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THE UNIMOG IS 60 YEARS OLD

June 8, 2011 Vol. 7, No. 12

One of my all-time favorite trucks is a tough little bugger that doesn't even haul freight and isn't totally at home on the road. Mind you, it does a zillion other things.

The Unimog.

I even like its name, which is an abbreviation of 'universal-motor-gerät', the latter German word meaning 'tool' or in this context 'vehicle'.

Daimler folks have been building the thing for 60 years now and to celebrate its longevity they just had a bit of a celebration at the company's plant in Wörth, Germany, where all Unimogs have been built since 2002. For the previous 51 years the truck came from its traditional home plant in Gaggenau. The concept vehicle pictured here was built especially for this event, based on the Unimog U 5000 off-road chassis.

In fact, the Mercedes-Benz Unimog didn't start with the German giant at all, rather with its former head of aircraft engine design, Albert Friedrich, who found himself unemployed after Word War Two. But with an idea.

The little truck was launched in the immediate post-war period, conceived as a farm workhorse that would be superior to conventional farm tractors -- but not just as a tractor, also an equipment carrier and general transport vehicle with a road speed of up to 50 km/h (30 mph). Friedrich got his first roadworthy prototype together in 1946 but didn't have one ready for public introduction until an agricultural trade fair in 1948. It was a hit at the show, and some 150 orders were taken there and then.

Many of its original features are still there: four wheels of equal size, four-wheel drive with front and rear diff locks, all-terrain portal axles, front and rear power take-offs, and a small platform for carrying loads and equipment.

Interestingly, the truck's engine compartment was sealed at that 1948 show because the newly developed diesel -- the 1.7-liter OM 636, based on a Mercedes-Benz 170 V car motor -- wasn't patent-protected.

While Friedrich and his new partners were able to sell a respectable 600 units by 1950, they couldn't afford the necessary increase in production capacity. Enter Daimler-Benz, taking production to its Gaggenau plant with a production target of 300 Unimogs per month, the first one leaving the plant for customer delivery in June, 1951. And the rest is history.

To date Daimler has built 320,000 Unimogs in 26 different product ranges, the trucks pushing snow away, mowing highway embankments, building new roads,  doing airport emergency duty, and still working the farm too.

And as of August, there's going to be a big Lego model of the Unimog available -- with over 2000 pieces. I think I might just fork out for one of those. At 190 Euros, not cheap, but I'll save my pennies. Call me a kid.

DO YOU USE MAINTENANCE SOFTWARE? Big change of subject here, but this is one I've been wanting to pursue for ages. It seems that not all that many fleets can answer 'yes' to that question. Certainly not a majority, according to a survey recently conducted by Arsenault Associates, makers of Dossier fleet maintenance software.

I've heard that anecdotally for ages now, and more than once I've embarrassed fleet managers by asking what software they use, only to find that they don't use any at all. Or, and this one was pretty recent, that they do use such software but haven't hooked it up with front-office and other company systems.

I've even heard of a fleet -- not a huge operation, but not a little 10-truck company either -- with no computer in the shop at all, let alone any software. Apparently it's not alone.

According to the Arsenault survey, less than 44% of fleets maintain their vehicles using software designed for that specific purpose. More than 16% use generic, off-the-shelf software such as Word, Excel, or Access, while 6% use a module of their company’s accounting, purchasing, or payroll systems. The most interesting observation is that almost 34% reported that they still use either paper and pencil -- or nothing at all -- to keep maintenance records.
 
The survey, conducted via the Arsenault website, is a long way from being scientific, and I suppose it's a bit self-serving. Yet it supports the stories I've been hearing for years now, so I'll accept its general accuracy.

The survey is built on a series of multiple-choice questions designed to gauge the efficiency of fleet-maintenance management in the U.S. Arsenault has conducted such studies for more than 20 years.
 
Company CEO Charles Arsenault says that more than 100 fleets have so far taken the current survey, enough to provide an informal sketch of maintenance methods across various trucking sectors. Of fleets represented in the survey, 20% operate over the road while 58% have trucks that return home each day. More than 22% operate in off-road environments.
 
“You would think that in 2011, fleet-specific maintenance management technology is used everywhere, wouldn’t you?” Arsenault asks rhetorically. “Well, you’d be wrong.”
 
Arsenault points out that accounting, sales, and other corporate departments expect software specifically for their function as a normal management tool.
 
“But with more than 55% of the fleets using either a make-do system or nothing at all to help manage valuable company assets, it begs the question," he asks, "what are they thinking?

“This is equivalent to allowing mechanics to use the back end of a wrench as a hammer," Arsenault says. "It might work, but not very well and not for long.”
 
The Dossier customer base, by the way, is more than 4000 fleets so this survey isn't coming from a fringe player just looking to make a name for itself.

