Louisville's annual Mid America Trucking Show (MATS) has been traditionally oriented toward the heavy-duty market, but this year, if you could get past the dot-coms and electronic gadgets, the bulk of the hardware announcements were related to medium duty applications. We'll take a look at some of the medium duty developments announced as part of this year's Medium Duty Construction Truck Roundup.

As the nation's economy moves through the current paradigm shift from the "bricks & mortar" to the virtual world, medium duty delivery fleets are expanding to take over steps in the supply chain that used to be managed by the end-consumer. Add this to the current saturation of new heavy trucks in the truckload and LTL fleets and you begin to see why OEMs have a new appreciation for the medium duty market.

The bottom line for anybody currently looking to purchase new medium duty trucks for construction use is to get your order in early. Even with several additional factories feeding the pipeline, demand is still running ahead of supply. The increased popularity of automatic transmissions also continues to be a factor in production delays. Demand for this driver-friendly feature has the transmission manufacturers scrambling to expand existing production and to create new automatic and automated-manual offerings for the burgeoning market.


Peterbilt further strengthened its presence in the market with introduction of its new Model 330 Class 6 configuration, scheduled to begin production in August 2000. The new Class 6 model's features include an all-aluminum cab, a 50 degree wheel cut for increased maneuverability, and a sloped hood for visibility. Standard running gear includes Dana-Spicer axles, Caterpillar's 3126B (210 HP) engine, and hydraulic brakes. Low-profile tires and wheels contribute to a low cab floor for easy entry/egress and a low frame height. A new crew-cab option is likely to be popular with municipalities and emergency apparatus operations.

Just before the Louisville show, Peterbilt held the first of what it hopes will be a series of ride and drive events focused on the medium duty customer.

Operated in conjunction with Caterpillar, "The Experience of Class" event was held at Lowe's Motor Speedway, just outside Charlotte, NC. A similar program is planned for October, also in Charlotte.

In addition to presentations covering their product line, and opportunities to test-drive 8-10 differently equipped trucks on a closed course, attendees can discuss their transportation needs with representatives from Peterbilt and Caterpillar. A product fair, held in conjunction with the event, showcases related items such as wheels and accessories. Attendees are also eligible for a $1,500 rebate on any new Peterbilt truck delivered before Dec. 31. Local dealers can provide additional information.


Ford announced a "Lo-Profile" version of its Super Duty F-650 model, available in regular cab, SuperCab and crew cab configurations. This configuration trims approximately five inches from the frame height, allowing easier access to the cab and lower mounting for truck bodies.

Western Star

Western Star's new Class 7 model, the 3700 "Solar Series," made its first public appearance at the Louisville show. Originally unveiled at a dealer meeting late last fall, the series brings the company into new territory.

Developed by an outside design firm, the "Solar Series" trucks were seen as an opportunity to keep existing Western Star customers from having to go elsewhere for their medium duty needs. That the company's entry into this market happens to coincide with the growth in medium duty sales, may also prove beneficial.

Our brief look at the "Solar Series" model left us with the impression that the truck has serious potential in many applications. Without unnecessary complexity, everything appears to be well-thought and well-placed. The lightweight tilt-hood is steeply sloped for visibility and the set-back front axle provides extra maneuverability. The inner door panel is thick enough that the upper surface does double-duty as an armrest, eliminating an extra part in an area that typically sees considerable wear. Even drivers at the larger end of the body-metric range will find the cab comfortable, with plenty of room for seat adjustment and a dash configuration that provides adequate leg and knee room.


Beginning this summer, truck operators around the country will have the opportunity to test-drive Sterling's new medium duty Acterra trucks in a specially designed events called the "Sterling Tour De Force," a series of one-day events held in six separate cities in the US and Canada, from mid-August through early October. Each of the events will have morning and afternoon sessions, and customers will be encouraged to test-drive Acterras and other Sterlings. The "Tour De Force" events will be staged at large outdoor venues, such as stadium parking lots. The driving portion of each event will be held on carefully laid out courses closed off from regular traffic. The driving course will emphasize driver visibility and safety, handling and maneuverability including turning radius, acceleration and braking, and other attributes.

A key feature of the "Sterling Tour De Force" experience is giving customers the opportunity to perform direct comparisons with competitive brands of trucks in the same tests. In addition to a wide range of Sterling Acterras, Sterling will also have A-Line, L-Line, SilverStar and Cargo trucks and tractors for customers to evaluate. "Sterling Tour De Force" is scheduled to visit Toronto, New York, Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta. The sixth event will be in early October in Los Angeles or Phoenix.

In added news from Sterling, as this issue was going to the printer, the company pulled the wrapping off of a brand new vocational truck model. Sterling's parent company, Freightliner Corporation, recently introduced its leap forward into the Low Cab Forward (LCF) vehicle technology -- the Condor. Designed for severe service applications such as roll-off container delivery and transportation, the Condor will primarily be sold as a Class 8 (heavy duty) model, however, Class 7 (medium duty) ratings will also be available.

The new Condor will be marketed and sold by Freightliner Trucks and Sterling Truck Corporation divisions of Freightliner Corporation, under those companies' distinct nameplates. The 68-inch BBC vehicle will be available in 4 x 2 and 6 x 4 configurations, with multiple steering arrangements and a multitude of component and feature options. Sterling and Freightliner Trucks will begin taking orders for the Condor immediately. Production begins in November.

