Caterpillar to build its own trucks

Caterpillar to build its own trucks

In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON notes what appears to be the final act in the Navistar/Caterpillar cooperation, reports on PACCAR’s growing Stateside success with its own engine family, reflects on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter’s 20th anniversary, and examines some interesting new trailer-reversing technology.

Back in 2009, the world trucking community was abuzz with news that iconic civil engineering equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. was to cooperate with Navistar International on engine platforms, and the introduction of a Cat-branded vocational heavy-duty truck range in the North American market.

This subsequently resulted in the formation of a 50/50 joint venture, named NC², which was also intended to pursue targeted global commercial truck opportunities overseas.

However, in September 2011 there was a surprise announcement that NC² had become a wholly owned Navistar subsidiary.

Subsequent direct involvement from Caterpillar, was, therefore, ruled out, other than its continued sourcing of Cat-branded vocational trucks for the North American market, and the offshore use of “Cat” branding on certain products – namely a series of International-built truck-tractors for the Australian market.

The NC² cooperation, together with several international joint ventures entered into during that period by the Navistar family, seemed to herald the creation of a major new force in the global truck market.

This perception was reinforced by the rebranding of several former Navistar global operations with the NC² logo, suggesting intensified marketing focus and material support from the iconic yellow-metal manufacturer.

However, through a process of subsequent contraction (that has been detailed too many times in this column to bear repeating), it all just seemed to fizzle out, to the point where we have been left asking more questions about Navistar’s strategic intent, than reporting positive news of the company’s progress.

Each Going its Own Way

The announcement, made during July in the United States (US), that Navistar and Caterpillar are to go their separate ways in the heavy-duty vocational truck business, seems to have written the final chapter to this rather unfortunate story.

At the end of 2016, Navistar’s Escobedo, Mexico, plant is to cease the production of Cat-branded trucks that it has been building since 2011 for the North American market. Truck production at Caterpillar’s Victoria, Texas, plant is, however, to ramp up from the first half of 2016.

The Victoria plant was opened in 2012 and currently manufactures hydraulic excavators. It will also become the future design and engineering centre for Cat’s own vocational truck range of dumpers, mixers and haulers, which will carry on from the CT660, CT680 and CT681 models that emanated from the NC² collaboration.

Navistar has also announced that it intends to launch its own new “premium vocational” truck range in early 2016.


During September, Mercedes-Benz Vans celebrated the 20th anniversary of its highly successful Sprinter “large van” family. Up to that time, more than 2,9 million Sprinter vans, together with spun-off passenger, chassis/cab and light truck models, had been delivered to customers in more than 130 countries around the world.

Twenty years and three generations on, the next Sprinter promises to be very different.Sprinter production is currently undertaken in Germany (Düsseldorf and Ludwigsfelde plants), Argentina (Buenos Aires), China (Fuzhou) and Russia (Nizhny Novgorod), with CKD assembly in North America (Charleston, South Carolina).

The Sprinter has passed through three product generations; the first running from 1995 to 2006, the second from 2006 to 2013, and the third from 2013 to the present.

The first-generation Sprinter re-entered production as the “Sprinter Classic” at the GAZ joint-venture plant in Russia during 2013. The Chinese Sprinter models have been built by the Fujian Benz Automotive joint venture since 2011.

The celebrations surrounding the 20th Anniversary were used to confirm some new strategic direction changes for the Sprinter going forward. As we reported earlier this year, Daimler Trucks has announced that a new van manufacturing plant, incorporating an assembly line, body shop and paint shop, is to be opened in Charleston during 2016 to build the next generation Sprinter. This will allow the manufacturer to improve the economics of its North American van business, and shorten delivery times.

During 2014, the US was Mercedes-Benz’s second-largest individual market for this product after Germany, with around 26 000 units sold. It has also been announced that €450 million (R6,699 billion) is to be invested in modernising the two German plants, and that Düsseldorf would become the global competence centre for the Sprinter product family.

