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October 5, 2016

Truckload Carrier On-Time Performance

Many years ago, I was privileged to view the ‘war room’ at Joplin, Missouri-based Contract Freighters (CFI). It was a huge space, overlooked by a gallery and inspired, said then President Glenn Brown, by an old World War 2 movie that showed commanding officers peering down at maps of the world as young ladies – likely WRENs – pushed models of fleets of ships and squadrons of aircraft around in response to information coming in over their bulky headphones.

Brown’s vision was to have this open plan office with information displayed on huge monitors around the room and everybody in the loop, just like that old WW2 war room.

The most dominating display was a red neon sign showing the number 97.7. Brown said that was CFI’s on-time delivery performance. On-time meant the truck could be there two hours early. Not more. And never late. “And it’s not good enough,” he said.

That was probably 20 years ago that and Bruce Stockton was the maintenance director. He did the industry’s best job of keeping CFI’s all-Kenworth fleet on the ready line every day. It was an outstanding example of a team, led by a visionary leader with great people working together to achieve an outstanding performance.

But truck reliability has moved on a pace, and shipper and receiver expectations – and industry performance – has moved on too. Heartland Express has been awarded “Carrier of the Year” by FedEx Express for a 99.96% on-time performance.

“Achieving year-over-year improvement on near perfect levels, on our largest number of annual shipments with FedEx Express, is only possible through the hard work and safety of our professional drivers matched with effective collaboration between FedEx Express and our committed support teams,” said Heartland CEO Michael Gerdin. “We are extremely proud to be the FedEx Express Core Carrier of the Year for six consecutive years; this is truly an honor that speaks to the core values of Heartland Express.”

Michael Gerdin is the son of company founder Russ Gerdin who died in 2011. I was also privileged to have known him and on one occasion spent a week traveling Europe with Freightliner and a group of trucking executives that included Russ.

He oversaw the growth of Heartland Express from a company with four employees and 16 trucks in 1978 to one of the top truckload carriers in the United States. The company’s revenue had grown from $21.6 million in 1986, when it went public, to $736.3 million in 2015.

The son of a truck driver, Russ Gerdin had more than a dozen years of experience working for his father’s company and then owning or co-owning several other companies. He bought Scott’s Transportation in 1978 and renamed it Heartland Express.

Back to CFI
CFI was founded in 1951 with one tractor and two trailers. Its first year revenue was just $12,000. The company was acquired by Con-way Express in 2007 for $750 million and Glenn Brown retired to his ranch to raise prize-winning cattle. He’s now back in trucking as a director at Swift, the nation’s biggest truckload carrier. Bruce Stockton has fetched up as VP maintenance at XPO Logistics – a company that is going places and is well worth watching.

CFI is now operated as Con-way Truckload.

Heartland is still the industry’s top performer. And according to its 2015 earnings statement, it had a truly outstanding operating ratio of 84.2%.

You Can Start Me Up

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones
Freightliner Appreciation Event, October 3, 2016  

How much do you appreciate customers? 

If you’re Freightliner, it’s enough to put on a private party with no less than Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones as the entertainment.

It was the buzz at the early evening reception for the dinner, held at the American Trucking Associations’ annual convention in Las Vegas this week. Once a member of the Stones was spotted by an avid Rolling Stone fan, the cat was out of the band…make that bag. But nobody would believe it: How could a small group of truck fleet owners and managers possibly be at a private party with the legendary Rolling Stones.

Yet in his really hilarious intro to the headline feature of the evening, Daimler Trucks North America President Martin Daum announced the “band” would be the Rolling Stones. There was a rush to the crush to be center stage at this intimate concert with one of the world’s legendary bands.

And it was standing room only the rest of the evening.

It was intimate: There was a center runway and Jagger was the incredibly high-energy on-stage entertainer, not just singing the lines that everybody knows but strutting the stuff as well. It was magic.

Last year, it was Paul McCartney and by sheer luck I had found a corner where I could get up close and view the action without having to fight everyone else for a clear view. It was incredible again this year. The level of energy Mick Jagger puts into a performance is legendary. But you have to see it. And, of course, hear it.

It was a Rolling Stones night to remember, a customer-appreciation party that none but the market leader could do. I make no apologies for making that remark. Daimler and Freightliner set the seal on their dominance of the truck business with the ultimate thank-you party for their customers.

