Selection Guide: Construction Trucks

October has passed. The new engines are here, and the world didn’t fall off its axis. Many thought that the tough emissions deadline last month would preclude any non-powertrain innovation on the part of truck manufacturers. They were wrong. In addition to significant upgrades industry-wide, two manufacturers recently launched brand new vehicle platforms. Here’s what you can expect to see on dealers’ lots in the coming year.

Ford gives sneak-peek of its ’04 medium-duty line at Great American Trucking Show
Ford turned its back on heavy-duty trucking a few years ago when it sold out to Freightliner. But Ford still remains passionately committed to its medium-duty line of trucks, unveiling a host of refinements for its F-550, F-650 and F-750 Super Duty trucks at the Great American Trucking Show this past September in Dallas.

Under the hood, both trucks now have three different diesel power options to choose from. The standard engine is Ford’s all-new, direct-injection, 32-valve, six-liter Power Stroke diesel. This new engine will be offered in four distinct power choices, topping out at 230 horsepower and 620 foot-pounds of torque. You can still opt to equip your Ford medium-duty with a 7.2-liter Caterpillar 3126 or a 5.9-liter Cummins ISB diesel engine.

Ford retains its choice of three different cab configurations: regular, four-door SuperCab and four-door Crew Cab. All three versions will be offered with an expanded range of seating choices than last year. Ford will be offering 38 wheelbase choices for F-650 and F-750 models – 11 more than in 2002 – allowing the trucks to be easily outfitted with a wide array of body types.

Both the F-650 and F-750 come in tractor configurations. These optional Super Duty packages provide many of the components necessary for tractor operation available directly through Ford including two “glad hand” connections for trailer hook up, a 7-pin connector, rear facing turn signals, a trailer brake control valve and provision for a custom fifth wheel.

Topkick and Kodiak redesign complete
Contractors used to older GM products will be immediately struck by the new sloping hood and setback front axle on the 2003 Topkick and Kodiak trucks. The result of this sleeker configuration is improved visibility from the cab. Drivers can now see objects at ground level as close in as 13.8 feet on C4500 and C5500 models and 18.8 feet from behind the wheel of C6500, C7500 and C8500 trucks.

The new front axle gives all models 54-degree wheel cuts, which translates into a turning diameter as tight as 35.3 feet – about the same as the average family sedan. Class 6 through 8 models sport the 54-degree cuts with axles rated up to 14,600 pounds. If you want higher capacity axles (up to 16,000 pounds) you’ll take a slight hit on wheel cuts, down to a still respectable 45 degrees.

Outside the cab, a new rearview mirror design doubles the viewable area for drivers used to comparable models. Mounting the mirrors directly to the truck’s frame, instead of to the door, has reduced high-speed mirror vibration and its resulting visual blur. Inside, the cab resembles one of GM’s premium pickup trucks, complete with an automotive-style steering wheel and comfortable seating. In-cab noise levels have been reduced by 50 percent compared to previous GM medium-duty vehicles.

All new GM medium-duty trucks now feature a standard hydraulic four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system with four-channel ABS, electronic brake distribution and available traction control. These systems combine to provide you with more linear control during braking with less pedal effort. In addition, the new brake system is quieter and has a longer service life than those used on older GM trucks.

Freightliner’s new M2 vocational trucks now available with crew cab and extended cab
Freightliner’s M2 has a sleeker, more modern look. But this new look clearly takes its styling cues from the original Business Class line.

It’s wrong to assume Freightliner simply played with the Business Class look and then walked away. Dig a little deeper and you quickly discover the M2, launched in February of this year, is an all-new truck. In fact, Freightliner retained only the steering gearbox and the wheels from the original Business Class line. Everything else has been redesigned.

The M2’s cab is lower than previous Business Class models, and incorporates a new, 2,500-square-inch windshield. The new fender design allows front wheel cuts up to 55 degrees for nimble handling in crowded working conditions and a tight turning radius of 57.4 feet – a reduction of more than 2 feet compared to older Freightliner vocational trucks.