Daimler and Volkswagen Part Company

It is not surprising that so much attention was focused on the next-generation Sprinter, as it promises to be a somewhat different animal to those that have gone before.

Since 1995, Daimler has been involved in a van-building partnership with Volkswagen AG. In terms of this, the Volkswagen Crafter and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter integral van ranges were both built alongside each other at Daimler’s Düsseldorf plant, using the same basic structure, but with unique drivetrains supplied by each of the respective partners.

This arrangement will be terminated during 2016, however, after which the two partners will go their separate ways. The successor to the current Crafter model will be built in a new Volkswagen (VW) plant located at Września, in Poland.

Possible Cousins for the New Sprinter

With the Daimler/VW partnership consigned to history, it must be presumed that the erstwhile partners will each develop a new, unique “large van” product. However, there is the possibility that Daimler may have already turned to its intensifying relationship with Renault-Nissan for some input on future van direction.

The Renault Master and Nissan NV400 van families share market space with both the Sprinter and Crafter families, but one significant historical difference has been that the Renault/Nissan models were basically front-wheel-drive (FWD), while the VW and Mercedes products were rear-wheel drive (RWD).

The growing incidence of all-wheel drive (AWD) configurations recently evident in this market may, however, make that difference academic in future models. It is notable that the most recent Nissan and Renault van families are available with FWD, RWD and AWD layouts.

Daimler, one would assume, would want to retain its own powertrain in any future cooperative venture, so it may come down to the ability or willingness of Renault-Nissan to accommodate this requirement that will influence future direction. With the new Sprinter due in 2016, these decisions will have already been taken, so we should not have to wait too much longer to find out!


Even before Global Focus first made its appearance early in 2006, we had been tracking a very significant fundamental change in the American truck-building industry.

After decades where a highly standardised selection of outsourced driveline aggregates – supplied by the likes of Cummins, Detroit Diesel, Caterpillar, Eaton/Fuller, Spicer, ArvinMeritor and Dana – was to be found in the vast majority of American “Class 8” vehicles, a new era had dawned.

PACCAR has produced more than  100 000 MX-13 engines in North America.During this, the European-led groups Daimler Trucks and Volvo – long-established champions of “vertically integrated” in-house driveline component sourcing – took control of American brands Freightliner, Western Star and Mack.

The European manufacturers were clearly intent on extending this philosophy to their American brands, with the motivation being to spread the amortisation of development and production costs across the largest possible global volume footprint, and to take increased control of their aftermarket and parts business.

The Growing European Influence on American Trucking

In 2000, Daimler bought Detroit Diesel from joint General Motors and Penske Corporation. In 2006, it took it out of the “loose engine” business.

Then, over the 2008 to 2011 period, Navistar International established its own MaxxForce “big-bore” engine range, based on MAN and Caterpillar designs. Caterpillar, confronted by increasingly stringent emission standards, also decided to withdraw its highly successful proprietary engine range from the on-road truck market.

While all this was going on, the only remaining US-owned and controlled truck manufacturing conglomerate, PACCAR, was making its own plans to adopt an “in-house” engine supply strategy.

Following its takeover of DAF Trucks in 1996, PACCAR inherited a substantial engine design and manufacturing capability, which dated back to the licence manufacture of Leyland diesel engines in the 1950s. DAF had incrementally developed its own designs, incorporating turbocharging and intercooling, as the demand for higher outputs grew.

This development process led to the introduction of DAF’s 12,9-litre MX engine at the 2004 Hannover show, followed by the 9,2-litre PR power unit just one year later in Amsterdam.

With a power spectrum of 183 kW (250 hp) to 420 kW (560 hp) now available from DAF manufactured engines, an ideal opportunity was created to take PACCAR’s own power range across the Atlantic to its American customers.

At the beginning of 2007, PACCAR announced its intention to build a new $US 400-million powertrain manufacturing and assembly facility, plus technology centre, in Columbus, Mississippi.