September 7, 2016

Volkswagen to Rescue Navistar

Well, excuse me if I crow a little here. . .  On July 7th 2012 I posted “Told You So” in this blog, and I invite you to go back and re-read. In the conclusion to the 2010 engine debacle, I predicted that Navistar’s savior would likely be Volkswagen.

Back then, I reasoned it would be a fire sale (and indeed at today’s tragic stock price, it is) but it is not to be the acquisition I assumed. It is a “strategic alliance,” with VW buying a 16 percent share of NAV to allow both companies to share product, technology and purchasing muscle around the world.

The writing was on the wall since Andreas Renschler quit Daimler Trucks and went to work for VW Trucks and Buses. The company had acquired already the German heavy truck manufacturer MAN and the Swedish producer Scania to add to its own Latin American heavy truck maker Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus in Brazil.

And the company has been very public in stating it not only wants to be the biggest car maker and truck maker in the world, In cars it has to get over its dieselgate issue which will cost several tens of billions of dollars – and which may be the reason that the NAV deal is a strategic alliance instead of an acquisition – but there’s no doubting it’ll get back there. In trucks, VW could never hope to overcome rival Daimler in heavy and medium trucks until it had acquired a North American distribution and truck making partner.

Now it has.

And Andreas Renschler was very much the architect of Daimler’s worldwide domination in trucks, with very successful partners in India and China. He knows how it is done. Make no bones about it, Volkswagen Truck and Bus has thrown down the gauntlet with this announcement and with Teutonic efficiency and determination it will strive to achieve that number one position.

Navistar gets a boost in investment from the injection of Volkswagen’s cash to purchase the stock position. That will help initially and then the savings that worldwide purchasing can bring can lower Navistar’s costs by $200 million within five years. Corporately, over the VW trucks and buses worldwide, this may reach $500 million, half way to the target billion dollar savings on the truck side Renschler has promised the VW board.

More importantly, the technology component of the alliance brings some very capable but underfunded technology engineers on the Navistar truck side into the VW truck fold. Scania is a very smart company with a very good understanding of safety and autonomous trucks, MAN has an office somewhere in its buildings with Rudolf Diesel’s name on the door. Yes, he was there when it was Machinenfabric Augsberg von Nurenberg.

Indeed, identified in the news release laying out the first steps of the alliance is the fact that VW will supply engines to Navistar for its International trucks. They could be Scania, or VW from Brazil. Or MAN engines from Germany. The irony there would be that the ill-starred MaxxForce 13 liter was based on an MAN engine but that Navistar engineers could not get to work with Advanced EGR. Let me think . . . did I predict that. Oh yes!

This whole engines supply scenario must have some worried people in both the heavy duty N13 (nee MaxxForce 13) engine plant in Mississippi and over at Cummins in Columbus, IN. There are customers still buying the Navistar N13 engine with its Cummins aftertreatment, though 75 percent of International production is now Cummins as customers who like the Prostar+ truck opt for Cummins reliability, durability and economy.

And that, by the way, is going to get a significant boost for 2017. In a recent press event, Cummins predicted a 10 mpg truck is entirely do-able with its latest X12 and X15 engine platforms for 2017.

For everybody else at Navistar, there must be a jaunty lift in their steps as they head for their cars at the end of the day. More cash to run the business and gain market share and one of the world’s great companies at your back: why wouldn’t you feel good about the future.

Go back to “told you so”. I said Navistar was a lucky company . . .

July 9, 2016

2016 Shell SuperRigs draws record turnout

Jake Lindamood won Best of Show with this heavy haul tractor.
Beautiful theme throuout and perfect execution for a truck
 that works hard. Lindamood took home $15,000 in prizes.
The Shell Rotella SuperRigs beauty contest and 2017 calendar shoot drew a record turnout this year with 89 eye-popping glamor trucks vying for the nearly $40,000 in total prize money.

For this event, truckers come from all over the United States and Canada for a chance to take top prizes and for a brief moment of immortality should they be chosen to appear in the Rotella SuperRigs calendar.

Best lights went to the blue dump outfit of Luke Leister,
who was also nominated to a Limited Mileage award.
Hundreds of blue lights wowed the crowd on Joplin’s streets.
Held mid-June at the Convention Center in Joplin Missouri, it was the second time the event was staged in this city. First time was shortly after the 2011 tornado did so much damage to Joplin and Shell’s SuperRigs injected much needed revenue into the city. 

