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December 7, 2015

Edgy Volvo Videos Continue

This one you should see. Go to Look Who’s Driving – 4 year old Sophie at YouTube. As Transport Topics says, mayhem ensues.

Search Look who’s driving feat, 4-year-old Sophie. Or go to https://youtube/7kx67NnuSd0

The premise: Take a remote-guided 8x4 dump truck and let a 4-year-old drive it with a remote control and see what happens. 

What happens is the truck wades through a lake, rolls down a levee and finally drives through a building, all proving that the Volvo is an all-but-indestructible truck.

Almost as ridiculous are the disclaimers at the end. They missed ‘do not try this at home’ but the others are equally fatuous.

It’s a bit of fun and it does illustrate the toughness and integrity of the latest generation of cabover Volvo trucks. But it argues strongly for NOT letting 4-year-olds drive trucks – remotely or otherwise.

November 24, 2015

New Medium-Duty Engines from Daimler Trucks

The upcoming DD5 is a 5.1-liter in-line 4-cylinder diesel 
will be based on the OM934 and like that engine’s 
derivative OM936, there will also be a partner DD8, 7.7 liter six.
Detroit will build two new engines that will fill out Daimler Trucks North America’s (DTNA) diesel engine line. The upcoming DD5 and DD8 will form the Medium-Duty Engine Platform, complementing the Heavy- Duty Engine Platform (HDEP) of  the DD13, DD15 and DD16.

The announcement was made mid-November during the launch of American production of the DT12 transmission in Redford, Michigan. The Redford plant produces the HDEP engines for NAFTA. It also produces a wide range of steer and drive axles for the Freightliner, Western Star, Thomasbuilt buses and FCCC chassis and package cars.

From 2018 and with a $325 million investment, it will be home to production of the two new engines and 160 new jobs.

To an audience of local dignitaries and 2,000 production workers, Dr. Frank Reintjes, head of truck powertrain for Daimler Trucks, introduced the latest addition to the Detroit DD lineup: a new 5.1-liter, 4-cylinder DD5 that will debut in mid-to-late 2016 for medium-duty M2 Freightliner trucks.

Initially, the DD5 will be shipped to the United States from Mannheim in Germany, but at the transmission launch ceremony DTNA president Martin Daum said plans call for production of the engine in Redford by 2018.

In the interim, a 6-cylinder version of the engine will be launched in 2017 to be designated the DD8. With two additional cylinders, that engine will have a 7.7-liter displacement. Initially, engines will be for the Freightliner M2 mediums. By 2018 all DTNA truck and bus brands will have the DD5 and DD8 engines available.

The engines have been available in Europe, designated OM934 and OM936 for the 4- and 6-cylinder, respectively, since 2013 in a number of Mercedes-Benz trucks. According to Reintjes, both engines will be fully compliant with U.S. greenhouse gas emissions legislation scheduled for 2017.

In their European ratings, package size and weight, the engines are clearly targeted at Cummins ISB and ISC engines available in Daimler commercial vehicles here. According to Daum, that will continue in line with the DTNA policy of offering customers choice in main components, Cummins’ engines will continue to be available.

There was little detail about the upcoming 5.1-liter DD5 or 7.7-liter DD8 to be built in the Redford Plant. Mechanically, they will be the same as the European engines, but will have different electronic “personalities” to fit with market needs here. There are no plans to offer the engines to other nameplate manufacturers, such as the big diesel pickups from Dodge and Nissan that use Cummins power.

Freightliner currently has in excess of 40 percent share of the heavy-duty truck market. In the last few years, it has gained momentum in medium duty so it now has a comparable share. The availability of a Detroit engine in Freightliner mediums is a new opportunity to grow this business and also offer more Daimler content in the vehicles, Daum said.

The DD5 and DD8

In the Detroit in-plant display area, a cutaway show version of the DD5 revealed a two-stage turbocharged 4-cylinder with dual overhead camshafts. The latter are built-up cams like those used in the HDEP engines and the 4-cylinder also features gear-driven accessory drive. The Euro OM934 features a variable exhaust cam drive that will likely also be featured on the American DD5.

Following the theme ‘Made-in-Detroit,’ all presenters underscored the fact that Detroit is leading the charge in creating new jobs in the Motor City. Moreover, Daimler managers were adamant that production would stay in Redford and not be outsourced. Worth noting is that Redford produces all the connecting rods for HDEP engines worldwide, with production running three shifts and 3,024 connecting rods every day.

November 23, 2015

Daimler Adds DT12 Production to Redford

The DT12, 12-speed automated transmission goes into
 production at the Detroit plat in Redford, Michigan. 
The transmission introduced only two years ago 
now features in 40% of Freightliner production.

The 12-speed DT12 automated transmission offered in Freightliner and Western Star brands by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) has, in just two years, reached a 40 percent penetration in DTNA’s commercial vehicle line-up. Small wonder, then, that it is now in production at the Detroit plant in Redford, MI, just outside of Detroit city.

The transmission was already well proven in Daimler’s European Mercedes-Benz trucks before it launched in the United States and production for the states has been out of the transmission plant in Gaggenau, Germany. But the intention all along was to bring production here and to that effect, teams from Detroit trained in Gaggenau for up to six months to ensure a smooth start-up of American manufacture.

And it has been smooth. The plant began building the transmission only a month ago in late October and is already running at 120 units per day.

So the Redford Detroit plant now makes DD13, 15 and 16 engines (the heavy duty engine platform or HDEP), a complete range of drive and steer axles and now transmissions stamping the Detroit brand on the whole made-in-Detroit powertrain.

And at the inaugurating ceremony in November, that made-in-Detroit sentiment was to the forefront, with guests from Michigan governor Rick Snyder to state legislators and senior managers that included trucks chief Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard and DTNA president Martin Daum.

