Cover Story: 2006 Class 7 and 8 conventional trucks

Should you buy a new truck next year?

The short answer is yes.

As 2005 lurches to an end, be aware recent natural disasters, fuel and raw material shortages, as well as tighter diesel engine emissions regulations coming in January 2007 will lead to truck shortages and increased retail prices in the latter part of next year. At present, it’s difficult to predict price increases or supply shortages with any accuracy. But several industry experts predict the cost of a Class 8 construction truck will rise $4,000 to $8,000 in 2007 compared to a similarly spec’d 2006 model.

Class 7 and 8 trucks are usually in low demand during late fall and early winter. But massive Hurricane Katrina and Rita recovery efforts have kept orders for Class 8 dump trucks in the South high through the fall. That’s going to make it harder for OEMs to shorten lead times as the spring and summer months approach.

“Dealer inventories in the first two quarters of 2006 will be OK,” says Matt Stevenson, manager, product strategy, Sterling and Western Star. “But as the word starts to spread to contractors about potential increased cost, plus the technology and body adaptation changes they’ll see in 2007, many will start to scamper for trucks. It’s not going to be the mad rush that we saw in 2003. But people will start to wake up in the second half of the year and realize they won’t be able to get some things spec’d the way they used to, or as cheaply as they used to and they’ll opt to buy early.”

Since configuring a truck chassis to accept new engines and cooling systems is a complicated procedure, it makes economic and engineering sense to introduce new features at the same time as the mandatory engine redesigns. This means the 2006 models will most likely stay with tried and true designs. So, if a new truck is in your future, there are strong incentives for making the purchase over the coming 12 months.

Freightliner’s wide array of vocational trucks starts with its FLD SD Class 8 straight truck model and continues through Class 7 and 8 Business Class M2 100, 106 and 112 models (the number refers to the truck’s bumper-to-back-of-cab BBC measurement). “The 106 is for contractors who need mid-range engine power from 190 to approximately 330 horsepower,” says Richard Peltier, vocational segment manager for Freightliner. “If you step into the 112 model, it’s configured for 230 up to 450 horsepower. The FLD SD is our high-horsepower truck with engine ratings ranging from 430 to 515 horsepower. So we’ve broken down our product line and configured it in a way that speaks to the types of jobs our construction customers do.” Rounding out Freightliner’s vocational offerings are Condor cabover models, which can be spec’d for concrete mixer and pump applications.

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2006 Business Class M2 106 and 106V models will feature factory-installed Meritor front drive axles, as announced earlier this year. The new all-wheel-drive option can be activated by the driver as needed in poor traction conditions, provided the truck is at or below 10 mph or when coasting on a level grade.

The front drive axles are available in four-by-four or six-by-six configurations on Business Class M2 106 or 106V truck models running MBE900 or Caterpillar C7 engines for trucks with 12,000-, 14,000- and 16,000-pound ratings. The Meritor axles are available in combination with a variety of single and tandem rear suspensions including flat-leaf, spring and Freightliner’s proprietary AirLiner suspensions.

Also new next year on FLD SD and Business Class M2 trucks will be a two-stage version of DaimlerChrysler’s TuffTrac rear suspension. “It provides much improved ride in unloaded conditions,” Peltier adds.

In 2006, International is offering a number of new features to its line of vocational trucks. “These range from the new 7700 with greater hauling capability to a Class 6 hybrid truck with superior mileage and electrical system for utility applications,” says Bill Sixsmith, director of severe-service vehicle marketing for International. “This hybrid truck design allows a portable power source to be incorporated into the truck to provide extra power for the jobsite.” Also new this year is International’s CF Series domestic cabover truck built in conjunction with Ford.

International announced it will enter the Class 8 engine market in 2007. The company’s goal is to produce diesel engines in the 11- to 13-liter range beginning in the fall of that year. These engines will be offered exclusively in International Class 8 highway tractors and severe-service trucks and will be certified to meet all 2007 EPA emissions requirements. The new engines will be produced as part of International’s strategic agreement with Germany’s MAN, a diesel engine and truck manufacturer. At the same time, International will continue to offer Caterpillar and Cummins engines in all its Class 8 trucks and tractors.

International’s newest truck is also one contractors will be the most interested in. The Class 8 7700 model is a bridge formula variant of the International 7600 model. Both trucks are built specifically for construction applications. The 7600 features 11- to 13-liter engines and a robust frame-rail system. Dual power steering gears and up to 50-degree wheel cuts provide nimble handling on- or off road. A standard air suspension cab ensures a smooth ride no matter how tough the jobsite’s terrain.

