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April 3, 2016

Ex Navistar President Gets His

Only truck I ever put in the ditch. But so did Navistar executives,
so I don’t feel so bad!
When I penned the retrospective on the Navistar engine debacle (search Told You So here) I thought I’d said goodbye to the outgoing president Dan Ustian.

Not so.

Seems the Securities and Exchange Commission is not going to let the mendaciousness of his leadership go unpunished.

In a complaint lodged in the US District Court for the northern district of Illinois, Ustian is being called to account for the fraudulent misleading of the investment community about the progress of the 13-liter MaxxForce engine program goals and successes in meeting EPA2010. And, of course, the propping up of the Navistar share value by so doing.

If you go back and re-read what I said in the previous posting, you’ll see I got fired for telling that same investment community in late 2010 that his was a house of cards and that Navistar would never be whole till Ustian was gone. ‘Scuse me if I don’t crow a little here . . .

Anyway, Navistar is also named as a party to the fraud and within moments of the suits being filed has offered to pay a penalty of $7.5 million to settle. The regulatory agency statement said the company and its former leader “failed to fully disclose the company’s difficulties obtaining Environmental Protection Agency certification of a truck engine able to meet stricter EPA Clean Air Act standards.”

Just some of the incredible complexity surrounding
the MaxxForce in a test drive in 2009.
The story broke during the first few hours of the 2016 Mid America Trucking Show, and the 57-page complaint was in my e-mail within moments. Navistar said that “Settling this matter will avoid the expense and distraction of a potential dispute with the SEC” according to a quickly responding Transport Topics. No word if this will be accepted as yet.

The SEC complaint, with a demand for a jury trial for Ustian, is very specific in detailing how Ustian contrived to mislead the investment community and the press through publicly available Analyst Calls right up until the moment in July 2012 when the whole house of cards came tumbling down. 

That was when the company declared it would pursue Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) as the technology it would employ to meet EPA2010 and not the Advanced exhaust gas recirculation (A-EGR) championed by Ustian and his bunch of yes-men.

In fact, reading the complaint is very revealing. There were many in the company’s engineering side talking and e-mailing internally that the Navistar was heading up a blind technology alley but Ustian placed a gag order on them. One in particular is a jewel.

In paragraph 60 of the complaint, you can read the following: “In fact, at the time the 2011 Application was submitted to the EPA, the engine described in the application could run only in the testing laboratory. In a February 9, 2011 email regarding the engine covered by the 2011 Application, a Navistar Senior Technical Specialist working on certification matters told other engineers in the certification group:
‘I asked a bigger question. Would this engine ever be drivable in a truck and I got laughs in response.... Translation you have a[n] underpowered 13 liter engine that is coughing, sputtering and wheezing like some terminal cancer patient on a respirator’.”

And how about this: “When Navistar’s Vice President of Powertrain Product Development forwarded this email to Navistar’s Vice President of Integrated Product Development and suggested he talk with Ustian about these issues with the D-cert engine, the Vice President of Integrated Product Development responded that Ustian “totally knows it” and advised him to “[t]ell these guys to not worry about this sh[--] and not keep sending emails to each other.”

Now here’s the big kicker, and it’s there in the indictment as fact. One of the proposed solutions to the problem that the engine would run – just about – in the test lab but could not possibly power a truck was to propose to EPA that there be two lookup tables for the engine controller: one to be used in test, the other when the truck was going down the road. They made this proposal with a straight face but EPA laughed them down. In the now famous Dieselgate, Volkswagen did the exact same thing, and presumably at just about the same time, though without asking EPA’s permission.

The sad thing is that this after-the-fact bolting of the stable door will never reconstitute the fortunes of the many family trucking businesses that had to close their doors because of the unreliability of the MaxxForce and the hubris of one man: Dan Ustian. One has to hope the courts will come down on him like a ton of bricks and put him in the poorhouse along with all those customers he misled and with the financial community he duped.

