over with an unusually high regard for driver comfort and convenience, and most important of all, provided proponents of US equipment with a long overdue alternative to the long-serving K-series.

However, Freightliner’s local euphoria was short-lived and unfortunately for both the brand and those who eagerly jumped at the newcomer, a litany of durability issues quickly subdued the early excitement. Worse, America was snail slow in delivering the necessary modifications and the model’s reputation took a severe hit, sending many Argosy buyers back to the Kenworth showrooms from whence they had come.

Quietly, Kenworth’s local executives wiped the nervous sweat from furrowed brows.

Yet despite Argosy’s problems, several evolutionary versions over the past decade have done much to build reassurance and keep the classy cab-over firmly in the minds of operators. Consequently, the contest for B-double domination between Argosy and K-series has for the most part remained a neck ‘n’ neck struggle, with Freightliner claiming an occasional sales edge over its arch rival. It’s fair to point out though that Kenworth also enjoys considerable B-double success with a couple of purposefully designed conventional models.

That aside, there’s no question the arrival of the latest and by far most radical version of Argosy has come at exactly the right time for Freightliner. For starters, Kenworth’s launch late last year of the hugely refashioned K200 was a major achievement, finally bringing K-series into the modern world from a driver comfort and convenience perspective, and subsequently narrowing the ergonomic chasm between the two cab-overs.

Yet possibly the most beneficial factor of the new Argosy’s release is that it ends the life of its immediate predecessor, a model which some sources say has been one of the most troublesome and damaging in Argosy’s local history. The trouble, however, arose not from any particular problem with the truck itself but rather, the Detroit Diesel Series 60 EGR engine under the cab.

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To state a complex issue simply, Freightliner initially offered two engines in the previous Argosy – Caterpillar and Detroit Diesel, but following Cat’s callous departure from the truck engine business, Detroit’s 525 hp Series 60 EGR engine was left alone to do the hard yards. However, Series 60 and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) were never made for each other and the Series 60 developed to meet the 2008 ADR 80/02 emissions standard was simply one durability step too far for an engine which for more than three decades had faithfully served a massive army of Detroit Diesel customers. Sadly, the final version of the iconic engine which had originally created an entirely new chapter in diesel engine design and efficiency, was probably the worst.

But out of those ashes, and tailored to comply with current and future emissions regulations, has come the new Argosy with not only Detroit Diesel’s new DD15 engine but also the 15 litre Cummins ISX and Signature ratings. For its part, the DD15 produces up to 560 hp and 1850 lb ft of torque while in Signature form the Cummins can be specified to 600 hp and 2050 lb ft.

And therein is the new Argosy’s greatest asset over K200: The ability to offer the choice of two engines whereas Kenworth offers Cummins only.

What’s more, in an obvious bid to capitalise on the corporate kinship of Detroit Diesel and Freightliner in the Daimler empire, Freightliner’s local principals make no secret of the intention to offer Detroit-powered Argosys at a sharper price than their Cummins counterparts. Not only that, but the Detroit engine comes with a standard warranty package extending to five years or one million kilometres, and that includes injectors and turbocharger.

Behind the grille

Yet the all pervading feature of the new Argosy is of course the striking chromed grille. It’s huge, heralding a dramatic redesign driven by a clever combination of new initiatives and lessons learned. This truck is much, much more than simply a model makeover.

But apart from an aggressive, even intimidating design which has already led to nicknames like ‘Jaws’, ‘the cheese grater’ and ‘Transformer’, the prime role of such a gaping grin is obviously to allow massive volumes of air to flow through the radiator and charge-air cooler, and similarly, an easy exit for heat and noise from the engine cavity.

As for the radiator itself, at 1650 square inches it’s the biggest in Argosy’s history and substantially larger than the 1300 square inch radiator in the superseded model. However, it’s worth remembering that to meet the increased cooling requirements of EGR engines, the previous Argosy also employed a 500 square inch secondary core mounted inside the passenger side mudguard. By any estimation it was an ad hoc fix to a cooling constraint created by the previous model’s inability to house a larger single radiator. To overcome the problem, Freightliner engineers raised the cab of the new Argosy by 50 mm, thus providing adequate space for the bigger cooler.