This time it was more of a thank you, as truckers moved out of the parking lot Friday night and headed for the closed off streets of downtown Joplin for a parade and downtown where the top rigs could show off their lights.

One of the few cabover was this ’95 Freightliner FLB
 customized to look like an ’85 took second in Tractor Trailer
for Andre Bellemare down from Quebec for the show.

The city responded with a fireworks display for the thousands of residents who walked the warm evening streets to admire the trucks.

As in last few years, 2016 judges were Jami Jones for Land Line Magazine; Eric Harley; the host of Red Eye Radio; Cliff Abbott from The Trucker newspaper; and me, Steve Sturgess, representing a slew of magazines around the world.

The Hard Working prize went to Chad Berry. The award
is given by the other contestants, who certainly; know a thing
or two about hard work!
To look their best, many contestants take their rigs out of commission in the winter for a total refurb that often sees them at the early Mid America Trucking Show contest in March in Louisville. Then the trucks are parked or used little for the next couple of months until SuperRigs.

When they reappear for the judging, it is a tough task for the judges to decide whether the gorgeous tractors and tractor-trailers are true working trucks, as required by the judging rules, or just “trailer queens” that just do the show circuit. 
The dragon theme all over Uno Mas earned
Best Theme and mention in Working Truck -
 Limited Mileage to give Suzanne Rodriguez
two trophies to take home.

Now, judges are aided by Doug Morris who is the director of security operations for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and who comes with a career’s experience in enforcement. As an expert in looking at registration, DOT numbers and the rest he can attest to the working status of the trucks.

There’s also a mileage database that records odometer readings at the shows to check on the true mileages these rigs drive through the year. Shell wants the show to be for working trucks. Rotella lubricant’s brand is the number one for hard-working trucks and Shell wants to keep that association strong.

The most unusual truck on the parking lot
was this R-Model Mack. Built for a
customer by Justin Dickerson, the RD is a
 1991 with outstanding details all around.

So the trucks came – always some shut down for the week, getting on site early to start the task of cleaning to make them favorites or top candidates for the calendar. And the two goals are totally different. Only Best of Show is guaranteed a spot on the calendar.

2016 Best of Show winner Jake Lindamood’s heavy haul day-cab tractor and lowboy trailer was chosen for the calendar before he won the award.

After the awards ceremony, he said “We won Best of Show and got picked for the SuperRigs calendar which was super exciting. Winning Best of Show was huge and we are just beyond thrilled about it.” He was also no doubt thrilled to be taking home $15,000 in prize money.

Get complete 2016 Shell Rotella SuperRigs Results here.

Gorgeous trucks win thousands at SuperRigs

Impessably turned out tractor of Jay Blackbourn was perfectly
poised to pick up first runner up prized of $7,000. Note how
 the tires are all set at the same point of rotation!
The Shell Rotella SuperRigs beauty show has been going for 34 years and I am privileged to have been a judge for most of them.

Over time, the event has morphed from a small regional show as it moved around the country to become the must-attend premium show on the calendar.

The trucks have evolved, too, from nice working trucks with some stainless steel – and yes, back then we even had a cabover class – to the eye-popping, traffic-stopping paint, color, chrome and stainless steel of the top trucks today.

And while the few hundred dollars prize money of those early shows has escalated to the tens of thousands today, it does not even closely track the investment and love the owners put in the trucks that come to SuperRigs today.

Complete 2016 Shell Rotella SuperRigs Results

Best of Show
$10,000 from Shell Rotella and $5,000 from MAC Trailer
Place in the 2017 Rotella SuperRigs Calendar
This rare Peterbilt 379X by Charles Self picked up second
runner up and then picked up $4,000. The X model was at
 the end of the 379 limited run and this one’s genuine throughout.
Jake Lindamood, Irving, Texas
1988 Peterbilt 379

Best of Show 1st Runner Up
$4000 from Shell, $3,000 from MAC Trailer
Jay Blackbourn, Fennimore, Wisconsin
2015 Peterbilt 389

Best of Show 2nd Runner Up
$2000 from Shell, $2,000 from MAC Trailer
Charles Self, Neosho, Missouri 2004 Peterbilt 379X