March 24, 2016

The brave new world of platooning

In the demo, three trucks traveled maintaining about 50 feet
 between them to illustrate the safety and convenience
 intrinsic with Daimler Highway Pilot Connect.
Suddenly, it’s all about platooning trucks in the name of fuel efficiency, infrastructure optimization and driver satisfaction.

Volvo has just staged a seminar on the topic. There’s a multi-manufacturer challenge throughout Europe in several weeks. And Daimler Trucks staged a massive media event in Germany showcasing its take on trucking communications with a special emphasis on platooning.

So what is platooning?

It’s not a new concept but one that is enabled by the latest digital technologies. It’s all about jamming vehicles together in a line where they all talk to each other while closing up together to gain fuel efficiency and to increase the capacity of the highway system. It’s most appropriate to trucks since they use a lot of fuel and a lot of highway.

So there are demonstration projects going on in Europe and the United States to show how the technology will look and feel.

To my mind the most effective so far is the recent platooning demo by Daimler. It combines the fuel-saving concept with its already introduced autonomous driving truck technologies, introduced in Europe in 2014 and in the United States in 2015.

That “driverless” truck demonstration by the hi-tech Daimler companies Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner introduced the world to trucks that could guide themselves on the highway, maintaining a set speed and steering themselves to keep in lane while the driver kicked back and enjoyed the scenery.

At the time, a lot of us said, that’s all well and good, but in the end, what does it get us but a more relaxed driver and potentially safer highways.

The answer is: It gets us platooning.

The basic self-driving technology in Daimler’s vocabulary is Highway Pilot. The latest rollout is Highway Pilot Connect, and it’s a truly workable concept that combines the efficiencies of platooning of trucks, and the economy and ecological gains of better economy with the driver lifestyle improvement of a self-driving truck.

The demonstration on the German A52 Autobahn featured three trucks each talking to the others through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications. Drivers have available platooning buttons on the dash and dash-mounted tablets that relay all the information about the platoon, including a camera view from the lead truck that allows the following drivers to see what is going on ahead of the platoon from a camera in the lead truck.

And while the demo featured three trucks to illustrate the safety and convenience features that are intrinsic with the Daimler Highway Pilot Connect, the platoon may, in the fullness of time, extend to as many as 10 trucks in a line with only about 50 feet between them.

In practice

In practice, a Connect-enabled truck looks out to find other Connect vehicles – and it’s an open, standardized technology, so those other vehicles don’t have to be Daimler products or even the same fleet-owned trucks. When a similarly equipped truck responds, it’s invited to join the platoon.

There’s driver involvement in setting up the platoon, but once established the technology takes over to draw other trucks into the platoon and pretty soon “We’ve got ourselves a convoy.”

The beauty of the Daimler system is that once engaged, all trucks are autonomous, self-driving units, basically connected by electronic drawbars. All driving tasks are taken by the individual trucks while the whole platoon acts in concert. Drivers can kick back in the seat while watching over the controls, in exactly the same way that airline pilots keep watch over their self-guided planes.

There’s a whole lot of technology associated with platooning that allows for other non-connected vehicles cutting into the platoon to, for instance, get to an off-ramp or whatever.

On the Autobahn?

And in the German demonstration, when passing an Autobahn on-ramp, the platoon would stretch out to the mandated minimum vehicle-to-vehicle 160-foot spacing to allow for merging traffic. Then as soon as the intersection was cleared and merging traffic moved out of the platoon, it closed up to realize the average 7 percent fuel savings of the trucks in the line.

So, where we were scratching our heads over the practicality of self-driving trucks previously, it all falls into place when combined with truck-to-truck connectivity.

It’s a brave new world and it’s coming to a freeway near you soon. Much sooner than you might think.

March 18, 2016

Cat Scratches Trucks

Caterpillar has pulled out of the truck making business. Supposedly, it's one of the casualties of the beleaguered construction equipment manufacturing company in a time of worldwide construction downturn, much in the wake of the oil glut for which the rest of us are very grateful. But not for the 70 or so Cat employees affected by the decision to end truck production.