“Michigan has long-been the world’s automotive leader and we are proud that Daimler will continue to play a big role in our state’s reinvention moving forward,” said Gov. Snyder. “This is an investment in Detroit and the hardworking people of Michigan.”

Dignitaries in Redford, from left - Roger Penske “savior of Detroit
Diesel”; Martin Daum, chief executive DTNA, Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard,
chief executive, Daimler Trucks; D. Frank Reintjes, Chief of
Daimler Truck powertrains; Detroit plant operations chief Jeff Allen;
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder 
Also present was Roger Penske, who received a standing ovation from the nearly 2,000 Detroit staff, assembled for the occasion.

And it’s easy to see why Penske is so popular at Detroit.

The plant is the old headquarters of Detroit Diesel Allison. In its latter days when it was owned by General Motors, Detroit Diesel penetration in the heavy truck market had fallen to just 3 percent. It had been impacted by the troubled Silver 92, two-cycle engine but it was on the point of launching the Series 60 in a cooperative venture with John Deere. But Deere backed out.

In stepped Roger Penske in 1988, purchasing the plant and bringing a whole new attitude on board. Within six months he had shaken things up with fresh paint and strong leadership and launched the Series 60 as his engine, an engine that turned the company around and gained a 30 percent penetration by the time it was superseded by the global DD15.

The Series 60 has only just gone out of production in Redford. Those markets with lower emissions expectations are still served by Series 60, though the engines are produced by Detroit Reman in Tooele, Utah.

The additional space freed up in Redford, plus a significant 100-million-dollar investment and the employment of 170 new workers is what makes it possible to assemble the transmissions there.

The DT12 is a sophisticated electronically controlled non synchro transmission. Electro magnetic X- Y-shifters and automated clutch select gears as a driver would, giving the fuel economy of a manual with the ease of driving of an automatic, said Dr. Bernhard at the launch. 

In driving, the transmission skips shifts for smooth shifts and maximum economy. It is part of the standard spec for the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution.

November 12, 2015

Autonomous Thoughts

The first autonomous truck was this Mercedes-Benz Actros  that was demonstrated 
in July 2014. Note the 2025 time frame that Daimler anticipated before adoption.
Daimler has grabbed headlines around the world, first with the self-driving Actros in Germany last year and now with a similar launch of the Freightliner Cascadia Evolution at the Hoover Dam, outside Las Vegas, Nevada. But is the autonomous truck an interesting exercise or doomed by public opinion never to make a big impact on the trucking scene?

The self-driving Google car is another thing altogether. It is small and targeted at a customer sector that wants plain transportation done for them.

Recently, Google has reported details about the accidents the Google prototypes have been involved in. The dozen or so incidents have all been only of fender-bender seriousness, causing no injuries to passengers or other motorists. 

And it turns out that virtually all were caused by other motorists misjudging the traffic or running into the back of the Google cars through inattention. Several were caused when drivers took over from the autonomous control, suggesting the self-driving car may indeed be safer than the regular motorist.

So the accidents were not the fault of the self-driving cars and the collateral damage was slight. The fear is that collateral damage around an accident with a 36- to 40-ton truck would be far more severe, and potentially life threatening. Further complicating the matter, the cause and liability would be up for serious legal wrangling.

When it first showed the Autonomous Truck, Daimler put the year 2025 in the title, indicating it expected many hurdles to acceptance and adoption.

In a way, the Freightliner demonstration, crossing the Hoover dam while the world’s biggest projection presentation was being made on the dam’s downside concrete wall, has a marginally better chance of success despite the litigiousness of American society.

The trucks already have special permits to run on Nevada’s highways (see previous blog) because its legislature is one of the most open-minded of the states in the driverless vehicle debate. Conceivably, trucking operations within the state may be able to take advantage of autonomous truck driving, with a few other enlightened states following suit.

Volvo's view of the future sees super aerodynamic and platooning trucks.
Volvo, though, thinks it has a better idea and one more likely to gain acceptance in the nearer future. While Daimler trucks offer driver benefits with some fuel optimization, Volvo’s suggestion of platooning trucks offers similar driver benefits — or even replacement of some drivers — and potentially greater fuel savings.

Volvo’s idea is to platoon vehicles using electronic drawbars, with each vehicle closed up tight to another for greater aerodynamic efficiency. Initially the trucks would run in pairs.

Platooning is not a new concept. Several decades ago as part of the Intelligent Highway System demonstration, transponders were set into the concrete in San Diego, California’s, express lanes on I-5 heading north of the city. I remember riding on a bus where the driver totally relinquished the controls to the roadway-enabled automation, and riding in cars traveling only a couple of feet apart at freeway speeds under total control of the roadway infrastructure.

Fast forward to today, and we have on-board technologies that have taken over the guidance function from embedded systems in roadways. Technologies like adaptive cruise control, automated lane-keeping and accident avoidance can be pressed into service.

In platooning, the technologies work in concert not just to protect the individual truck, but to create an “electronic drawbar” that couples one truck to another. The idea is that a lead truck and driver forge the way, and the following truck just follows. The second driver is then free to complete other tasks, though going back into the bunk is frowned upon!

The aerodynamic advantages of sucking the following vehicle close to the leader results in fuel savings for both; the follower gets the bigger advantage (up to 10%) but there is also a saving for the lead vehicle (up to 5%). And the concept is applicable to all trucks, not just in the same fleet.

The concept includes the ability for any pair of suitably equipped trucks to communicate automatically. If there is agreement, the platoon is enabled and the second truck tucks in behind the first.

Jeff Cottner, Volvo’s Chief Designer - Exterior, said the electronic drawbar concept could be extended to single-truck combinations, eliminating a mechanical connection such as a fifth wheel. Instead there would be a full truck or tractor and an electronically tethered intelligent trailer.