Importantly, the radiator assembly is mounted directly to the engine which, according to Freightliner, allows it to flex in sync with the engine rather than endure the contortions of a chassis-mounted design. Also in the revised cooling package is an 11-blade fan with a reduced fan tip-to-shroud clearance and a larger header tank, all amounting to a system which is said to have easily met the high cooling standards of Cummins and Detroit Diesel, and providing ample reserve cooling capacity for engines to meet future emissions requirements.

Meanwhile, the chassis has been also bolstered with frame depth now out to 283 mm, giving the new Argosy a standard gross combination mass (GCM) rating up to 106 tonnes compared to its predecessor’s 90 tonnes. Additionally, chassis rails are now powder coated for better paint adhesion.

In the driveline department, Eaton’s 18-speed transmission in both manual and automated form is the standard stirrer but gratefully, automated options now include the substantially smarter Ultrashift-Plus version controlled through Freightliner’s clever Smartshift wand mounted on the steering column. The other automated option remains Eaton’s Autoshift which retains a clutch pedal for starting and stopping, but it’ll be interesting to see how long it stays on the books given the far superior performance of Ultrashift-Plus.

Also on clutches, the new Argosy uses a cable actuated clutch linkage instead of the previous model’s mechanical system.

At the front end, a FUPS under-run bar is now standard to achieve a 6.5 tonne front axle allowance. Accordingly, a Meritor MFS-16 front axle is the standard offering complete with heavier capacity wheel bearings while further back, Meritor’s ‘Permalube’ drivelines have also become part of the standard package.

Behind the cab, the diesel particulate filter/muffler assembly is mounted vertically on a stout gantry behind the cab, freeing space on the chassis for plentiful fuel capacity in either square or round tanks, with quad square tanks available for maximum fuel storage. Square tanks can be further optioned with step inserts for easy access onto the chassis.

Again according to Freightliner, a great deal of work has also gone into strengthening and streamlining Argosy’s electrical components and systems. Starting with new dash gauges and a 185 amp Leece Neville alternator, Argosy’s reworked electrical architecture includes a new centralised ‘PowerNet Distribution Box’ to manage all electrical functions between the chassis and cab, an isolation switch fitted as standard equipment, a temperature sealed battery carrier behind the cab, and extensive use of conduit to seal and protect major power cables.

As for the Argosy cab, it still tilts through a generous 75 degree angle, contains copious storage cavities, and has lost none of its qualities for space and function, remaining available as a comfortable 90 or 101 inch mid-roof sleeper, or as a roomy 110 inch mid-roof or high-roof layout, the latter intended largely for two-up driving roles. Of course, entry and exit are second to none thanks to the remarkable swing-out staircase which, although problematic in early stages of Argosy’s life, has become the benchmark for workplace safety when it comes to cab-over entry and exit. It is optionally available for the passenger side.

Similarly, doors have been improved with a firmer detente to minimise accidental closure while there are also twin seals for better insulation from noise and dust. Further inside, Freightliner’s EasyRider driver’s chair is now finished in a durable black cloth trim, dash components are injection moulded from virgin (rather than recycled) materials for far better fit and finish, while cosmetically, faux timber furnishings and ivory gauges promote a premium image.

However, on the outside there’s far more to the Argosy cab than an aggressive new grille design. In fact, facial features of the vehicle are new in almost every area, with US engineers making extensive use of Freightliner’s full-scale wind tunnel in Portland, Oregon, to optimise aerodynamic efficiency. ‘The Argosy is designed to be more aerodynamic than a square-fronted conventional, as its frontal surface is shaped to push airflow around the sides and over the top,’ states Freightliner’s promotional material. The shape and style of the sun visor, for example, were finalised only after extensive wind tunnel trials defined the design which worked best with the 24 degree rake of the windscreen.

Likewise, aerodynamics are also said to have played a significant role in the shape and style of the new headlights, bumper and corner cowlings. Similarly, large deflectors on the front quarters are designed ‘… to provide a blanket of air above the front wheels, blowing spray and grime away from mirrors.’

On much the same tack, Freightliner says the flared bodywork above the front wheels reduces road spray to the extent that it meets B-double requirements and negates the need for spray suppression whiskers.