The announcement was made by my old mate Ramin Younessi, vice president of Caterpillar’s Industrial Power Systems division.

“Remaining a viable competitor in this market would require significant additional investment to develop and launch a complete portfolio of trucks, and upon an updated review, we determined there was not a sufficient market opportunity to justify the investment,” he said. “We have not yet started truck production in Victoria [Texas], and this decision allows us to exit this business before the transition occurs.”

It comes as little surprise for, despite the undoubted quality of the Cat CT models, they have been very slow to sell. Caterpillar launched the three-model vocational truck range in the North American market in 2011, working with Navistar on design and manufacture and using the ill-fated MaxxForce 13, 12.4-liter engine.

It was based on the International PayStar and built under contract by Navistar at its Garland, Texas, facility. It moved to Saltillo, Mexico with Navistar, then it was to move again to a Cat plant in Victoria this year.

Production never really got into gear. Supposedly the line was running at 1100 to 1200 units annually, around four per day. This is in sharp contrast to mainstream truck manufacturers who look for 100 units per day.

A further nail in the CT coffin was recently driven with the launch of Navistar’s new HX replacement for the Paystar, which added to the bleak future for CT sales.

Incidentally, I've known Younessi, since the launch of the Freightliner Coronado in early 2001. Coronado was a personal project of Jim Hebe’s when he was president of the company. Younessi was a get-things-done engineer back then and later became a blue-sky strategist for Daimler Trucks in Stuttgart. I actually bumped into him when boarding a plane in Germany as we were flying back from the IAA Show and we caught up. He was briefly back in Portland as chief engineer but left for a senior engineering role at Navistar. On one memorable occasion, we took a pair of the huge, truck-based International CXT pickups on the famous Detroit annual cruise on Woodward Avenue. Those trucks were the darlings of the crowd.

A casualty of the MaxxForce debacle, Younessi moved to Caterpillar most recently and is now a vice president.

March 15, 2016

End the Frustration of Lost Vehicle Presets

Sometimes there’s a jewel hidden among the dross of new-product e-mail that tumbles in daily.

This looks to be one.

Weego is a manufacturer of portable jump starters and rechargeable battery packs and has a number of accessory devices designed to increase the versatility of its Jump Starter Battery+ models. This one saves the electronic presets on the vehicle controller.

Intended for the car diy enthusiast, the device will save things like radio and clock settings, seat positions, alarms, climate control, GPS, and keyless entry codes that are lost when you disconnect the vehicle battery.

Called the OBDII 12V Memory Saver, it simply attaches to the vehicle’s OBDII port. With the other end of the cable connected to the 12V/10A output in one of Weego’s jump starters, it maintains power to the ECU so the presets are retained when the vehicle power is cut when the vehicle battery is disconnected for whatever reason.

And while Weego will happily sell you a jump starter, the OBDII memory unit can be powered by any portable supply that has a 12V, 5.5 mm barrel jack output.

At $19.99, it is not expensive and I’m thinking, well worth a spot in your tool chest. You can likely find it in the local car parts store or, failing that, an Internet search should turn it up for purchase on-line.

February 16, 2016

Enter the Titans

Normally, vehicle manufacturers like to share components or platforms across as many models as possible. But at the launch of the Nissan Titan “half ton” Rich Miller, Nissan's director of product planning for trucks, SUVs, and commercial vehicles said “The Titan and Titan XD do not share any common chassis components. Even the lug nuts are different."

The Titan XD (extreme duty) is a rough, tough full-size pickup with the Cummins ISV 5.0. This is the engine Cummins debuted in October 2013 with a promise it would appear in the Titan, and so it has, though, with a new name and power ratings.