Taking the idea a step further, the trailers themselves could be autonomous and self-propelled. That way a lower-powered tractor could cruise the highway with a short train of self-propelled trailers, each adding its power to the train as it joined. The trailers could originate at a terminal close to the highway and at the appropriate time, make their way individually to the highway to meet up with the passing platoon.

Similarly, trailers could detach and go to their destination terminals as the truck platoon reached the appropriate off ramp. Then the platoon would automatically close up the space.

It’s a very cool concept, but it goes even further than the autonomous truck as the detached trailer would be entirely driverless. The intriguing proposal would be a solution to the driver shortage, as well as provide new logistics and supply-chain solutions for the future. But it will face the same or more extreme societal objections as the simple autonomous one-unit truck.

November 9, 2015

Sharing Info, Eaton and Cummins Make an Awesome Powertrain Product

ProStar with 2017 Cummins ISX and heavy-haul Western Star.
As part of an Eaton/Cummins Ride ‘n Drive, I got my first drive of the Advantage setup where the Cummins ISX and Eaton Ultrashift Plus are coupled and ‘talk’ to each other for unprecedented performance and fuel economy. 

This is unique in the industry, with the two participants revealing proprietary information to link their components together for the benefit of the customer. And where each individually might be at a disadvantage compared to emerging integrated powertrains, by this cooperation the two suppliers maintain their opportunities in an increasingly hard-fought marketplace.

Changes for 2017 Cummins are on the inside. 
Eaton sweetened the event with introduction of a new direct-drive version of the Eaton Ultrashift Plus. Cummins brought along additional excitement in a first opportunity to drive the 2017 ISX. The company also announced new ratings available in the Advantage package.

The driving demonstrations were staged at a press ride ‘n drive, held last week at Eaton’s Marshall, MI., proving ground. Cummins brought along two trucks with 2017 versions of the ISX for drivers to experience and compare the new Direct-Drive and the existing Small Step overdrive automated transmissions, and for editors to see for themselves how “driveable” the new engines are going to be.

Eaton’s Direct Drive option joins the Small Step overdrive offering to reach more narrowly targeted customer bases. The overdrive set-up is for line-haul applications where cruise is generally 62 mph or more and engine downspeeding brings economy. 

Low-speed maneuverability enhancements for Ultrashift Plus.
Enabling this are new axle ratios from Dana and Meritor with 2.66- and 2.68-to 1 respectively. The new Advantage Direct is for regional and shorter-haul where urban conditions are more often encountered. In this case speeds are generally in the 50 to 62 mph region.

The rationale is, for highway operations, the inefficiency of an overdrive is more than compensated by the downspeed advantage. In regional operations the fuel efficiency of direct drive is realized. A qualifying matrix allowing customers to see which is better suited to their operations has been released at

Eaton also debuted two new low-speed operating mode options for the Ultrashift Plus: Urge-to-Launch and Blended Pedal.

The first is easier to understand: Where the normal launch mode is enabled by releasing the park brake, then easing down on the accelerator pedal, the Urge-to-Launch is enabled by simply releasing the park brake. As the brake releases the electronically-controlled clutch closes quite quickly and the truck starts rolling, much as an automatic car would.

A further enhancement is the availability of a creep mode. If the driver stays off the accelerator the truck will stay in the starting gear and roll at idle speed. The driver can then bump gears up with the manual switch to pick up speed, still staying in the creep mode. This is highly useful in a column of traffic that may be rolling at a low speed and saves the truck driver from using accelerator and brake to keep pace.

The second new feature is Blended Pedal and is targeted at vocational customers, especially transit mixer fleets. In this mode the transmission mimics a driver of a standard-shift transmission using clutch slip to slowly maneuver a truck, as in a concrete pouring situation, for instance.

In operation, Blended Pedal uses the first travel of the accelerator as a modulating clutch closer, so the degree of slip is varied from disengagement to full engagement over half of the pedal travel. Then there is a slight dead spot before the accelerator pedal is given back and the truck can be accelerated through the gears as normal. This fine control is enhanced in vocational operations especially by the Hill Start Assist which holds on to the service brakes for up to three seconds in launching on a steep slope.

This was demonstrated in hill starts in forward and in reverse, where the demonstrator mixer could be balanced on the blended accelerator with more pedal travel bringing the truck into motion either backward or forward according to the gear selector position.

Blended pedal is also valuable in highway tractor in reverse when backing under a trailer. Early Ultrashifts with their centrifugal clutch were criticized for a lack of finesse in this situation. With Blended Pedal the driver now has very fine control of backing speed and can control the tractor during coupling to ease slowly into the trailer kinpin.

The opportunity to experience the 2017 ISX and both overdrive and direct Ultrashifts in Inetrnational ProStars showed that the shift regime is different on the differing transmissions. The direct holds on to top gear as long as it possibly can. The overdrive will swap easily between direct top and overdrive to maximize performance.

The 2017 Cummins engines showed great refinement in the accelerator pedal modulation and excellent communication with the transmission(s) enabling smooth shifts both up and down as the transmission controlled the fueling of the engine. The direct Ultrashift also took advantage of the new calibrations for 2017, lugging down to 970 rpms before initiating a downshift.

Feature already available on the Advantage are the two-level Smart Torque and the very effective Smart Coast. The latter disengages the back box in the transmission when the torque sensing sees no load in a mild downhill cruise. The engine drops to idle as the fuel is cut back. The surprising this is how often in general driving Smart Coast is engaged – as much as 30 percent of the time in gently rolling countryside, for instance.

With its 2017s, Cummins will also be simplifying and extending the performance upgrade path for fleets that trade to the second owner. There will be no hardware change when upping engine horsepower at the higher levels, so a fleet that specs 450 hp in its application will be able to uprate the engine to as much as 605 hp for resale, greatly enhancing the trucks residual value.