For now, that largely sums up the major elements of the new Argosy, except to add Freightliner’s assertion that since early 2010 all aspects of the truck’s design were subjected to rigorous testing in the US including brutal cab shaker tests, severe hot weather trials on long grades at high weights, all equating to the equivalent of around 2.5 million kilometres of durability testing. 

But is it enough? Well, Australian conditions will let us know soon enough but on first impressions this bold new Argosy appears to have a lot to recommend it, not least a history where critical lessons have been endured, absorbed and now enacted.

Here, it seems, is an Argosy fully and finally capable of realising its true potential.


Scania’s Barnstorming R730 Reviewed

After the high profile debut of its 730 hp mountain muncher at this year’s Brisbane Truck Show, Scania Australia certainly hasn’t been slow in putting the truck’s awesome outputs on the road. Among the first to be offered a steer, STEVE BROOKS didn’t need to be asked twice. But nor did he miss the chance to steer a few questions at Scania’s local leader, Roger McCarthy.

Bragging Rights

Scania R730

As our erudite European correspondent Brian Weatherley has remarked more than once, it can be sometimes difficult to fathom the fervour that sees Sweden’s giant powerhouses constantly leapfrogging each other in the seemingly ceaseless – some might even say senseless – contest for the world’s most powerful production truck. It is, however, a contest that goes back a long way, has gathered great pace over the past decade or so, and shows absolutely no sign of abating.

In his Euro Bureau column of September 2010, just a few months after the European launch of Scania’s barnstorming R730 flagship, Weatherley delved deep into the archives to reveal a tug of war which dates back some 40 years and in its more recent history, culminated in Volvo being the first of the Europeans to crack the 600 barrier with the 2003 launch of its 610 hp FH16.

Before the 610’s arrival, Scania had held top billing with a 580 hp version of its gutsy 15.6 litre V8, but it’s also worth noting that around the same time Volvo Trucks Australia had engineered a 600 hp Cummins Signature engine into its cab-over FH and the now defunct NH conventional. However, Volvo’s Cummins option was available nowhere else and in any case was quickly dumped when the reborn 16 litre engine hit the Australian market.

Back in Europe, and suitably stirred by the arrival of Volvo’s 610 rating, Scania upped the stakes in 2005 by pushing its V8 to 620 hp, backed up by a tar tearin’ 3000 Nm (2212 lb ft) of torque. But the satisfaction of holding trucking’s top testosterone title was short-lived: Volvo in 2006 hit back with a 660 model boasting 3100 Nm (2286 lb ft) of torque.

Scania then went quiet for several years and with no new big banger emerging from its ranks since the 620 rating in ‘05, the ‘other Swede’ appeared to be in no rush to re-enter the horsepower race. Indeed, when Volvo in January 2009 broke new ground with the launch of the FH16 700, many European pundits were wondering if Scania’s apparent apathy was in fact evidence that 620 hp was the limit of the long-serving V8’s power potential.

As events would soon show though, they were wrong. Very wrong!


The power race had, in effect, simply slowed for awhile as Scania considered its options before eventually changing the bent eight’s metal structure to the lighter, stronger composition of compacted graphite iron, or CGI, and reaming the block out to 16.4 litres. Then, among a swathe of new or redesigned components attached to this reconstituted hardware were the advanced XPI ultra-high pressure common-rail fuel injection system jointly developed with Cummins, a variable geometry turbocharger, a beefed up Opticruise two-pedal automated transmission, and critically, a substantially bigger radiator and intercooler package. The end result, of course, was a new flagship model called the R730 with a prodigious power peak of 537 kW (730 hp) developed at 1900 rpm, backed by a breathtaking 3500 Nm (2581 lb ft) of torque on tap from 1000 to 1350 rpm.

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In one bold move, Scania had regained the horsepower ascendancy.

However, if history is anything to go by, it’s only a matter of time before Volvo hits back with something even bigger … 750 perhaps, or will it go for broke and jump straight to 800 hp? Then again, will Scania take an early initiative by pushing the 16.4 litre displacement to even greater heights, setting Volvo an even taller task? Or will one of the German giants, MAN or Mercedes-Benz, or perhaps Iveco blow the Swedes out of the water with a sudden burst of heavyweight hormones? Who knows!