Chosen by ballot at the event, the Peoples’ Choice award went
to Jay Hawthorne for his Pete 389 and Wabash;van trailer.
Consistent theme and traditional design had wide appeal.
Most Hardworking Trucker
Chad Berry, Medford, Wisconsin
2012 Peterbilt 386; 2017 MAC with Curtain

People's Choice
Jay Hawthorne, Grand Mound, Iowa
2015 Peterbilt 389 Pride Class; 2015 Wabash DVHDHPC

Working Truck - Limited Mileage
Luke Leister, Pierpont, Ohio
2015 Peterbilt 389; 2017 MAC End Dump

Henry Lopez, San Antonio, Texas
2015 Peterbilt 389; 2015 Armorlite

Suzanne Rodriquez. Salinas, California
1999 Peterbilt 379 Ext. Hood

Best Lights
Luke Leister, Pierpont, Ohio
2015 Peterbilt 389; 2017 MAC End Dump

There were some outstanding entries for Best Engine,
but the consistency of design saw the prize going
to Josh Reed. Hard to imagine it's working every day.
The interior treatment of Eric Holthaus’ 85 Pete
 carried the design theme from the outside to the interior.
 White areas are crackle finish and workmanship excellent.
Best Theme
Suzanne Rodriquez, Salinas, California
1999 Peterbilt 379 Ext. Hood

Best Engine
Josh Reed, Pioneer, Ohio
2015 W900L Kenworth; 2015 MAC Flatbed

Best Interior
Eric Holthaus, Seneca, Kansas
1985 Peterbilt 359

Show Truck
Billy Rethwisch, Tomah, Wisconsin
2016 Peterbilt 389; 2015 Mueller

Brian Davis, Owensville, Indiana
2015 Peterbilt 386; 2016 Wilson DH501

This impeccable heavy haul tractor regularly hauls
 180,000 pounds and gets off highway a lot. But it’s good
enough to win first place in Tractor Trailer for PaulPiretti.
Dustin Dickerson, Thorntown, Indiana
1991 Mac RD

1st Place Tractor/Trailer Division
Paul Piretti, Springfield, Missouri
2015 Peterbilt 389 Pride Class; 2015 Etnyre

2nd Place Tractor/Trailer Division
Andre Bellemare, Berthierville, Quebec
1995 Freelander Co8

3rd Place Tractor/Trailer Division
Darren Hutchison, Atkinson, Illinois
2007 T800 Kenworth; 2016 Wilson Livestock Trailer
Jarrod Russel took fourth place tractor trailer with this
 livestock hauling Pete and Wilson trailer, both bought
in 2015 but with hard working miles on them already.

4th Place Tractor/Trailer Division
Jarrod Russell, Jerseyville, Illinois
2015 Peterbilt 389; 2015 Wilson Cattle Trailer

5th Place Tractor/Trailer Division
Chad Berry, Medford, Wisconsin
2012 Peterbilt 386; 2017 MAC with Curtain

Best Chrome
Austin Roach, Jacksonville, Illinois
Kenworth W900A 79

1st Place Tractor Division
Joel Dawes, Waterford, Wisconsin
2014 T660 Kenworth
Unassuming Kenworth W900 A-model from 1979 sported 
immaculate and tasteful chrome and polished stainless steel
and gave Austin Roach the title as well as scoring second place.

2nd Place Tractor Division
Sid Calangelo, Carthage, Missouri
2015 Kenworth W900L

3rd Place Tractor Division
David Foster, Joplin, Missouri
2005 Kenworth W900L Studio

4th Place Tractor Division
Top spot in Classic was taken by Billy Baker with this 2000
Kenworth W900L. Fine attention to detail and creativity earned
  the award, making the trip from Ontario, Canada worthwhile.  
Kiegan Nelson, Onalaska, Wisconsin
2013 Peterbilt 389

5th Place Tractor Division
Sean M. McEndree Sr., Salado, Texas
2006 Peterbilt 379 Flat Top

1st Place Classic Division
Billy Baker, St. Catherine’s, Ontario
2000 Kenworth W900L

2nd Place Classic Division
Austin Roach, Jacksonville, Illinois
Green always shows well, but such was the competition
 that Joel Dawes ’88 Peterbilt 379 scored fifth. Still,
Classic was by far the busiest category.
Kenworth W900A 79

3rd Place Classic Division
Eric Holthaus, Seneca, Kansas
1985 Peterbilt 359

4th Place Classic Division
Jim Loggains, Carthage, Missouri
1994 Kenworth W900L

5th Place Classic Division
Joel Dawes, Waterford, Wisconsin
1988 Peterbilt 379

July 6, 2016

It’s Totally Magic

Here’s a device no maintenance shop, garage, marina or home should be without. It’s a new ultra-capacitor-based jump-start combo from Chicago-based KBi that doesn’t need plugging in to 110V outlet to charge. It will actually charge from the flaked-out battery in the vehicle or boat you’re trying to start. How’s that for a boot-strap device?