Eaton’s new low-speed enhancements are selectable through the ServiceRanger service tool. For fleets and owners that don’t have the tool, a dealer can reprogram the shift controller to enable both Urge-to-Launch and Blended Pedal on all transmissions and can be selectable for forward, reverse or both. For more information go to or search on Eaton Ultrashift Plus on YouTube.

November 2, 2015

Traffic Congestion Far Outweighs Fuel Economy Mandates

While there’s no complaint about raising fuel economy through mandates, Daimler Trucks North America President Martin Daum says the potential gains wrung from truck and engine manufacturers are trivial when compared with fuel wasted in the nation’s traffic congestion.

Speaking at a press round table during the American Trucking Associations annual meeting in October, Daum said 3 billion gallons of fuel is wasted annually through congestion, while the EPA/NHTSA GHG Phase II standard aims to reduce fuel consumption by 1.8 billion gallons during the 10 years of the program and will cost the industry millions of dollars.

Traffic bottlenecks account for 40 percent (1.2 billion gallons) of the wasted fuel and 25 percent of accidents (750 million gallons). Many of those accidents can be avoided if safety technology available today was mandated, he said. “We need roads for trucks not cars.”

Daum said regulators should go after road congestion and not just vehicle manufacturers to reduce emissions. And he warned against any further reduction in NOx standards, which he said would only drive up the cost of new trucks with no customer or societal benefits.

“We need EPA to cooperate with other agencies to change trucks i.e. remove technical issues with an emphasis on national standards,” he said. Further NOx reductions will harm the economy, he said. “NOx is the biggest enemy of GHG.”

Americans spend 5.5 billion hours stuck in traffic each year, at a cost of $120 billion in lost productivity and wasted fuel, according to a recent report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. If traffic continues to escalate at the current rate, the projected impact on our economy and environment by 2030 grows alarmingly.

Vehicle and infrastructure researcher Inrix estimates that by then the estimated cumulative cost of traffic congestion will be $2.8 trillion – what Americans collectively paid in federal taxes in 2013.

October 30, 2015

Trailer Aerodynamics Gaining Traction

The show floor at the American Trucking Associations’ exhibit in Philadelphia last month showcased aerodynamics, with a focus on trailer devices and several interesting tractor aero aids that continue to chip away at percentage points of fuel savings.

A tandem airflow device from FlowBelow Aero calms the air flowing around a tractor’s tandem axles. Called the TractorAeroKit, it consists of wheel covers and a couple of fairings to fill the gap between the drive wheels and, according to the company, saves 2.25 percent in fuel. It is not especially attractive but if it works….

Personally, I prefer the aesthetics on Jon Fleck’s wheel covers that he sells as Deflecktors – using a play on his name – with a 2 percent savings when used on both tractor and trailer tandems. They’re good enough for Schneider and that says a lot.


Gaining traction fast is the TrailerTail, the folding origami-like boattail that was recently acquired from ATDynamics by Stemco. Having the Stemco organization behind it makes the Trailertail a much more viable product and we’ll be seeing more and more of them, which is good news for Stemco and for the inventor and prior principal of ATD, Andrew Smith who stays with the product. Smith, incidentally, has a slew of patents on the device which offers better than 5 percent fuel savings.

All the more curious, is a very similar device seen at the Transtex booth in the suite of aero devices under the Edge name. It is complimentary to the side skirts that are Transtex’ mainstream product and a new nose Edge Cone trailer gap filler, says the company. The Edge Tail is deployed by wind pressure alone, and is still in prototype. It will be interesting to see if it ever makes it to market. Stemco, after all, does have much deeper pockets to launch patent litigation than TrailerTail’s previous owner.

Plasma Stream Technologies

One product not at the show that is said to achieve the same effect as a set of tail panels comes from a start-up called Plasma Stream Technologies. Using a very obscure electrical/physical effect that emits a low, violet glow when operating, the plasma generator is said to keep the air attached to the surface it passes over, then the generator deflects the air in a broad, flat stream into the space behind the trailer, eliminating vortices in the same way as the hard surfaces of the Trailertail.

The concept is the brainchild of Pranay Bajjuri who is co-founder of Plasma Stream Technologies and in the past worked at Navistar and knows a thing or two about trucks.

Supposedly, two copper strips separated by a Teflon sheet and supplied with a relatively low voltage become a single dielectric barrier discharge plasma actuator. That mouthful comes from research into the subject at Notre Dame and means the combined strips generate a layer of plasma. Plasma is a fairly strange concept but is basically ionized atoms. These act on the passing airstream to ionize local air molecules which bend the whole airstream. At least, that’s how it was explained to me.

I seem to recall something of the sort being developed for helicopter rotary blades, and comments made then that nobody talks about how much voltage has to be generated to make the system operate. But if it works at the sort of voltages available on a truck, these plasma generators may prove just the ticket for the rear of the trailer as the strips are very low profile, so there is no need to push them out of the way to back on to a loading dock.

More than that, they could be switched off under braking to assist the engine and service brakes in slowing the truck.

Bajjuri says he could outfit a trailer for around $2,500 with systems in volume production and fuel savings at 12 percent to 20 percent (the figures are all over the place), the payback would be real and fast.

Although the literature and website do not suggest it, these plasma generators could fill an equally useful task in keeping air attached across the tractor-trailer gap. It’s pretty intriguing and is a technology to watch.


XStream gap-filler panels shown here partially deployed.
Meanwhile a here-and-now tractor-trailer gap filler was on the show floor at ATA’s exhibits. With another play on a name, XStream was showing its automatically deployed gap-filling panels that mount to the tractor.

