Seeking Savings with 6×2 Scania

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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.

Perhaps!

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

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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.”

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