Because it has an ultra-capacitor for charge storage, the KrankingKart Mini doesn’t have to go through the chemical process associated with conventional batteries. It will charge in about 90 seconds and will provide 1500 amps of cranking power.

Sounds impossible? You must understand the difference between the chemical charge process of a lead-acid battery (or Lithium-ion for that matter) and the physical energy storage on a capacitor. All a capacitor requires is a voltage to charge the plates. So the run-down battery in the vehicle that won’t start likely still has a 12-volt nominal voltage at the terminals when it’s not cranking and can build the capacitor charge. The ultra-capacitor in the KrankingKart can then deliver that physically stored energy to kick over the engine and, providing there’s enough battery voltage to energize the engine electronics, you’ll get a start.

Ultra-capacitors are getting a wider play in vehicle starting systems these days. Many of the stop-start fuel-saving modes in passenger cars use an ultra-cap to provide the sudden energy boost to restart the engine when it shuts down at a traffic light, for example.

The supplier, KBi, is a really interesting company. Its claim to fame was originally as the manufacturer of ether cold-start systems for heavy trucks and locomotives. Back then it was appropriately named Kold-Ban International. But as engine electronics and other modern technologies have made it possible to start diesels at ever lower temperatures, the need for the ether boost has waned. So KBi has re-invented itself as a different kind of starter systems company, offering ultra-capacitor conversion systems for military and heavy-truck applications.

KBi already offers a truck maintenance shop starter cart that uses the same technology as the KrankingKart Mini but on a larger scale. This smaller unit is really targeted at the marine market, but it’s just as good for car and light truck jump starts.

Ultra-caps are ideal for engine start systems. They give a huge energy discharge over a short time. Conventional lead-acid batteries deliver a constant low-amperage discharge over time. So on a heavy truck, the number of group 34 batteries can be reduced for weight savings while still providing for “hotel” loads. In passenger cars, hybrid batteries of lead-acid and ultra-caps are staring to become common.

So, in this KrankingKart Mini you have the ultimate get you going package that weighs only 22 pounds, requires absolutely no maintenance, will cycle at least a million times and comes with its own 900-amp cables and battery clamps.


May 31, 2016

Best Car I Ever Owned

Lotus 7 in an olive grove in Cadaquez, Spain. By this time it had headlamps: the right
was a foglight and served as low beam, on high beam the left spotlight would come on in
addition to aid in night-time visibility. Note tiny marker lights that were original lighting.
Inside fiberglass nose you can see oil cooler, air horns and electric fan. Car was always
a trial to cool in traffic. Front fenders didn’t do a lot for spray suppression. The license
plate had an attitude, too. And that’s me, a little younger.

I think I bought it for GB pounds 600 (just $860).

It was a clubman’s racer Lotus 7. Like all the 7s it was very simple.

A spaceframe and monocoque combination with riveted aluminum over a steel spaceframe structure that weighed about 300 pounds was the chassis. 

Power was by a Cosworth pushrod Ford four-cylinder at 1558 cc displacement  – the same displacement as the twin-cam Lotus Cortina I owned immediately before this – and another exceptional car I wish I could afford again!

Except, because the 7 was a genuine clubman’s race car, it was a dry-sump genuine Cosworth motor with two side-draft twin-choke 42DCOE Webers, ported head, header exhaust and a Cosworth RSC camshaft.

The cam was an 80-40-40-80 grind from a Cosworth SCA OHC engine that was the de rigeur motor for Formula 2 open wheel racers back then. And we are talking 1969. The camshaft overlap would see flame out of the exposed carburetor inlets, sticking out of the left side of the hood. 

The driveability of the car was awful as it was way too cammy for the road use I intended. And the fuel economy was ridiculous, so I switched out the camshaft for the Formula 3 Cosworth RSA engine after a couple of weeks.