The 7700 model builds on these base strengths but uses aluminum fuel tanks and battery box to help cut weight. A front-bumper-to-axle setting of 29.1 inches helps optimally distribute payloads, while the 7700’s single, 12.25-inch frame is 400 pounds lighter than many 10-inch frames.

Kenworth’s vocational trucks start with the medium-duty Class 7 T300, which can be spec’d as a dump truck. Class 8 offerings include the workhorse T800 as well as the W900 and C500 models.

Chief among T800, W900 and C500 upgrades in 2006 is a fully revamped interior on all three models. According to Bob Christensen, general manager, Kenworth, the extensive new enhancements are a “quantum leap” in quality, appearance, styling and ergonomics. “The multiplexed electronic instrumentation, world-class fit and finish and increased driver comfort offer a productive new cab for our on- and off-highway customers,” Christensen says. “We also added 25 new standard features, more than half of which were previously offered as options.” A new multiplexed design provides Kenworth instrumentation with enhanced reliability, serviceability and functionality.

Outside, short-hood T800 models receive a new front-engine PTO option next year. The FEPTO is designed for snowplow, municipal, dump, refuse and crane applications and provides a front-frame extension for front-mounted equipment such as hydraulic rams or hose reels. This front PTO is available with Caterpillar C11 and C13 engines up to 380 horsepower and the Cummins ISL engine with ratings up to 350 horsepower.

Kenworth will also offer Hendrickson’s heavy-duty Primaax suspension as an option on T800, W900 and C500 vocational models on 46,000-pound tandem and 69,000-pound tri-axle configurations. In its 46,000-pound tandem rating, Primaax can be used with multiple lift axles and gross cargo weight ratings up to 180,000 pounds. The suspension features up to 8 inches of axle travel for improved articulation on uneven terrain. In the 69,000-pound tri-axle rating, Primaax is available with a gross cargo weight rating of 240,000 pounds for heavy haul, construction and logging applications where the added traction of three drive axles can improve off-road performance.

Granite continues to be Mack’s premier construction truck. The next incarnation of the Granite is an axle-back version, introduced earlier this year. “Moving the front axle back on large truck makes it legally possible to carry larger payloads,” says Steve Ginter, vocational product marketing manager for Mack. “That translates to more profits. At the same time, the axle-back position results in a shorter overall wheelbase, making the truck easier to maneuver around tight jobsites.”

2006 Granite models can be spec’d with a new 23,000-pound Mack UniMax front axle, which compliments the other UniMax axles already available in 12,000-, 14,600-, 18,000- and 20,000-pound versions. “The UniMax axle is the first ever vocational axle with unitized hubs specifically designed for heavy-duty applications,” Ginter says. “Like all UniMax axles, this new 23,000-pound version features unitized wheel hubs that are permanently sealed with synthetic grease, virtually eliminating maintenance costs.”

A wide array of frame rail thicknesses and crossmember options allow configuring Granite as a straight truck or tractor for almost any application, including mixer, dump, roll-off and rear loader applications. All Granite models feature a large, comfortable cab with plenty of leg and belly room, electronic dash and advanced electronics.

Mack’s highway-class tractors have been given a host of upgrades – mostly aimed at long-haul customers. Chief among them is a Rawhide edition trim package for Mack Vision and a premium version of the Mack CH model. The CH upgrade is available in DayCab as well as 60- and 70-inch, mid-rise sleeper configurations. Rounding out Mack’s product line are MR and LE cabover trucks, which can be configured for mixer, concrete pump and utility applications.

Peterbilt’s Class 7 335 model is available as a straight truck or tractor. Both versions feature a light-weight, rugged, corrosion-resistant, all-aluminum cab and can be spec’d with a front-engine PTO. The company’s Class 8 offerings consist of eight different truck models, of which two, the Model 385 and Model 357, are suited for construction applications. The Model 320, a Class 8 cabover truck, can also be outfitted for certain vocational applications, including mixer and concrete pump trucks.

Earlier this year, Peterbilt announced it has added Caterpillar C9 diesel engines to the option list for Model 357 trucks. “It’s an obvious choice for contractors in weight-conscious applications who need to maximize payloads,” says Scott Pearson, assistant general manager, sales and marketing for Peterbilt. “The Cat C9 can help take about 780 pounds out of a chassis’s weight, versus a Cat C11 engine, and still be rated with comparable power.”