There was precious little literature at the booth and the website is not a lot better, but the demonstration at the booth showed frame-mounted panels swinging out at the sides and up across the top.

In practice this would happen as the truck reaches cruising speed on the highway. The effect is like the typical Euro style truck with very tight tractor-trailer gap possible with the deep kingpin settings on the trailer.

As the truck slows, the whole thing collapses to give the swing clearance American trucks with relatively shallow king pins on the trailer need for low-speed maneuvers.

There’s a video at the website and it’s obviously early days for this company, as there are no claims for the actual fuel savings from the device. But given that most of the wind in North America is off several points from dead ahead for trucks crisscrossing the continent, a gap filling panel may prove to be one of the better ideas for trailer aerodynamics.

As demonstrated by the Department of Energy-sponsored Supertruck program, the industry can get to mandated fuel economy targets set for 2027 but only if tractors and trailers are dealt with as a combined unit. These trailer aero devices show there’s no shortage of innovative ideas to help reach those objectives.

ATA Entertainment Rocks

The American Trucking Associations annual Management Conference and Exhibit is a very social event that finishes off the year with a bang. Freightliner’s invitation-only Customer Appreciation event every year is a top draw with the most memorable artists, and each year Freightliner retiree Bob Warner, who organizes the event, seems to pull a rabbit out of the hat, springing a top named artist or band on an appreciative audience in one of the industry’s best kept secrets, revealed just as dinner finishes.

In Philadelphia this year, the usual rumors were floating about but the announcement of Freightliner’s 2015 entertainer drew gasps, then a rush to be in the front of the auditorium. This time the featured artist was Sir Paul McCartney and his band, which has been touring America over the last few months.

Whether the Freightliner guests – fleet executives, their partners and the trucking press – were impressed, I couldn’t tell you. But I can tell you I WAS impressed, hearing and seeing only a few paces away a musical legend with whom I grew up in my native United Kingdom.

The previous evening had been exciting for the trucking press, as well, with an invitation to spend an evening with a special group of industry tech innovators at the little known Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, located in a warehouse close by Philadelphia’s International Airport.

The innovators were Aperia, which has an axle-mounted tire monitor and automatic air pump; EpicVue, an in-cab TV provider; Peoplenet, the messaging and asset management provider; PIT, a third party testing house for verifying claims for new products; QuikQ, a fuel transaction processor; TCG activity-based costing; and velociti, a data management company that fleets use for legal compliance. All used the same press agency and were present to talk about their services.
Also present was the most stunning collection of road-race cars I have ever seen.

The collection is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and features winning cars from every major road race you can think of, from Sebring to Le Mans from the Mille Miglia to the Nurburgring, from Brooklands to Bonneville and spanning 70 years of race car history. To our greater delight, one particular car had been singled out as an illustration of what the museum exhibits.

In the white and blue racing colors it wore when it last raced in 1966 was the lightweight Corvette built in 1962 by Zora Arkus Duntov when he was GM’s chief engineer. This particular car is #002, one of five built in secret and campaigned successively with GM management not knowing for most of the time.

With the extensive use of aluminum, combined with lightweight tube frames, fabricated suspension and special ultra-thin fiberglass bodies, the Grand Sports weighed less than 2000 pounds – 1100 pounds less than production Corvettes.

In 1963, the almost-stock engines were replaced with full-race aluminum 377-cubic-inch engines that produced more than 550 hp. Then, as a final step in the Grand Sport’s evolution, the engineers converted 001 and 002 to roadsters for the upcoming 1964 Daytona endurance race.

Then Duntov was told to stop racing the cars and destroy them. Fortunately for posterity, he managed to sell two of the cars to Roger Penske. Penske campaigned the two cars but by then they were no longer competitive with Porsche and Ford GT40 mid-engine sports cars.

The 002 (shown above) was finally sold to George Wintersteen, who briefly campaigned the car. Although 002 later changed hands a few times, it remained in its 1966 Wintersteen-race condition, virtually untouched for more than 30 years.

Fred Simeone, who owns the collection, talked about the car to show the philosophy behind the museum collection. The cars are mostly unrestored but running, representing the great days of road racing.

There are staggering examples, such as one of the six Shelby America Daytona Coupes that won a sports car championship for Carroll Shelby in the ‘60s. This car has the most extraordinary history, for, as well as winning a constructor’s title in the FIA World Sportscar Championship in 1965 and setting 25 speed records at Bonneville the same year, it was eventually sold to Phil Spector. From there its history gets weird. It finished up in a California storage unit where it sat for almost 30 years. This was in 2001 when the car was valued at $4 million. It’s no doubt worth a great deal more today.

To find out more about the Simeone collection, click here. To find out more about Sir Paul McCartney go to the local record store. Wait a minute – they don’t exist any more . . .

October 22, 2015

The Very Super Tractor-Trailers and Tractors at SuperRigs

The 2015 Shell Rotella SuperRigs truck competition always sees stunning tractor and tractor-trailer entries. In the tractor category, Ramon Rodriguez deserves special mention, journeying from Salinas, Calififornia, with two stunning entries. One won for Show Truck and the other placed 4th in the Tractor category. 

Tractor-trailers are always tops in my mind for the sheer square footage of the "canvas" that has to be covered. In judging, I always try to imagine what a family in a four-wheeler must think when they see a custom combo roll down the highway. That's what Superrigs is all about: working trucks that reflect a pride in our industry.


1st Place
Bobby Delon of Von Ormy, Texas, took the top prize in the Tractor-Trailer Division with this 2004 Peterbilt 379 Trailer/2014 Rango. Delon runs local around San Antonio. Appropriate to the theme, the truck features suicide doors. Delon's truck features a death’s head – a popular theme at the 2015 SuperRigs – on the truck’s hood. All around finish and interior are stunning.