The cab interior now has more room – it is 3 inches longer than Mark I Business Class trucks. Two dashboards can be spec’d – a flat one, which is standard, or a wrap-around version. An updated instrument cluster helps drivers quickly ascertain vehicle status. A new HVAC system is not only more powerful and efficient at cooling and heating the cab, but is also more compact and lighter than its predecessor.

M2 doors are higher, wider and seal better than previous generation Business Class models. The cab is now constructed almost entirely of aluminum, with steel used strategically throughout the cab to ensure strength and durability. The cab structure has been further reinforced by the liberal use of huckbolts, rivets and laser-welded joints.

High Performance Truck offerings expand to include severe-duty 7600 model
International lists seven severe-duty trucks in its 2003 lineup. This includes conventional International vocational models such as the 5500i, 5600i and 5900i as well as the 7300, 7400, 7500 and 7600 models, which are High Performance Truck platforms. The 7600, released earlier this year, is the company’s dedicated severe-duty platform. It retains all the High Performance Truck advances, although many have been tweaked to allow better jobsite performance. Among these enhancements are increased cooling capacity for higher horsepower engines, more ground clearance and the capacity for a PTO.

The High Performance Truck Series, launched in 2001, was a quantum leap in comfort, quality, serviceability and performance for International. Company engineers started with a stronger but lighter frame. Single frame rails of either 3/8- or 7/16-inch thickness replaced conventional inverted L-shaped reinforcements for easier body installation.

A new, advanced, multiplexed electrical system dispenses with large, jumbled wiring bundles. The system sends and receives multiple electronic signals over a single pair of twisted wires. This system allows extremely easy reconfigurations of any electrical system on the truck.

International designers held body tolerances to a tight 1 millimeter all across the cab. This cuts down on body panel vibrations for an extremely quiet ride. The sporty, sloped hood also contributes to improved forward visibility for the driver.

International worked hard to give drivers high comfort levels in the cab too. The High Performance Truck has 41/2 inches more belly room than previous International medium-duty offerings. The truck’s new HVAC is so effective, International claims a 100 percent improvement in heating and cooling performance compared to the truck’s predecessors. New high back seats offer comfort levels on par with contemporary pickup trucks, and a tilt steering wheel is standard.

Gas or diesel power and a multitude of vehicle configurations highlight Isuzu offerings
All Isuzu N-Series and F-series medium-duty trucks feature a low cab forward design, which enhances aerodynamic efficiency while improving driver comfort and visibility. This low cab forward design gives Isuzu’s trucks large front and side windows and a see-through passenger door. You can spec conventional or four-door crewcab for most of the models in the Class 6 and 7 categories.

Isuzu’s Class 5 offerings include the NQR and FFR models with gross vehicle weight ratings up to 17,950 pounds. Body payload capacities were boosted last year to 10,382 pounds. The NQR is available in four different wheelbase configurations and accepts bodies ranging from 12 to 20 feet in length.

Class 5 customers can also opt for the more powerful FRR cabover model. This truck has gross vehicle weight ratings ranging from 18,000 to 19,500 pounds. It comes standard with a 7.8-liter, six-cylinder Isuzu diesel engine, producing 200 horsepower at 2,400 rpm and 441 foot-pounds of torque at 1,500 rpm. An Isuzu six-speed manual transmission is standard, although Allison’s AT542 four-speed automatic transmission is an option. The FFR will be offered in five wheelbases for 2003, ranging from 148 to 218 inches.

Isuzu’s Class 6 FSR cabover is also powered by a 200-horsepower, six-cylinder Isuzu diesel engine. It features a 34-inch-wide, all-steel frame with wheelbases ranging from 140 to 248 inches and a gross vehicle weight rating of 23,100 pounds. The company’s FTR model straddles Classes 6 and 7. It features increased gross vehicle weight ratings up to 25,950 pounds for Class 6 and 30,000 pounds for its Class 7 versions.

Isuzu’s Class 7 truck is the FVR model. It has a gross vehicle weight rating of 33,000 pounds and is powered by a 230-horsepower, six-cylinder Isuzu diesel delivering 506 foot-pounds of torque at 1,500 rpm. This turbocharged engine is intercooled for improved performance, durability and emissions control.