In the XD, it’s the turbo diesel rated at 310 hp and 555 lb-ft of peak torque. As such, it falls between the 3.0 V6 diesel that’s proving very popular in the Ram 1500 for its economy and the bigger diesels that grace the full-size pickups, with diesels pushing close to 900 lb-ft of torque and staggering gross combination weights of up to 40,000 pounds.

But there is some commonality between the XD and lesser Titans: they use the same cab. So all promise to have plenty of room for five adults and the level of appointment that full-size trucks now sport.

The half-ton Titans, which will be available this summer, are sort of “white space” trucks that are a higher capacity than the competitive 1500s and mid-sized trucks but not as brutal as the full-size and dually models with their extreme towing capacity.

According to Nissan, pickup truck buyers regularly trade down to a lighter truck from a more robust model. At the same time about an equal number trade up. What the Titan is aiming at is being right sized to capture and keep these transient truck owners.

The regular Titan will have the Nissan’s 5.6-liter DOHC Endurance gasoline V8 but with new technology and new ratings of 390 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. Nissan has announced a V6 will also be available but offers no details yet.

Today’s Titan offers a standard 5-speed automatic transmission and a maximum towing capacity of up to 9,500 pounds for King Cab and 9,400 pounds for Crew Cab – plenty for a camper and enough for a moderate-sized trailerable boat.

It’s likely that the underpinnings of the regular Titan will be the platform for whatever Nissan does with Armada. (I’ve always wondered why Nissan chose to name these two vehicles after a failed Spanish sea attack on Britain and the ship Titan(ic) that sank on its maiden voyage. Or maybe the truck was named after the Titans that were trounced by the Olympians and cast into a shadowy underworld region known as Tartarus.)

So that begs the question: What will the company do with the XD chassis to amortize the development cost over a broader range of vehicles. If I were a betting man, I’d expect to see some commonality of components between the XD and the big NV van.

Just a thought.

February 5, 2016

World of Concrete is Launch Site for Vocational Trucking

As an equipment group, trucks are the biggest spend for most construction companies, even when big machines are taken into account.

And with the abandonment by most OEMs of the upcoming Mid America Show, the World of Concrete show currently going on in Las Vegas has become the launch site for a significant number of vocational trucking products.

International Modernizes Vocational Range

Likely the biggest is the announcement of the first truly new International models since 2010. The new HX range comprises four models that replace the PayStar which trace its heritage back more than 40 years. PatStar was the heavy duty workhorse with big bore engines, so too is the HX designating the trucks as Heavy eXtreme.

Four HX Series models will be offered, with both set-forward and set-back front axle models in either short or long hood, depending on the application. Three of the four new models were unveiled at World of Concrete:
The HX620 is a 120-inch BBC set-back axle truck or tractor
 with primary vocations including heavy haul tractor,
construction dump and platform stake/crane.
  • The HX515 is a 115-inch BBC set-forward axle straight truck with primary vocations including concrete mixer, construction dump, refuse/roll-off and crane.
  • The HX615 is a 115-inch BBC set-back axle truck or tractor with primary vocations including construction dump, concrete mixer, platform stake/crane and refuse/roll-off.
  • The HX620 is a 120-inch BBC set-back axle truck or tractor with primary vocations including heavy haul tractor, construction dump and platform stake/crane.
The fourth model, the HX520, is a 120-inch BBC set-forward axle truck or tractor with primary vocations including heavy haul tractor, construction dump and platform stake/crane.  It will be formally unveiled at Truck World in Toronto in April.

The shorter BBC HX515 and the HX615 models are powered by Navistar N13 engines, while the HX520 and HX620 models offer the Cummins ISX15 engine.

In the launch material, Navistar described the design concept as delivering maximum strength and durability, driver productivity, bold styling and superior uptime.

“The HX Series combines aggressive styling, unstoppable capability and driver-centric features to appeal to vocational truck owners in a whole new way,” said Denny Mooney, Navistar’s senior vice president, Global Product Development. “All you need to do is get behind the wheel of this truck and you will see that this is a major step forward in design, all with the driver in mind.”