2nd Place 
In addition to winning for Best Theme (see Best of 2015 SuperRigs blog), Dustin Pope's 2003 Kenworth W900L/2010 Utility 3000R Reefer took 2nd place in the Tractor-Trailer Division. The detail in the mural on both sides of Pope’s Western-theme trailer includes many whimsical figures like this armadillo. Pope is out of Greenville, Texas.

3rd Place
Shawn Cielke, 2007 Kenworth T600 Trailer/2014 Wabash Reefer, Haugan, Montana

4th Place
Truett Novosad, 2007 Peterbilt, College Station, Texas

5th Place
Duane Hostetler, 2006 Peterbilt 370/2005 Reitnour Flatbed, Belleville, Pennsylvania


1st Place
Billy Griffin, 2011 Peterbilt 389, Irving, Texas
Top place in the tractor category went to local heavy hauler Billy Griffin. This tractor is immaculately turned out and stunningly simple for such a hard working truck.

2nd Place
David Foster, 2005 Kenworth W900L, Joplin, Missouri
Second place in the Tractor Division was clinched by David Foster. The truck is old and was partially destroyed in the Joplin, Missouri, tornado several years back. Foster just keeps working it and working on it.

3rd Place
Humberto Cano, 2014 Peterbilt 389, Boerne, Texas

4th Place
Not only did Ramon R. Rodriguez take the Show Truck title with his 2015 Peterbilt 389 Trailer/Western 2015 Step Deck with its exquisitely done nightmare mural, he took 4th Place in the Tractor Division for his 2000 Peterbilt 379 Extended Hood. Rodriguez  if from Salinas, California. 

5th Place
Caleb Eilers, 2000 Peterbilt 379, Odessa, Texas
The quality of the turnout can be judged from the fact that this green machine placed 5th in the tractor category. Eilers hauls heavy out of the West Texas oilfields.

October 20, 2015

Best of 2015 SuperRigs

Kiegen Nelson’s 1985 Peterbilt 359/2014 MAC flatbed
trailer from Richfield, Wisconsin won Best of Show

The ”Best of” categories at this year’s Shell Rotella SuperRigs, which I had the pleasure of judging again this year, are as different as they are exceptional (see the full list of winners in the previous blog). 

This year’s "Best of" winners included: 

Best of Show
Kiegen Nelson’s 1985 Peterbilt 359/2014 MAC flatbed trailer from Richfield, Wisconsin won Best of Show. The big winner, Nelson received $10,000 from Shell Rotella and $5,000 from MAC trailer, plus a place in the 2016 Rotella SuperRigs Calendar. 

This exceptional 3 million mile Pete 359 is very understated, and the quality of the work is exceptional. 

The outstanding finish on the flatbed trailer with strap winches on display was incredible. Also note the Double Eagle sleeper. These used to be found on all the famous show trucks but are gone now.

Best of Show  – First Runner Up
Best of Show First Runner Up went to Phil Miller Livestock for this 2010 Peterbilt 389/2015 Wilson Livestock trailer out of Amargosa Valley, Nevada. This big white bull hauler is constantly in and out of fields and farms. It’s astonishing that Miller can keep it up so well. 
Best of Show  – Second Runner Up
Marciano Esparza Sandoval’s 1991 Peterbilt 379 Extended Hood/2003 Fontaine 53’ Flatbed came all the way from Salinas, California, to win Best of Show – Second Runner Up. It was one of three trucks to make the trip, and all three featured death’s head designs.

Most Hardworking Truck
The prize for Hardworking Truck went to Paul Rissler’s 1996 Peterbilt 379/2008 Great Dane. The truck, out of California, Mississippi has 1.5 million miles and looks better than the day it was built.

Show Truck
The Show truck title went to Ramon R. Rodriguez with his 2015 Peterbilt 389 Trailer: Western 2015 Step Deck out of Salinas, California. The nightmare muraled Pete has incredible detail in the illustrations all over the truck and trailer. And, whether or not you like death heads, you have to admit Rodriguez follows through on the theme even down to the rear lighting on the trailer. 
Best Chrome
The Best Chrome award went to Joe Regalado’s,1997 Peterbilt 379 out of Von Ormy, Texas, for its super attention to detail. Not so apparent is the 7-inch chop to the cab roof. The shallowness of the side window shows how much was removed.

Best Engine
Phil Miller Livestock,  Amargosa Valley, Nevada, won Best Engine for this extremely tidy and well detailed Caterpillar C-15. Note the pin striping on the underside of the fenders.

Best Theme
Best Theme went to Dustin Pope, 2003 Kenworth W900L/2010 Utility 3000R Reefer, Greenville, Texas. The detail in the mural on both sides of Pope’s trailer features a Western theme. This shows just one of many, many subtle figures hidden in the mural of Dustin Pope’s muraled trailer. Whimsical figures are to be found throughout the Western themed mural.

Best Interior
Daniel and Phyllis Snow’s 1996 Freightliner Classic XL, from Harrison, Arkansas, took Best Interior. Many of the interiors in the competing trucks were highly customized but none one could boast quite the level of comfort found in Snow’s custom sleeper with all the comforts of home, including a shower.

October 19, 2015

SuperRigs 2015 Superstars Shine

Early summer sees one of the high points in the truck show calendar with the annual Shell Rotella SuperRigs. This is the annual contest that sees a top turnout of the most glamorous rigs in the United States and Canada. Understandably, there were fewer Canadian entrants this year as the event was held at Retama Park, a horse racing track in Selma, Texas, just outside of San Antonio.

For 2015, the judges for SuperRigs were Jami Jones from Land Line magazine, Eric Harley from Red Eye Radio, Cliff Abbott from and me. I’ve had the very great privilege of judging Shell SuperRigs for 25 years.