Kenworth updates interiors and suspensions
Kenworth’s four construction truck platforms range from the T300, covering Classes 6 and 7, up to the C540, which can handle extreme payloads of 40 tons – or more upon request. And then there are what Kenworth calls the “trucks in between,” its workhorse W900S and T800 models.

Kenworth recently announced a new dash and interior package for its trucks, providing an even more comfortable environment for drivers, and its new Hendrickson Haulmaxx heavy-duty suspension. This suspension is available exclusively to Paccar trucks. The Haulmaxx is available in 40,000- and 46,000-pound capacities. In most configurations, Kenworth says spec’ing the suspension can result in over 500 pounds of weight savings (and resultant additional payload) compared to steel spring suspensions.

In September, Kenworth announced it was teaming up with Allison Transmission to offer the Allison Construction Program for a limited time in North America. This special promotion will discount Allison HD4060, HD4560 and HD4070 automatic transmissions on qualifying new Kenworth construction truck orders received by November 30 that will be built by December 31.

Mack’s Granite builds on construction heritage
Stop off in Allentown and visit the folks at Mack these days and you’ll find yourself talking about their newest model, the Granite. True, Mack continues to produce its venerable RD, CL, DM and FCM front-discharge mixers. And the company’s Class 6 and 7 Freedom cabover model can easily be configured for construction applications. But the Granite is clearly the star of the show.

It’s available in standard or bridge formula configurations. Both share an optimized frame and specialized electrical system. Mack’s Body-Link electrical interface – an industry standard electrical plug system – simplifies the body installation process by allowing quick fitting of pre-wired bodies. Body installations are further optimized by the thoughtful placement of air reservoirs and battery boxes in locations in the forward section of the Granite rearward cab area. This configuration results in clean frame rails. No holes have to be cut in either the frame or the cab and no wires must be spliced during body installation work.

Granite’s cab is all-new as well. It’s made of galvanized steel for enhanced strength and durability in severe applications. A tilt and telescopically adjustable steering wheel is standard on all Granite models. The cab rides on a construction-specific air ride mounting system and is extremely roomy. The Granite features increased head, leg and belly room (compared to previous Mack Class 8 models) as well as ergonomically-placed pedals and controls to further increase driver comfort levels. The sloping front hood provides excellent forward visibility as well.

New engines, increased payloads and roomier cabs highlight Mitsubishi offerings next year
Mitsubishi Fuso’s line of Class 5 to 7 trucks includes FE-SP Crew Cab, the FM-MR concrete mixer model, and the FG Series, which the company touts as the only medium-duty, four-wheel-drive cabover truck available in North America. All told, Mitsubishi offers 14 different medium-duty truck models ranging from Class 3 to 7.

New for 2003, Mitsubishi will offer a Crew Cab for its FE-SP model trucks equipped with an automatic transmission. The new cab will accommodate seven adults. The FE-SP will also sport a new, more powerful, 175-horsepower diesel engine. Despite the additional room taken up by the Crew Cab, Mitsubishi says the FE-SP will still be able to accommodate landscaping dump bodies in the 13- to 14-foot range.

Mitsubishi’s four-wheel-drive FG model has also been upgraded for 2003. Models equipped with a manual transmission have had their gross vehicle weight ratings increased from 12,000 to 14,050 pounds. This was done by increasing the front gross axle rating to 5,730 pounds, and upping rear axle capacity to 9,480 pounds. Mitsubishi says this increase allows contractors to haul heavier payloads like timbers and crushed rock. The FG will continue to be offered with a 145-horsepower, intercooled, turbocharged diesel engine, 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmission, two-speed (high/low range) transfer case and optional limited slip differential.

Mitsubishi will also offer its newly designed 4M50 diesel engine in its Class 5 FH model in 2003. This technologically advanced engine features a dual overhead cam design and is mated with a standard Aisin four-speed automatic transmission. Standard equipment on the new FH model will include exhaust brake, power windows and locks, in-cab oil check and daytime running lights.