Specifically, the new trucks feature an available 12.5-inch x 0.5-inch single rail that’s 13 percent lighter than a 10-inch rail, the only vocational aluminum cab, and a three-piece Metton hood that is both strong and easily repaired.

Drivers can enjoy a 40-degree wheel cut on both right and left turns for improved maneuverability, while angled fenders provide greater wheel clearance and the hood's low angle makes for excellent front forward visibility. The larger rear window compared to the company's prior model allows for superior rear visibility.

Most apparent changes are to the HX styling, so that hoods and grilles stand out on the road and at the worksite with customer options for bright finishes. The interior is completely redesigned to offer more room for driver comfort and productivity with contoured door handles to add hip room and storage space and a central console angled for easy reach to controls.

The standard tilt/telescoping steering column adjusts, gauges are designed and positioned to deliver optimal visibility and LED lighting is standard throughout, as are air conditioning, power windows and power locks.

Mack Makes Guard Dog Standard on TerraPro

 Mack TerraPro models can be configured for many applications,
 such as a concrete pump, dump, mixer or refuse vehicle
Mack announced that its GuardDog Connect, Mack’s integrated telematics solution, is now available and standard in all Mack TerraPro Cabover models equipped with a Mack MP engine.

Mack extended the offering of GuardDog Connect to all Mack-powered TerraPro Cabover models after receiving positive customer response to the Uptime solution. Mack TerraPro models can be configured for many applications, such as a concrete pump, dump, mixer or refuse vehicle.

GuardDog Connect is Mack’s proactive diagnostic and repair planning system. It monitors fault codes that could potentially shut down a truck or lead to an unplanned visit to the dealer. It enables quick diagnosis of issues, proactive scheduling for repairs and confirmation that needed parts are in stock and ready to install, all while the truck is still on the job.

“Customers responded so favorably to GuardDog Connect that we extended the solution to all our TerraPro Cabover models equipped with a Mack engine,” said Stephen Roy, president of Mack Trucks North America. “The Uptime support offered by GuardDog Connect, as well as our Mack OneCall support service agents, Uptime Center staffed by dedicated professionals and our body builder support team, is unparalleled in the industry.”

Mack made GuardDog Connect standard on TerraPro concrete pump chassis in 2015 and was the first to offer proactive support service for pump applications.

Along with Uptime support, Mack says it has made significant strides to simplify body builder support services.  Mack recently created a focused body builder support group that offers prompt access to Mack product experts who can answer questions that may arise from the body builder installation process. The group also addresses customer inquiries after a vehicle is in service.

Eaton Broadens Features on Vocational Automated Transmission

Initially launched in other applications in 2013, Eaton now brings the Fuller Advantage transmission benefits of reduced weight, increased efficiency and lower maintenance costs to vocational users, the company announced during the show.

Fuller Advantage automated overdrive models can now be configured with the recently introduced optional Urge to Move, Creep Mode and Blended Pedal functionality for enhanced low-speed maneuverability in situations such as backing into a loading dock or maneuvering in a construction job site.

“The Fuller Advantage automated transmission has proven to be extremely reliable,” said Evan Vijithakumara, product strategy manager, Eaton.  “Now it’s ready for vocational duty with 110,000 pound GCW capability, 6- and 8-bolt PTO openings, and driver confidence features such as Hill Start Aid and intelligent gear selection logic.”

According to Eaton, the Precision Lubrication system represents one of the key features in Fuller Advantage transmissions. The system reduces the oil churn energy losses found in traditional transmissions by nearly 33 percent.

With less heat being generated, Fuller Advantage transmissions do not require a transmission fluid cooler and corresponding lines and fittings. The result is less preventative maintenance is required while engine fans cycle less, further reducing horsepower demand. 

An oil level sight glass allows for routine oil checks to be performed at a fraction of the time typically required, and the precision lube system uses only 16 pints of oil which is nearly half the amount used in traditional transmissions.