The event has been held every year since 1983. Back then, there was a class for cabovers as they were the favorite configuration before a regulation change removed the tractor from overall length restrictions. So now it’s a rare treat to see a cabover in the event and this year we saw three, including a White Freightliner, a nameplate that disappeared in 1980.

Winner of this year's Classic Division was Daniel and Phyllis
Snow's unusual Classic XL Freightliner with lifting fourth axle.
Truck and trailer are HEAVY. The truck also took Best Interior.
Some of the competitors are regulars looking for prizes (winners can receive thousands of dollars, depending on the category), but, I think, really coveting a little piece of immortality as a featured truck in the official SuperRigs calendar, which Shell puts out for a nominal $10 in the year following the event. All of the winners don’t necessarily appear in the calendar, although Best of Show is guaranteed the cover and a month.

While the turnout was modest at 70 trucks in the three classes − classics, tractors and tractor-trailer − the standard was as always excellent. Especially gratifying the year was the number of excellent local contenders, many of them Hispanic.

That’s not especially surprising, given San Antonio’s far south location. But what was remarkable is that many of the outstanding rigs were from local operations so they were new to the event. More significantly, they were from dump truck and heavy haul operations, both of which are tough on the equipment.

Justin Hall didn't place in the prizes, but I wanted to show this
  retro-style dump trailer. Made by Vantage Trailer, it's actually a
2014 model. Note the curved front bulkhead and bulbous fenders.
Seeing trucks that work every day on and off highway spec’d and buffed to a superb standard, sitting there in the sunshine, proved a rare and rewarding sight. These competitors deserve a special consideration and the judges make sure they get it.

The other side of that coin is knowing which of the entries are “trailer queens.” Fortunately, the judging team has Doug Morris who has spent his career in trucking law enforcement and knows all about Department Of Transportation numbers, licenses, fuel tax reports and the like, so he’s able to spot non-working trucks and gives us a heads-up when a doubtful entry shows up.

This is important as SuperRigs is − and has always been − about working trucks. The trucks have to cover a minimum mileage in the year and the scores take into account the type of operation the truck is doing in the judging.

Best of Show went to Kiegen Nelson for this
exceptional 3 million mile Pete 359.
Also judges look out for the just-out-of-the-paint-shop contenders. In judging, we score on “workmanship,” and if we’re told a truck was redone for SuperRigs, it’s scored accordingly. That effectively lowers the ranking of what may have been a gorgeous truck in favor of one that has come to the event fresh from a quarry or landfill and the driver has been polishing on it for days to get it show-ready.

So it was this year. Best of Show was a working flatbed tractor-trailer entered by Kiegan Nelson. A stunning light blue Peterbilt 359 from 1985 with more than 3 million miles, it was coupled to a 2014 MAC trailer with ample evidence that the Richfield, Wisconsin-based truck was indeed a hard worker.

It was buffed to an amazing shine, a credit to Nelson and the truck’s owner Vinnie Diorio. Diorio is a past Best of Show winner and a familiar contender at SuperRigs.
Third place in the Classic category went to Walt Kurz for his 1997
Peterbilt 379, from Central Point, Oregan. This simple working truck
looks so good it’s hard to believe it's done nearly 1.9 million miles.

Nelson won $10,000 from Shell Rotella and $5,000 from MAC trailer, plus a place in the 2016 Rotella SuperRigs Calendar.

As always, it was a great three-day event. The plan calls for an earlier decision on the venue for next year which, if it happens, will be announced with the new 2016 Calendar. So any truck enthusiasts who want to know when and where to enter, or just to visit and see the super rigs, watch and get the calendar as soon as it is available. I hope to see you there.

Best of Show
Kiegen Nelson, 1985 Peterbilt 359/2014 MAC flatbed trailer with 3 million plus miles out of Richfield, Wisconsin.

Best of Show – First Runner Up
Best of Show – First Runner Up went to Phil Miller Livestock for this 2010 Peterbilt 389/2015 Wilson Livestock bull hauler from Amargosa Valley, Nevada.

Best of Show – Second Runner Up
Marciano Esparza Sandoval’s 1991 Peterbilt 379 Extended Hood/2003 Fontaine 53’ Flatbed

Working Truck – Limited Mileage
Eric Adams, 2015 Peterbilt 289. New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

Most Hardworking Trucker
Paul Rissler, 1996 Peterbilt 379/2008 Great Dane. California, Mississippi, with 1.5 million miles .

People's Choice – Kiegan Nelson, Richfield, Wisconsin

Show Truck – Ramon R. Rodriguez, 2015 Peterbilt 389 Trailer: Western 2015 Step Deck, Salinas, California

Best Engine – Phil Miller Livestock, Amargosa Valley, Nevada

Best Lights – Ray French Jr. 2002 Peterbilt 379, Crosby, Texas

Best Chrome – Joe Regalado, 1997 Peterbilt 379, Von Ormy, Texas

Best Theme – Dustin Pope, 2003 Kenworth W900L/2010 Utility 3000R Reefer, Greenville, Texas

Best Interior – Daniel and Phyllis Snow’s 1996 Freightliner Classic XL, from Harrison, Arkansas, took Best Interior. Many of the interiors in the competing trucks were highly customized but none could boast quite the level of comfort found in Snow’s custom sleeper with all the comforts of home, including a shower.


1st Place – Daniel and Phyllis Snow, 1996 Freightliner Classic XL, Harrison, Arkansas
Daniel and Phyllis Snow also won top prize in the Classic category and Best Interior. Unusual Classic XL Freightliner has lifting fourth axle. Truck and trailer are HEAVY. The Snow’s trailer is modified with a fully equipped workshop in the nose. Daniel can dive in there to craft whatever new idea comes to him for the truck.