The RSA grind was way better for bigger displacements than the 1000 cc of Formula 3 back then, but it was still a monster. It was still so cammy it would break the Dunlop race drive tires loose in second gear as the revs came on to 5000. And in the close ratio Ford-Lotus gearbox from the Lotus Cortina racers of the day, that would be speeds in the 50s.

In the wet, it was a beast. The peaky camshaft would spin the drive tires as it came on the cam in top gear – about 90 mph! Bear in mind the car only weighed 1300 pounds. But it was the best handling car you can imagine. Set up with all kinds of negative camber on the 5.5-inch R6 shod front wheels, it was neutral into a corner at neutral throttle.

So at a roundabout – there were and still are lots of them in the UK – entry on a trailing throttle would bring oversteer and a step out for the rear even though there were big Dunlop racing R6s on 7.5 inch rims. The oversteer would translate into opposite lock though a touch of steering through the apex of the roundabout and then power-out on opposite lock coming off the roundabout. The 7 was a hugely satisfying – and enormously forgiving – car to drive very fast.

The suspension was responsible for this: coil spring and wishbone up front and an A frame to the base of the diff with coil-over shocks at the rear giving a downward sloping roll center toward the rear. Just like the ’65 Lotus Cortina I had so recently abandoned. That was an equally incredibly balanced car that could be flung at corners, not just driven round. The best thing is that it would always pick up the inside front wheel in a corner to give a few more feet of road space through the apex of a corner!

But back to the 7, because it was a race car, it had no lights and a straight exhaust on the passenger side exiting ahead of the rear wheel. I fixed all that. Back then in the UK, there was no legal requirement for headlamps (driving lights) so I fixed up marker lights front on the cycle fenders and rear on the aluminum flares that replaced the original fiberglass fenders so the lowered rear suspension had sufficient clearance.

That was part of the rewire I did when stripping and rebuilding the car, chroming the suspension, painting it a puce color instead of the Lotus green with yellow stripe. It had no ignition switch, either. You just flipped the switch for the ignition, the next toggle for the electric fuel pump, and then pressed the starter solenoid up under the dash.

The exhaust fix was easy. I just made up a can that looked like a muffler and welded it around the straight-pipe exhaust. It looked legal, but on a still night in rural Essex, a friend said he heard me coming from five miles away.

Driving at night was a challenge with no headlights. At the time I was working for Ford Motor Co, based at the Transit plant in Southampton, but I’d spend weekends back in my home base in Wimbledon, South London. So Sundays would find me heading back to the south coast on unlit pre-motorway A-roads. The trick was to poodle along till something faster would overtake, then tuck in behind till something faster came along and then tuck in behind that.

One night the last to overtake was a spiritedly driven Honda S800 – remember them – and I tucked in and followed like a limpet. Each time he’d overtake, I’d hang back till the road was clear than blast up behind again.

Eventually I ran out of gas. As a race car, the 7 only had a 4-gallon gas tank and no fuel gauge, but I always had a gallon can tucked into a special location in the rear spaceframe. So I cruised to a stop and pulled out the gas can. Meanwhile, the Honda stopped, then backed down to where I was and the driver jumped out.

“I wondered what the hell that was,” he said, or words similar. “All I could see in the mirror were these two little lights dancing and bobbing around. Then I’d pass a car and the lights would disappear until there was a shattering roar and those lights would be in the mirror again.”

I drove that 7 everywhere. On evening, backing into a parking slot in Montmartre, Paris, there was a bang from the rear and that was that. The car had a steel, small diameter race clutch that was all or nothing, and in backing up, I had broken a half shaft in the Standard 10 rear axle (Yes: Standard! It was a Triumph small car of the time and the axle Colin Chapman chose for the 7).

I arranged shipment back to the UK and while I was waiting for the 7 to appear at my doorstep in London I happened on a Standard 10 upended in a ditch while on a weekend in Sussex.  It was the work of minutes to pull both half-shafts from this wreck – fortunate, because only a month after replacing the first broken half shaft, the other let go and I had a replacement ready to install!

Eventually I tired of the lack of heater, wind whistling in through ill-fitting side curtains (there were no doors) and rain coming in from every pore. So I built a beach buggy. Never mind there were no sandy beaches in UK to drive upon. But I did take it to the Sahara Desert, and there’s a BIG beach there! And that’s another story.

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)