The C9 will be available in two ratings, 335 horsepower and 1,050 foot-pounds of torque and a 350-horsepower version with 1,100 foot-pounds of torque. Both front and rear power take-off options are available for the C9. In addition, the 111-inch BBC version of the Model 357 is also available with Caterpillar’s C11 and C13 engines and Cummins ISL and ISM engines.

A new 115-inch BBC Model 357 with a set-back front axle is available only with the C9, and is ideal for mixer fleets or dump applications. The truck’s deeper front axle position is 681/2 inches from the back of the cab, improving front axle weight distribution for increased payloads and improving maneuverability for safer operation on jobsites. The new configuration features a sloped hood, crown and grille that significantly improves the driver’s forward visibility. A redesigned door with a lower beltline gives the truck about 17 percent more side visibility.

Front engine power take-off provisions are standard on this 115-inch BBC model, as are a stationary grille and heavy-duty frame rail extensions for secure mounting of auxiliary equipment such as hydraulic pumps or snowplows.

Sterling has evolved into a company with strong vocational truck offerings built around its Class 7 and 8 Acterra and L-Line models. The company also offers A-Line tractors and Condor cabover models, which can also be used in construction applications.

The Acterra line includes the 7500, 8500 and 9500 models, features 120,000-psi frames and can handle engines with up to 350 horsepower. The L-Line consists of two axle-forward and two set-back-axle models. The axle-forward versions include a 101-inch BBC body and a longer, 111-inch BBC truck. Axle-back versions may be spec’d with 113- and 122-inch BBC configurations. L-Line models can be spec’d with three different engine makes, including Mercedes-Benz, Caterpillar or Cummins.

A new range of DaimlerChrysler proprietary axles up to 44,000 pounds on the rear are now available throughout Sterling’s product line. These new axles are designed to cost less than competitive brand axles while delivering superior performance and requiring less maintenance.

In the middle of 2006, Sterling plans to introduce a new Class 3-5 cabover to the U.S. market. The new truck will be the first developed by DaimlerChrysler’s partnership with Mitsubishi Fuso and is intended to compliment Sterling’s Acterra, Condor, L- and A-line models.

Western Star
The DaimlerChrysler family of vocation trucks is rounded up by the Western Star brand, which remains a custom-built truck, according to Matt Stevenson, product strategy manager, Sterling and Western Star. “Typically, a Western Star customer is different from the guy who buys a Sterling,” he explains. “A Western Star customer has a lot of aesthetics in mind when he’s purchasing a truck. He’s usually an image-conscious guy with one to five trucks and wants to show he has the money to spend on premium trucks, while being a little bit different.” To that end, Western Star offers more custom options than Freightliner or Sterling, including big-bore, high-horsepower engines, more paint choices, outside air cleaners, plush interiors and big hoods.

Three years ago, Western Star simplified its model nomenclature to make identifying individual trucks easier. Under the revised system, its lineup begins with the 49FA set-forward-axle model in 109- or 123-inch BBC configurations. The 4900SA features a set-back front axle. It too is offered in 109- and 123-inch BBC versions. Next in line is the extended hood 4900EX model – Western Star’s flagship highway hauler. For extreme heavy-duty applications, there’s the 6900XD model, which features planetary axles with a 110,000-pound rear suspension.

For 2006, Western Star will continue to introduce lightweight components throughout the truck. Among these will be a composite back panel and floor for day- cab models, MBE4000 power for lightweight dump and mixer trucks, along with a lighter, larger, single-channel frame rail that will have added capacity for most Western Star dump truck models.

Volvo’s VHD is available as a straight truck or tractor. Both versions feature a high-strength steel cab crafted from material three times stronger than aluminum. At the same time, Volvo engineers designed the VHD so body builders can work with speed and efficiency, which helps get trucks delivered faster, with fewer problems. A clean back-of-cab allows for a closer body fit and better weight transfer to the front axle.

Volvo’s T-Ride suspension is standard and designed to deliver excellent traction and articulation in all off-road conditions. The suspension is combined with optimized frame rail design, which reduces overall vehicle weight and increases payload capacity. Optional aluminum crossmembers can be spec’d to further reduce weight.

Volvo engines are standard in the VHD, with horsepower ratings from 365 to 465. All engines can be fitted with a factory-installed, side-mounted PTO as optional equipment. The VHD’s tapered frame rails allow the pump to be situated in a protected area on the engine with its hydraulic lines safely routed above or within the frame rail.