KIRKLAND, WA – Kenworth has unveiled several new and coming product enhancements, particularly to its lineup of day cabs, but has also announced that it will officially end production of the venerable T660.
The company has sold 60,000 of that aerodynamic tractor since it was first introduced in 2007, essentially replacing the T600. A final 500 of the T660 cabs will be built this year until the last model rolls off the assembly line.
About 80% of the trucks that the company builds today are the T680 or its vocational sibling, the T880. The T680 itself accounts for about 60% of sales, with the T880 at just under 30%.
The changes come as Kenworth, like every other truck manufacturer, faces slumping Class 8 truck sales across North America. It is now projecting a retail market of 220,000 to 240,000 Class 8 sales this year, down from earlier projections set between 260,000 to 280,000 units. Still, the company did adjust its production rates last year to account for a smaller market.
“Certainly things have come off slightly since last year,” said Mike Dozier, Kenworth general manager and PACCAR vice president since April. And it has been a slow summer, but summers are historically slow. Putting the sales into context, 2016 will still be a good year for truck makers.
“A strong market would put it in the Top 5 markets that we’ve seen,” he said. “The fleet is as new as it’s been in a long, long time … We see 2017 as a continuation of 2016, as we get a normalization.”
Several factors are feeding the projections. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product is up 2% in the second quarter of the year, and a strong construction sector is supporting segments served by dump trucks and mixers, he noted in a media briefing. Even auto sales, which have slowed, are still up 0.4% year over year. Looking specifically at trucking, freight tonnage is up 2% year over year, while fleet utilization has bumped up 1% to 87%. The challenge for fleets is freight rates, which have dropped 0.06%, he said.
For Kenworth stockholders, Dozier presented other positive news. The company has now enjoyed 77 consecutive years of net profit, and paid dividends every year since 1941. An A+/A1 credit rating also helps to ensure cash is on hand for further investments in the company and its products, Dozier said. The latest addition to the PACCAR tech center is a climatic-controlled wind tunnel, which can simulate everything from summer desert conditions to frigid winter temperatures at altitude. It’s one of only two such systems in North America.
In the midst of it all, Kenworth expects its market share to edge up to 15%, and account for 9% of medium-duty trucks.
Roughly 45% of the new trucks also come with proprietary engines, including the MX-11 that was introduced at the beginning of the year. By the end of the year, the company expects there will be 130,000 PACCAR engines on the road.
“The future continues to be very, very bright,” Dozier said.
More to come
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, but we’re not done,” said chief engineer Kevin Baney.
Kenworth had projected that it would boost fuel economy about 3-5% per year, and delivered a 15% increase in 2013, Baney said, adding that further enhancements are planned for next year.
The T680 Advantage day cab is one of the latest trucks to receive aerodynamic and powertrain upgrades. Launched this month, it includes a front air dam, roof cap “bulb” seal, lower fairing extensions and lower fairing closeouts. The aerodynamic improvements boost fuel economy 1% over a model without the Advantage package, while powertrain upgrades – including an MX-11 or MX-13 engine, 10-speed Eaton Fuller Advantage Automated Manual Transmission, and Meritor MT40-14X drive axles rated at 40,000 pounds — increase fuel economy 5% on their own.
Kenworth is also leveraging three grants valued at a collective US $8.6 million to develop a low-emission T680 day cab for drayage operations, complete with systems that use Compressed Natural Gas to general electrical power. The first day cab included in the investments will be a T680 hybrid electric drayage truck. A second will feature a hydrogen fuel cell. And both will have a 30-mile (about 50-kilometer) range under electric power. Another four hybrid-electric day cabs will be created under the $4.8 million in funding that comes from the California Air Resources Board (CARB).
Day cabs are not the only trucks to be enhanced. The T370 vocational truck with a 46,000-pound rear axle and suspension will now include a straight channel steel bumper, larger 385/65R22.5 steer tires, and molded fender extensions to improve air flow around those wheels.
About 30% of all T680s also come with the Bendix Wingman Advanced system. The option combines cameras and radar to better identify objects for adaptive cruise control and emergency braking. Assistance to keep in lanes is also being developed, Baney says.
It all feeds into the evolution of semi-autonomous trucks. Any barriers to those have more to do with public acceptance than technology, he said. “The technology is there. It’s more about how do you carry out platooning when you get it out into the infrastructure.”
The regulatory environment presents other challenges, Dozier added. “There’s a significant difference between a passenger vehicle that has autonomous capability and a commercial vehicle that has autonomous capability.” Kenworth engineers are even testing that with a recently acquired driver-assisting Tesla.
Kenworth now has 370 dealer locations across North America, including a growing number that have qualified for the Premier Care Gold designation that identifies sites that offer two-hour triage service, extended hours, certified PACCAR engine technicians, and personnel dedicated to TruckTech+.
More than 18,000 trucks are now equipped with the latter remote diagnostics platform, said Jason Skoog, assistant general manager – sales and marketing. Collectively, they’ve now logged about 600 million miles under the system’s watchful eye. “The beauty of the system is in its simplicity,” he said. Messages for fleets and drivers are as simple as stop now, service now, service soon, or keep driving.
Demonstrating the system, engineer Micah Einterz showed how a truck demonstrating a coolant fault code showed up as a red dot on a map of fleet assets. Drilling down into the report, it not only showed that coolant levels were too low, but how rapidly those levels were lost. Information is provided on the three closest dealers and feedback from sensors collected 60 seconds before and 10 seconds after the fault code was triggered. Likely maintenance needs were identified on top of that.
“Today it’s diagnostics. Very shortly it will be prognostics,” Dozier said, referring the possibilities of Big Data.