Peterbilt refines its Model 357 with new hood, cooling system and suspension
Peterbilt’s product offerings consist of eight distinct truck models, all of which can be spec’d for construction applications. This lineup includes two cabover models, the Class 7 to 8 Model 362, and the Class 5 to 7 Model 320. Peterbilt conventional designs start with the Class 6 and 7 Model 330, and include workhorse Model 357, lightweight Model 385, Model 378 and Models 379 and 387, which are most often configured as long-haul carriers.

Peterbilt innovations for 2003 include a new hood for the Model 357, new dual steering gears for heavy-duty vocational applications and a new, light-weight, high-efficiency cooling system and a light-weight Haulmaxx suspension system.

Peterbilt says the Model 357’s new hood dramatically improves vehicle styling and visibility from the cab. The new hood is available on set-back front axle and tractor Model 357 configurations. It improves over-the-hood visibility by up to 5 feet, but retains Peterbilt’s classic styling cues such as pod-mounted headlights, bicycle-style fenders, polished aluminum crown and stainless steel grille.

All Peterbilt trucks will feature a new high-efficiency cooling system in 2003, specifically designed to deliver optimum performance with 2002 exhaust gas recirculation engines. This new system features a modular vertical design that helps improve cooling efficiency by up to 35 percent when compared to conventional “stacked” cooling systems. Overall weight has been reduced by up to 80 pounds compared to stacked systems.

Peterbilt’s new dual steering gears are available for Models 385, 379, 378 and 357 in most configurations as optional equipment. The dual steering gears improve a truck’s turning radius by eliminating the power-steering assist cylinder. This innovation gives the front wheels more room to turn, but does not affect turning power or performance. In some configurations, wheel cut is improved by 10 percent.

Peterbilt has also partnered with Heil to provide fast order-to-delivery of new truck and dump body combinations. The Peterbilt/Heil Integrated Body Program allows customers to use a simplified ordering process to order a truck with a body to meet their exact needs. The truck and body combinations are available with expedited delivery times.

Acterra receives upgraded chassis
It appears Sterling Trucks will become the vocational and construction leader within the DaimlerChrysler organization in the coming months. This isn’t to say Freightliner and Western Star won’t remain players in the construction segment of the trucking industry, but rather that Sterling will devote most of its energies toward it.

That said, the company currently has five distinct models, all of which can be spec’d for construction applications. The company’s A-line tractor and L-Line straight truck are available in Classes 5 to 8. Sterling’s Condor is a class 5 to 8 cabover model designed for heavy-duty jobs like dump and mixer applications. The company’s Cargo line of medium-duty cabover trucks spans classes 5 to 7.

The star of the Sterling lineup is also the truck with the most upgrades for 2003. The Class 5-8 range of Acterra models has received several enhancements designed to increase handling, maneuverability and ride while decreasing weight, increasing serviceability and easing body installation demands.

Not surprisingly, most of these upgrades are focused on the Acterra chassis. The frame has been strengthened with single channel steel rails rated at 50,000-, 80,000- and 120,000-pounds per square inch. These stronger rails have reduced the need for rail inserts in many applications. In addition, these rails feature a lighter single-channel design that also reduces the chance of corrosion and maintenance requirements.

The Acterra’s new front suspension now features single-leaf springs as standard equipment. Taper-leaf suspensions are still available in a range of capacities from 8,000 to 18,000 pounds, with maintenance-free rubber bushings. You can also spec flat-leaf springs with capacities rated at 14,600, 16,000 and 18,000 pounds.

Sterling has opted to use a replaceable spring deflection pad on all four-by-two-model trucks instead of a shackle on the rear of each front spring. This 12,000-pound front suspension is available as an option and supplied with rear-spring shackle equipped single-leaf spring (with rubber spring bushings on both ends) for longer life and an improved ride.

The Acterra’s rear suspension receives some of the most significant upgrades for 2003. The rear suspension’s rear shackles are now spring-mounted for a smoother, quieter ride, and a slipper pad is now standard. In addition, the rear suspension no longer requires periodic lubrication.

