Freightliner unveils new look, automated medium-duty transmission

Freightliner announced several upgrades to its medium- and heavy-duty truck product lines late last month at a Las Vegas press conference. Foremost among these changes were exterior modifications to its Century Class S/T heavy-duty tractor, including a newly styled hood, grille and bumper. The new front end builds on previous Freightliner styling cues while giving Century Class trucks a bold, modern look. It also improves cooling capacity and headlamp light distribution. Mark Lampert, senior vice president, sales and marketing, says the enhancements emphasize style, performance and service without altering the trucks’ exceptional aerodynamics or visibility characteristics.

“The overall profile is stronger and broader,” Lampert notes. “This broader look allowed us to open up the spacing on the new grille.” The wider grille spacing gives the Century Class a somewhat retro styling, recalling classic trucks from the 1950s and ’60s. But its benefits are more than simply ornamental. “The new grille and lower front panel also increase the frontal air intake openings to 55 percent of the truck’s total front surface area,” Lampert adds. “This dramatically improves airflow to accommodate today’s hotter-running, reduced-emission EGR diesel engines.”

Other front-end changes include a three-piece bumper with optional center chrome section. The outside bumper sections are still manufactured with damage-resistant plastic, and new inset road lamps and amber accent lights are now available as optional equipment.
Headlight design has been improved by replacing the previous 7-inch round, sealed beam lamps with a composite headlamp. Lampert says these lamps provide dramatically better light distribution on the road and increased nighttime visibility.

Additional refinements targeted the Century Class’s inner fender splash shields, which are now mounted on the hood instead of the truck’s chassis. These shields continue to provide excellent protection of the engine component from splash, spray and road debris. But now they automatically move out of the way when the hood is raised for easy side access to the engine.”

Freightliner’s SmartShift transmission control lever allows easy gear selection or manual upshifts or downshifts in demanding road conditions.

Mercedes automated transmission now available for medium-duty applications
Freightliner also announced it will be offering the Mercedes-Benz Automated Gear Shift transmission for its Business Class M2 trucks beginning in the first quarter of 2004. “This transmission allows drivers to focus their attention on what’s most important: the driving task and the road ahead,” Lampert says. “In addition, this transmission helps optimize vehicle efficiency for owners by limiting wear and tear and helping to increase fuel efficiency.”

The AGS transmission features a two-pedal, automated clutch actuation system. It’s not a true automatic transmission: It has no torque converter and uses significantly less transmission fluid than a full automatic unit. These features, along with an aluminum alloy transmission housing and integrated bell housing, keep the AGS lighter than a fully automatic transmission and help deliver increased payload capacity.

The AGS, which is based on Mercedes-Benz’s six-speed manual transmission, uses an electronic Transmission Control Unit to automatically manage all gearshifts. The TCU controls an automated clutch actuator, providing smoother engagement than a manual clutch pedal. In addition, the TCU continuously senses road conditions, vehicle load and grades to precisely determine optimum shift points.

Although the unit is designed as an automated transmission, a manual shift is offered. Freightliner’s SmartShift lever is mounted to the right-hand side of the steering column and allows conventional automated gear selection with simple thumb movements. Drivers can also shift the entire SmartShift lever down to select lower gears or up to select higher gears, giving them total control on grades or in heavy traffic conditions. The new transmission will be available with Mercedes-Benz MBE900 engines rated from 170- to 250-horsepower. Two torque ratings will be offered: a 520 foot-pounds version for trucks with gross cargo weight ratings up to 40,000 pounds, and a 660 foot-pounds unit for trucks with gross cargo weight ratings up to 60,000 pounds.