THE I-SHIFT AND MDRIVE ARE COMING to Maryland. Production isn't scheduled to start 'til the third quarter of 2012, but Volvo and Mack say that growing demand for the I-Shift and mDrive automated manual transmissions demands new production capacity. The companies have just announced a $7 million investment to bring assembly of the transmission to the Hagerstown, MD powertrain plant.

Volvo’s I-Shift transmission was introduced in the North American market in 2007, and last year reached a penetration of 26% of its North American sales. Mack introduced its version of the transmission early last year and says it quickly sold the 500 units available.

The transmissions are currently assembled in Koping, Sweden, and then sent to Hagerstown for North American-specific modifications. The new U.S. capacity will increase the Volvo Group’s global transmission footprint, and will be the primary source for North America.

FINALLY, A COMMER ENGINE NOTE. Commer? Yes, a British truck from light to heavy made from 1905 through 1979, actually called a Dodge in its last few years after Chrysler bought the Rootes Group which itself had taken over the original company in 1931.

This comes up after I received a letter -- real mail! --  from reader and truck driver Ross Clements of New Brunswick, formerly of England. He was responding to what I'd written a few weeks back about the EcoMotors OPOC engine -- opposed piston/opposed cylinder -- being developed in Detroit. Backed by Bill Gates, no less, and with a slightly unclear development interest from Navistar.

Anyway, Ross reminded me that some Commer trucks in the 1950s and '60s were powered by a unique Rootes engine called the TS3. It too was an opposed-piston design, a three-cylinder, two-stroke diesel with supercharging putting out 105 hp at 2400 rpm and a solid 270 lb ft of torque at 1200. There was also, I believe a four-cylinder TS4 model.

"Although I was only a young boy in the 1960s," Ross writes, "I can remember the distinctive sound of those two-stroke engines coming from about two miles away."

In fact, the engine's nickname was the Commer 'Knocker'.

AND SOME CONFERENCE REMINDERS as usual, first about the Hybrid Truck Users Forum to be held this year in Baltimore on October 10 through 13. Among its features will be what's billed as the world's largest medium and heavy-duty vehicle ride-and-drive. I'm early with this, but just thought you should mark your calendars now.

A couple of weeks earlier is the TMC fall meeting and TMCSuperTech2011 (they really do spell it without spaces for some reason) National Technician Skills Competition which are set for Sept. 19-22 at the Raleigh Convention Center in Raleigh, N.C.
 
The meeting's theme is 'Maintenance Solutions You Can Count On' and you'll find technical sessions covering management, training, product selection,
regulations, and the environment.

Those tech sessions include one described as an 'Update of U.S. DOT’s Wireless/Smart Roadside Initiative'. And an interesting one called 'OEM Response to TMC Recommended Practice Usage.' I've never heard an OE moan or groan about an RP but I suppose they do at times, so I'll try to take that one in myself.
 
TMC's useful 'mini' tech sessions are numerous -- 10 of them in all -- and include a couple that sound especially interesting to me: Limitations of Wide-Base Wheels and Energy Overview of Alternative Fuels.

And then we have the Super Tech competition with qualifying written exams on Monday, followed by the day-long skills challenge on Tuesday. The year's top technicians will be announced during Wednesday’s awards luncheon.

There's a lot more than I have room to talk about here so I suggest you go to the TMC website to learn more.

THIS NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED every two weeks. It's a heads-up notice about what's going on with trucking technology. I also write here about interesting products that may not have had the 'air play' they deserved within the last few months.

I should remind you that I don’t endorse any of the products I write about in this e-newsletter, nor do I have the resources to test them. What you’re getting is reasonably well educated opinion based on more than three decades in trucking. And in the case of the individual product items, I’m just presenting simple news from the manufacturer or service provider, with the hyperbole mostly removed and clarification applied.

If you have comments of whatever sort about Product Watch, or maybe you've tried a gizmo I should know about, please contact me at rolf@newcom.ca.

DEEP-TREAD DRIVE TIRE

(June 08, 2011) -- Goodyear unveils deep-tread tire with Fuel Max technology


ONBOARD SCALE UPDATED

(June 08, 2011) -- TruckWeight introduces next-generation wireless onboard Smart Scale


TRUCK GPS

(June 08, 2011) -- Rand McNally IntelliRoute TND truck GPS now available in Canada


ALUMINUM DUMP BODIES

(June 08, 2011) -- Rugby expands class 3–5 dump lineup


DIAGNOSTICS BY EAR

(June 08, 2011) -- Tracer allows 'hearing' problems before they become breakdowns

 
MAGAZINE ?

In This Issue

A look at Ontario's mandatory out-of-service quotas (Yup. They exist.), by Rolf Lockwood. Plus, a special focus on drivers, from retention to training — including the best fleets to drive for. And Jim Park explains how to choose the engine displacement that's best for you. That and much more in the April issue of Today's Trucking.

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