Several suspension packages can be spec’d. The 52-inch variable-rate taper leaf rear leads a six-step range of capacities ranging from 18,000 to 23,000 pounds. Sterling’s optional 60-inch, two-stage spring rear suspension package comes in three ratings (18,000, 21,000 and 23,000 pounds). It’s designed for quiet and sure handling over demanding road surfaces without the added cost of an air suspension system.

Vocational customers will probably want to opt for Sterling’s own TuffTrac suspension rated from 40,000 to 46,000 pounds capacity. Hendrickson RT/RTE and HN Series rear suspensions with the same capacities can also be spec’d. Henrickson’s RS series, rated at 52,000 pounds, is an option for high-payload applications.

Volvo upgrades VHD cabs, revamps VN for ’03
Volvo’s big news for 2003 is the recent introduction of its new VN Series of tractors. But let’s start with the company’s dedicated construction truck, the VHD, which receives some updates for next year.

The VHD gets a new, automotive-style cab for ’03, including a wrap-around dash designed to minimize driver stress and fatigue. Gauges and switches are located within easy view or reach to eliminate driver distraction. The rearranged control layout also gave Volvo engineers more room to increase rocker switch capability, boosting the VHD’s flexibility for body-builder enhancements and the other aftermarket accessories.

Volvo’s all-new VN Series distinguishes itself with radical Edge Design styling borrowed from Detroit. Apart from futuristic looks, the new design also gives the 2003 VN a drag coefficient 3.2 percent less than previous VN Series trucks. Volvo has also managed to engineer almost a ton of excess weight out of the new design.

The new VN design is the result of several key engineering changes. The cab has been repositioned, giving a major boost to the truck’s aerodynamics and allowing shorter wheelbase configurations. This feature, in turn, allowed Volvo to reduce aerodynamic “dead zones” – areas on the truck that trap air and create drag. A new, NASCAR-inspired front bumper effectively manages airflow under the truck and helps draw excessive heat out of the engine compartment.

Other VN enhancements include a new engine cooling system, new air intake systems, a wider hood and new engine-mounting mechanism to reduce vibrations. New side mirrors use a breakaway design to reduce replacement costs. If broken, only the glass portion needs to be replaced. The eye-catching VN headlamps include a halogen high beam and PES low-beam bulbs for a tighter, more focused light pattern with greater illumination distance.

In the cab, the Volvo VN sports a wrap-around dashboard with a new instrument cluster. Other amenities include a more comfortable seat available in three models and a revamped climate control system for more precise temperature settings, better airflow and defrosting ability.

Premium Vocational line can be configured to meet several construction applications
DaimlerChrysler speculation goes generally something like this these days: Freightliner will be the company’s meat-and-potatoes long-haul brand. Sterling will carry the company’s construction and vocational banner and Western Star will become its premium brand, primarily targeting image-conscious, long-haul owner-operators.

But Western Star has its roots in rugged West Coast lumber applications and enjoys a nationwide reputation for quality and toughness. So it’s no surprise it has no intention of discontinuing its vocational truck lines any time soon. Western Star markets its Constellation Series construction models as “Premium Vocational” trucks.

The Constellation Series consists of six different vehicle platforms, with the 4800, 5800 and 6900 models considered best for construction and mixer truck applications. The 4800 and 5800 both feature either four-by-two or six-by-four axle configurations and can accept engines rated with up to 600 horsepower. Gross vehicle weight ratings for the four models that comprise the 4900 and 5900 series range as high as 72,000 pounds (4900 trucks top out at 52,000 pounds). Gross cargo capacities for the 5900 range upward as high as 140,000 pounds. Both are available with set-back or set-forward front axles and can be ordered in bridge formula configurations as well.

The Western Star 6900 model is the company’s severe-application truck. It comes with a standard set-back front axle and a bumper-to-back-of-cab measurement of 136 inches. It can accept engines rated up to 600 horsepower and has a gross cargo capacity of 350,000 pounds.