For now it’s all speculation but in the lull before the next inevitable surge toward what some might see as horsepower heaven, it’s probably worth pondering the factors driving this distinctly continental contest for power supremacy. Yet as Brian Weatherley intimated in his report last year, those factors certainly don’t include rocketing sales volumes or strong customer demand.

‘For all the hype about fire-breathing prime movers with massive horsepower,’ he wrote last year, ‘they represent only a tiny proportion of all the articulated units sold in Europe every year. In fact, between 2003 and 2009 the total number of trucks sold in Europe with over 550 hp averaged just 1.76 percent of the total new truck market, with the biggest market by far being in Italy.’

Why the Italians might need or want more muscle than their continental counterparts is anyone’s guess, but in any appraisal of European power demands it’s difficult to imagine any operational reason for such gargantuan grunt in mainstream trucking, particularly when the great majority of Europe’s linehaul truck traffic is limited to around 40 tonnes and 80 or 90 km/h. Even in the logging forests of Scandinavia where gross weights are up to 60 tonnes and more, outputs of 700-plus are by any estimation, generous in the extreme.

So back to the original question, what drives the development of such potent power and torque peaks? The answer appears to be based entirely on corporate image. ‘Having the world’s most powerful truck in your arsenal is one hell of a drawcard,’ Brian Weatherley wrote and for the most part, it’d be hard to argue.

Road run

Armed with a healthy dose of parochialism, it’s easy to assert that unlike Europe, Australia is actually one of the few markets in the world able to realistically apply and even justify such high power and torque outputs as those offered by both Volvo’s FH16 700 and more recently, Scania’s R730. For starters, this is the land of the roadtrain where combinations of four and even five trailers, and gross weights of 150 tonnes and more, are entirely capable of fully utilising such vast reserves of power and torque.

But as Scania Australia managing director Roger McCarthy was quick to highlight, roadtrain roles represent a relatively small slice of the total Australian market and consequently, the true extent of demand for the R730 is for the moment unknown. Still, the roadtrain realm is far from being the only potential taker of the R730 and it was a confident McCarthy who asserted, “Australia generally is a user of high horsepower trucks and it’s a bonus to have the world’s most powerful truck in your range. Scania has taken the leading edge in performance and that’s something we intend to fully promote.” And promote it will as the R730 fronts a Scania roadshow currently demonstrating to truck operators from Brisbane to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and most regional centres in between.

Prominent in that roadshow are three of the brand’s four V8 models – an R560, R620 and of course the R730, with only the R500 baby of the bunch missing from the entourage. What’s more, in a clever endeavour to demonstrate and compare the performance of its top three V8 ratings, Scania Australia recently convened a test drive over a set course with each model hooked to a B-double set and grossing around 58.5 tonnes. Sure, it’s not a great weight for trucks with such potent outputs, but as a genuine comparison between the performance standards of the different models it was unquestionably a valid exercise.

The R730 was obviously the major attraction but it needs to be pointed out that this particular truck was hurriedly brought to Australia for the Brisbane Truck Show and as an early example of a 6×4 production unit, differed from what could be described as a ‘normal’ Australian spec. The most obvious differences were the under-cab placement of air intake and exhaust plumbing, modest fuel capacity of 850 litres and a fuel pick-up line from the driver’s side tank rather than the passenger side. What’s more, this particular 730 was built to a gross weight capacity of just 90 tonnes.

But as Scania Australia technical representative Ian Butler emphasised, it’s still early days for the R730 and development work tailoring the model to the broad needs of the Australian market is already in train. “We’re well aware of what needs to be done,” he commented, adding that gross weight capacities far greater than 90 tonnes are obviously on the agenda. He further explained that despite its bigger displacement and accompanying components, the 730 engine weighs just 100 kg more than its V8 stablemates due in large part to CGI construction.

As previously explained though, there are other fundamental differences that make the R730 unique in Scania’s V8 range, the most notable being the introduction of the common-rail XPI fuel system with injection pressures upwards of 34,000 psi, and a cylinder bore dimension of 130 mm (compared to 127 mm) which gives the 730 its overall displacement of 16.4 litres. In all V8 versions though, piston stroke length is unchanged at 154 mm.

Another notable difference is a big increase in engine oil capacity, up 50 percent from 32 litres in R500, R560 and R620 models to 48 litres in the R730.