Additional weight savings have been achieved by replacing cast iron with aluminum for the shift bar housing (manual models), auxiliary section cover and range cylinder. Exact weight savings are dependent on the make of truck purchased as cooler weights vary by the cooler manufacturer.

January 28, 2016

Coming Soon: Superlight Brake Drums

Upcoming Gunite brake drums will
be composite aluminum and metal matrix.
Not available today, but in 18 to 24 months we’ll see a new technology from Accuride for its Gunite brand brake drums that could save 100 pounds per axle – 300 pounds for a truck tractor or heavy-duty truck. That huge weight savings comes from a metal matrix composite (MMC) technology that provides the friction wear surface in an aluminum drum.

MMC technology was acquired in 2015 from Century 3+, a Traverse City, Michigan -based technology company. From its highly diverse (yet largely unknown) Century product range, the Century 3+ division conducts materials research for Department of Defense, which includes MMC, providing lightweight brake drums for tactical vehicles.

Accuride is commercializing the process as an integral part of its component lightweighting initiatives to help the commercial vehicle industry comply with upcoming Phase II greenhouse gas regulations posed by the U.S. EPA.

At the announcement, made at the Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas late January, Accuride President and CEO Rick Dauch explained the central role the MMC technology plays in the company’s research and development of advanced lightweight Gunite brake drums and wheel end components.

“Over the past few years, we have invested in processes and technologies that help our customers remain competitive and compliant,” Dauch said.

The expected benefits of the lightweight Gunite MMC brake drum currently in development include:
• Significant weight reduction
• Longer product life
• Reduced stopping distance
• Improved performance
• Increased payload

Accuride’s MMC technology combines highly-engineered cast aluminum with a selectively reinforced MMC wear surface to form a durable and resilient yet lightweight patent protected brake drum. At approximately 61 pounds, the patent-protected MMC aluminum brake drum is capable of delivering significant weight savings.

The lightweight MMC brake drum also has demonstrated more rapid heat dissipation, improved braking performance and a longer lifespan than traditional cast drums, said the company.

Wheel Technology Steps Up

At the same time as the Gunite announcement, Accuride introduced a new steel technology for a new wheel product that should greatly increase life to refurbishment. Called the EverSteel wheel, Accuride says the new material and coating process should delay the onset of corrosion for up to eight years.

In the introduction, the company estimated each EverSteel wheel could save customers about $105 in wheel refinishing and maintenance costs, as well as the downtime associated with taking the wheels out of service. 

 “Corrosion is an ongoing and costly issue for fleets working in harsh operating environments across North America,” said Dauch. “Never before have steel wheels received warranted corrosion protection like that offered by our EverSteel technology. It sets a new standard of performance and durability, and will enable our fleet customers to achieve significant savings in wheel refinishing costs and the associated downtime.” 

EverSteel wheels employ a four-step treatment process. First, EverSteel metal surface treatment is applied to the bare steel to protect it from harsh daily wear and tear. This is followed by a zinc phosphate pre-treatment that prepares the metal for maximum adhesion. Then an enhanced cathodic epoxy electrocoat optimized for sharp-edge and overall corrosion protection is applied. And finally, Accuride’s Steel Armor premium powder top coat is applied.

The technology is available initially on two Accuride 22.5 x 8.25 steel wheels: the 50408 (two hand hole) and 50487 (five hand hole). Accuride said these would be available for customers February 1.

Accuride also debuted two new aluminum wheels the company says will provide a 5 percent to 7 percent weight savings. The new aluminum wheels are both standard type 22.5 x 9.00 and will be available April 1.

Specifications for the new wheels:
·         41730 wheel – replaces previous part number 29730 and features a reduced weight of 4 pounds (total weight per wheel: 58 pounds)
·         41012 wheel – replaces previous part number 40012 and features a reduced weight of 3 pounds (total weight per wheel: 51 pounds)