2nd Place – Justin Querry, 1998 Kenworth W900L, Shirleysburg, Pennsylvania

3rd Place – Walt Kurz, 1997 Peterbilt 379, Central Point, Oregan.

4th Place – Michael LeJeune, 1999 Peterbilt 379, Church Point, Louisiana

5th Place – Richard Rodriguez, 1974 White Freightliner COE, San Antonio, Texas

The White Freightliner model was sold by White Motor Corp dealer up until 1980. This cabover was new in 1974 but has less than 200,000 miles since rebuild.


1st Place – Bobby Delon, 2004 Peterbilt 379 Trailer/2014 Rango, Von Ormy, Texas.

2nd Place – Dustin Pope, Greenville, Texas

3rd Place – Shawn Cielke, 2007 Kenworth T600 Trailer/2014 Wabash Reefer, Haugan, Montana

4th Place – Truett Novosad, 2007 Peterbilt, College Station, Texas

5th Place – Duane Hostetler, 2006 Peterbilt 370/2005 Reitnour Flatbed, Belleville, Pennsylvania


1st Place – Billy Griffin, 2011 Peterbilt 389, Irving, Texas

2nd Place – David Foster, 2005 Kenworth W900L, Joplin, Missouri

3rd Place – Humberto Cano, 2014 Peterbilt 389, Boerne, Texas

4th Place – Ramon R. Rodriguez, 2000 Peterbilt 379 Extended Hood, Salinas, California

5th Place – Caleb Eilers, 2000 Peterbilt 379, Odessa, Texas

October 14, 2015

Mack Manufactured Axles are Back

Trucks with all-Mack powertrains proclaim their pedigree
 with a gold Bulldog hood ornament.
Mack this week announced it is back in drive axle production, opening up a 100,000 sq. ft. manufacturing and assembly operation in the Hagerstown, Maryland, plant. By returning to making axles in-house, Mack brings all components of the all-Mack powertrain under one roof in Hagerstown.

The actual start of production was in April, but Mack waited for the announcement until axles reached full production. Currently around 100 axles a day are shipped from Hagerstown to the truck assembly plant in Macungie, Pennsylvania.

Mack Trucks North America President Stephen Roy says the total investment of $30 million means 100 new jobs added to bring total headcount at Hagerstown to 1800, with 400 of these engineers working on Mack powertrain components.

In addition to the new axle, Hagerstown builds Mack MP7 and MP8 engines, manufactures and assembles the T300 triple countershaft manual transmission and the mDrive automated mechanical transmission (AMT). The base 11- and 13-liter engines and the AMT are shared with the Volvo side of the house.

The axles and the T300, though, are exclusively Mack products and both enjoy a reputation as bulletproof components that are popular in applications that demand high reliability and durability with potentially deep reduction.

Building the whole all-Mack powertrain in the same plant shortens supply lines, says Roy. Axles were previously produced under license to Mack designs by Detroit-based American Axle. The co-location of all of the Mack powertrain also brings engineers together and allows for developing interaction between the current and future powertrain electronic controllers.

Benoit Potin, director of the Mack axle product line says his engineers could see future electronics and sensors on drive axles that could well contribute to optimizing the whole powertrain.

Already axles are important in the fuel economy programs. The new differential carriers – the 125/126 – are capable of accommodating new tall ratios of 2.66 and 2.83 to 1. This enables downspeeding the engines in the Super Econodyne package, running at 1100 to 1200 rpm at cruise speeds. Not only does this give better fuel economy, but as the peak torque of the Mack engines is 1200 rpm, it gives good performance at the same time.

This, says Roy, is the integration that has been the cornerstone of Mack for 115 years. Component manufacture in the same location as the powertrain engineers enables the engineering of the most fuel efficient, durable and reliable powertrain, he says.

“Integration is extremely important − even more than 20 years ago,” said Roy in his address to the Hagerstown staff assembled in the production area to celebrate the event. “With the focus on fuel economy, we must focus on all components for maximum performance. Seamless communication between the components means fuel efficiency can be optimized.”

According to Roy, today nearly 70 percent of Mack production features the mDrive AMT. That share has increased recently with the heavy-duty vocational version of the automated transmission. And, he says, raising a cheer from the workforce, customers like the fact that Mack trucks are all-American manufactured and assembled. “And we commit to manufacturing to keep all lines running at full speed,” says Roy.

Hagerstown Manufacturing

Differential carrier is top-loaded into the drive axle.
The Hagerstown plant was built in 1961 and was originally a Renault plant. It was acquired when Volvo bought Renault’s truck business unit in 2000. Mack was purchased at the same time.

When Hagerstown was acquired, investment in the plant had been limited for some time. But during the last seven or eight years, investment in production facilities and plant improvement have been significant, says Roy. This latest $30 million has lead to further improvement and rearranging of work areas to include the location of Mack’s aftermarket core warehouse at the plant.

In the new axle manufacturing area, the cast carriers are machined and assembled with differential and gears, and then dropped into the axle casing. Like traditional Mack tandem axles, the new ones are top-loading with spiral bevel gearing. This design gives the axles 95 percent to 98 percent efficiency, says Potin, more than vendor axles and further complementing the fuel economy achieved through the integration of engines and transmissions.

Mack trucks with the all-Mack powertrain of MP engines, T300 or mDrive AMT transmissions, and Mack drive axles are referred to as Pedigree Powertrain vehicles and the trucks are identified by a gold Bulldog hood ornament. Trucks with vendor components such as Eaton transmissions, Dana and Meritor axles, have a chrome Bulldog. A very few refuse and natural gas trucks have Cummins engines.

The use of the Bulldog as a trademark goes back to 1922.  In 1932, Mack Chief Engineer Alfred Fellows Masury carved the first Bulldog hood ornament and every Mack since has featured the Bulldog on the hood.