Meanwhile, whereas all Scania V8 engines use an SCR emissions system to comply with Euro 5 standards, Scania says the 730 version ‘… is already pre-configured to cope with Euro 6.’ So far there’s no introductory date for Euro 6 in Australia but for its part, Scania’s biggest banger is at least prepared.

Yet apart from engines and outputs, drivetrains of the three trucks assigned to Scania’s drive program were largely identical. Each stirred through a two-pedal version of Scania’s Opticruise 14-speed overdrive automated transmission into a 3.42:1 rear axle ratio sitting on the Swedes’ own airbag rear suspension layout, with power going to the ground through Continental 295/80R 22.5 radials mounted on alloy rims.

Stopping power comes from electronically mastered disc brakes aided by Scania’s highly effective multi-stage hydraulic retarder while the only dimensional difference between the demo units was a 3800 mm wheelbase on the R730 compared to 3600 mm on the R560 and R620. Fuel capacity on the two smaller ratings was 970 litres and as mentioned earlier, only 850 litres on the R730. AdBlue capacity on each model was 75 litres.

And finally, all Scania V8 models come standard with the upmarket and air-sprung Highline cab. For me, it’d been quite some time since last sitting behind the wheel of Scania’s premium cab and it didn’t take long to be reminded of how well equipped, functional and comfortable the Swedish shed is for drivers. Sure, as with most top-shelf trucks these days it takes a while to become familiar with the placement and operation of the various controls and functions, particularly the many elements of the on-board computer system, but by any measure it’s an extremely impressive layout. In short, there’s a lot to like.

As for the actual driving ‘roster’, mine started in the R730 at Scania’s Campbellfield headquarters, heading up the ‘old’ Hume Highway through Wallan, over the historic Pretty Sally climb and on through Kilmore before turning off to Puckapunyal and down to Broadford for a change into the R620. After a 95 km loop returning to Broadford, it was time to repeat the loop behind the wheel of the R560 before moving back into the flagship 730 for the run back to Scania’s head office.

Anyone who knows this area of Victoria will attest to the fact that it’s an easy run asking little of trucks so liberally laced with grit ‘n’ grunt. Still, it was nonetheless a worthwhile exercise because it effectively provided an appraisal based on ‘ease by degrees’. For instance, and remembering that each unit was running at much the same weight, fitted with the same driveline spec and in my case allowed to run in full auto mode, the R560’s peak outputs of 412 kW (560 hp) and 2700 Nm (1991 lb ft) made predictably light work of the leg, with the on-board computer recording an average speed of 69 km/h and fuel consumption of 1.51 km/litre (4.27 mpg) on the 95 km loop.

Obviously making even lighter work of the same loop were the 456 kW (620 hp) and 3000 Nm (2212 lb ft) peaks of the R620, returning an average speed of 73 km/h and fuel figure of 1.42 km/litre (4.01 mpg).

As for the mile munchin’ attributes of the R730, well it was quite literally awesome, holding gears on grades where its two siblings – neither of them wimps when it comes to pulling power – would kick down one or two slots, and generally doing the job with what could only be described as ridiculous, even belligerent, ease. Given its massive, unmatched torque delivery, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to read that the R730 displayed levels of tenacity that even on this short appraisal were stunning.

For the record, roadworks restricted the 730’s average speed on the 95 km loop to just 70 km/h while fuel consumption was recorded at 1.4 km/litre, or 3.95 mpg. It’s also worth mentioning that on the 364 km round trip to and from Campbellfield, with several different drivers having stints behind the wheel and including the climb over Pretty Sally where the R730 dropped just four gears, the truck returned the same fuel figure of 1.4 km/litre.

Paying the price

Whatever the merit and findings of an evaluation such as this, many will no doubt suggest that 730 horsepower and almost 2600 lb ft of torque are essentially the premise of roadtrains and other heavy-duty toil, with any lesser workloads constituting a distinct case of overkill. Maybe so, but there will also be those who will see such potent outputs as attributes for maintaining trip times on linehaul B-double routes and others who will be simply attracted to the fact that Scania’s R730 is currently the biggest in the business.

The choice, of course, belongs to the individual but as in most things, there is a cost for shopping at the top of the tree. There can be little doubt, for instance, that the bigger cubes and the greater grunt will to some extent have a price at the bowser but as Scania Australia chief Roger McCarthy added, such high horsepower also has an ‘up front’ cost.