Because vocational trucks often operate on hectic city streets, in narrow alleys and in residential neighborhoods, the Condor was designed with a 45-degree wheel cut for an extremely tight turning radius. "Condor's low cab forward design, set back front axle and excellent wheel cut add up to superb maneuverability," said John Chadwick, director of the Condor project for Freightliner Corporation. "That means less backing up of the truck, which means less chance for accidents."

The truck comes standard with Freightliner's proprietary TufTrac rear suspension system. The TufTrac is a rugged, six-rod vocational suspension for construction, refuse, concrete mixer, heavy-haul, mining and logging applications. It offers extremely high axle articulation and uniform wheel loading, letting the truck maneuver over bumps, ridges and washboard roads without bottoming out the suspension or losing traction. It also provides protection for the rear brake chambers by relocating them to the forward side of the axle.


Freightliner announced that it will begin offering its proprietary "Airliner" air suspension on medium duty models, including the FL50, FL60 and FL70. The air suspensions are available with ratings from 10,000 to 15,000 pounds. The air suspension's design incorporates oversized air-springs and long suspension travel to accommodate the needs of medium duty applications. An accumulator tank provides for rapid recovery during loading and unloading. A low ride-height version is also available.


Navistar International Corporation announced a name change to International Truck and Engine Corporation. The operating company's new identity traces its origins to 1914 when the International brand was first used on the company's trucks. The former name for the operating company was Navistar International Transportation Corporation. The name of the holding company will remain Navistar International Corporation. However, virtually all employees will become employees of International Truck and Engine Corporation.

Work continues at International to bring the idea of environmentally-friendly diesel engines to market. The company used the Louisville show to display its latest "green" diesel engine, fitted to a 4900-series International dump truck. The new technology is said to produce significantly lower levels of particulate and hydrocarbon emissions. One other item mentioned briefly at Louisville was International's plan to release a new 4000-series model, some time next year.


Transmission Technologies Corporation (TTC), an outgrowth of the former Spicer Transmission operation, forecasted the next step in truck transmissions would be the IVT or "infinitely variable transmission."

Currently under development for a range of vehicle applications up to Class 7 commercial trucks, the IVT combines the best features of manual, automatic and CVT (continuously variable) transmissions. Like a CVT, the IVT offers smooth, step- free power transmission with undetectable shifts through its toroidal drive-without the torque limitations of belt-driven CVTs. Like an automatic transmission, the IVT provides shift-free, clutch-free driving. Because the IVT doesn't need a torque converter, its efficiency exceeds an automatic, and rivals operating economy of a skillfully shifted manual transmission.

TTC expects to have a commercially viable IVT available for trucks by the 2005 model- year. Pricing is targeted to be less than or equal to conventional automatic transmissions.

Global Consolidation Of Truck Manufacturers Continues

Volvo and Renault recently concluded discussions on a proposal whereby Volvo will exchange 15 percent of its shares for 100 percent of shares in Renault's truck business, Renault VI/Mack. Renault VI's bus business, organized in the Irisbus company that is owned jointly by Renault and Iveco, is not included in the transaction, nor is Renault's holding in Nissan Diesel of Japan.

Since last year, Volvo has a cooperation agreement in the truck sector with Mitsubishi Motors Corporation. "Volvo and Renault VI/Mack complement each other well, both geographically and product-wise. The intended transaction will double our share of the market in North America. The transaction also, together with the cooperation with Mitsubishi, increases Volvo's competitiveness in the medium heavy truck segment and in heavy diesel engines," says Volvo's Chief Executive Officer, Leif Johansson. "Mack is an ideal partner for continuing expansion of our North American truck operations," He continues. "Mack is one of the world's strongest brands in the industry and it has its own production of engines, which was a very important factor for us."

On a different front, Volvo and Mitsubishi Fuso recently announced a strategic alliance to sell and service Class 3-7 trucks in Canada. The sales and service franchise for Mitsubishi Fuso trucks will be offered immediately to Volvo's current dealers in Canada. Acceptance of the franchise agreement would enable Volvo dealers to sell Mitsubishi Fuso's light and medium-duty trucks. In the US, the companies have begun a study of distribution and manufacturing strategies. Specifics of their plans for US customers and dealers will be announced over the next six to 12 months.

According to Marc F. Gustafson, president and CEO of Volvo Trucks, "We are consolidating the strengths of the two companies to provide customers with a broader range of transportation solutions. The products are complementary, which will allow Volvo dealers to offer an expanded range of trucks. Customers will benefit through an extended and strengthened sales and service network."

DaimlerChrysler, parent company of Freightliner Corporation, and Mitsubishi Motors (MMC) recently signed a Letter of Intent to form an alliance regarding design, development, production and distribution of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles.. The final contracts will be signed within the next few months. It has been agreed that DaimlerChrysler will acquire a 34 percent equity in MMC. The combined unit sales and revenues of the allies rank them among the top three automotive companies worldwide. Although the Letter of Intent calls for DaimlerChrysler and Mitsubishi Motors to cooperate closely in the areas of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, such as pick-up trucks, the agreement excludes medium and heavy trucks and other commercial vehicles.