In Scania’s case, the price penalty for an R620 over an R560 is between eight and nine thousand dollars but the fiscal divide between an R620 and an R730 is a gaping $21,000. Performance does indeed have a price.

McCarthy agrees it’s a significant price penalty but adds there are already buyers with their hands up for a 730. “Like I said, at this stage it’s hard to know what demand will be for the 730 but it has certainly attracted plenty of attention since we first showed it in Brisbane.”

Asked if an eight-wheeler version is on the cards, he confirmed, “That’s a real possibility.” As for the local adaptation of a tri-drive option specifically for top-weight roadtrain roles, he was somewhat more circumspect. “That’ll depend on market demand.”

Arguably more important to Roger McCarthy, however, is the fact that the R730 adds another dimension to a Scania product range which has expanded considerably under his leadership, all aimed at being more things to more people and in the process reaching a higher level of market penetration which he firmly believes is entirely achievable.

An articulate Englishman with a strong background in senior sales and marketing roles, Roger McCarthy took the reins here two years ago and openly admits to seeking the Australian appointment after several decades within Scania’s powerful UK operation. In quiet conversation he also concedes to a sense of dismay at the brand’s modest presence on the Australian market. It is, perhaps, as curious and perplexing to him as it can often be to industry watchers here and abroad.

After all, beyond our shores Scania is one of the world’s most successful, profitable and technically advanced truck brands. What’s more, in almost every market where they compete, Scania and Volvo are head-to-head combatants on a daily basis, with just fractions of a percent point often separating their places on the sales charts of many countries.

But that’s obviously not the case in Australia. With its own engineering and assembly operation in Brisbane, an expansive product portfolio and a formidable dealer network of both company-owned and experienced independent outlets, Volvo is one of this market’s most prominent players and at the end of the first half of this year held 10.6 percent of the heavy-duty sector. Scania on the other hand relies on fully imported units sold and serviced primarily through 10 company-owned stores and just one independent outlet on the NSW north coast. Its take of the heavy-duty market to the end of June was a modest 4.6 percent, a figure which largely typifies the brand’s somewhat humble performance over many years.

Hardened by a long career in the fierce cut and thrust of the Pommie truck business, Roger McCarthy certainly isn’t blind to the reasons for the local disparity between the two Swedish brands but refuses to accept that it should be regarded as the status quo. Nor does he accept that Scania’s commitment to the Australian market is of a lesser ilk. “Scania is without doubt committed to the Australian market,” he retorts. “We’re a leader in the bus and coach business and trucks are equally important to us.”

Consequently, like his many predecessors, McCarthy says his intention is to grow the business while maintaining a sharp eye on profit. “We won’t do business at the expense of profit,” he insists.

Fortunately, he’s also unfazed by comments like ‘we’ve heard it all before’ and ‘Scania still holds little more than four percent of the market.’

“Perhaps Scania’s goals and objectives weren’t as determined in the past as they are today,” he says bluntly, adding that the gradual expansion of the product range into carefully targeted niche applications and subsequent increases in the customer base are cause for considerable confidence.

Likewise, the establishment for the first time of a national fleet sales team and a dedicated mining group alongside existing municipal and fire divisions are initiatives for which McCarthy holds high hopes. Similarly, an expanded truck rental operation and recent service agreements with refrigerated trailer specialist Schmitz Cargobull and high profile component suppliers SAF-Holland and Wabco are more than just a localised attempt to bolster Scania’s service revenues. “Those agreements are part of a global service initiative by Scania,” he explains, “with the aim to be a total service solutions provider.”

Increased truck sales are, however, the prime objective and according to a resolute Roger McCarthy, “Our goal over the next three years or so is to progressively grow Scania’s stake in the truck market to five percent and onwards to seven and eight percent. Those targets are fully achievable but I’ll stress again that volumes won’t be increased at the expense of profitability.”

But given Scania’s propensity for swapping managing directors in its Australian operation, will Roger McCarthy still be here in another three years?

The question drew a wry smile. “Let’s face it, I’m simply a resource and as such I can be asked to work anywhere. But it’s certainly my intention to be still here in three years time.

“I asked to come here so I’m in no rush to leave before the job’s done.”