The site was confirmed as a production location for both 9,2 and 12,9 litre engines, to be used in Kenworth, and Peterbilt vehicles. Stateside production of these power units commenced in 2010, and, understandably, PACCAR started off by offering them as an optional fitment, while retaining the availability of Cummins power units for those operators who still wished to remain standardised on the American brand.

A Positive Trend for PACCAR Power

We have been keen to establish PACCAR’s level of success in convincing “hard-nosed” American truckers to move away from their traditional preferences.

Early in 2014, we were able to report that PACCAR had already installed more than 51 000 of the group’s MX-13 engines in Peterbilt and Kenworth trucks for the North American market, and that around one-third of current deliveries of Paccar Group Class-8 trucks into its home market were being equipped with these engines.

It was also notable that Kenworth – the dominant force in the heavy commercial (over 16 t gross vehicle mass (GVM)) segment of the Australian truck market – had decided to introduce an MX-powered version of its bonneted T409 regional application model at the 2014 Melbourne Truck Show.

Kenworth’s success in Australia had been built firmly on the “kit truck” philosophy previously dominant in the US market, so this departure from a highly effective strategy was most significant.

During August, PACCAR made two significant announcements that enabled us to make a more up-to-date assessment of the efficacy of their engine strategy. The first revealed that the 100 000th MX-13 engine had been produced in North America, while the second commemorated the delivery of the 50 000th MX-powered Kenworth truck, which was handed over to operator UPS at a ceremony in Kirkland, Washington.

These announcements indicated that the North American population of PACCAR-built engines had grown by some 50 000 units over the previous eighteen months.

In a 2014 Class-8 truck market of 220 000 units, PACCAR gained a market share of 28 percent, which translated to sales of some 61 000 units. The engine production volume required to support the 12-month portion of the aforementioned 50 000 unit population growth would have been some 33 000 units.

We can, therefore, conclude that roughly half of all Kenworth and Peterbilt Class-8 trucks currently being sold in the US are specified with in-house engines. This is somewhat better than the rate of one-third reported early in 2014, and is an impressive improvement by any standard.


Trailer reversing is a skill that is usually acquired after much (and sometimes expensive), trial and error, and only those who practice it frequently can become really expert at the process.

Problems arise because the towing vehicle is required to steer the trailer into position through its own manoeuvres, and this sometimes requires an opposite movement of the steering wheel to what seems logical. There can also be a considerable variation in reversing dynamics, dependent on the comparative lengths of the towing vehicle and trailer.

Ford Introduces PTBA

Ford has recognised the importance of providing a solution to this challenge, and has introduced Pro Trailer Backup Assist (PTBA) on its domestic American 2016 model F-150 pickup.

All the driver has to do is “steer” the trailer in the desired direction, as viewed on the screen of the dashboard reversing display, by twirling a miniature knob mounted on the dash adjacent to the steering wheel.

The PTBA system uses many of the same sensors and systems as the pickup’s automatic parking and lane keep assist features, to manoeuvre it and the trailer into the desired position, while the driver controls only the accelerator and brake functions. The steering inputs and reversing speed are automatically controlled, with the steering wheel turning independently of any input from the driver.

This system does need some advance preparation to function correctly, however; this being the input of four trailer-dimension measurements and the placing of a sticker, which needs to be affixed to a designated position on the trailer.

PTBA can accommodate up to ten different trailers (with overall lengths of up to a maximum of some ten metres, and with single or tandem axles) in its memory bank, once the trailers’ names and dimensions have been programmed in. The system does need to be activated, so drivers confident in their own reversing skills can still do it the hard way – if they so wish!

Continental’s Trailer Reverse Assist

The American division of German firm Continental AG is also developing a somewhat more sophisticated system, called Trailer Reverse Assist (TRA), for heavier articulated vehicles.

Using an intelligent rear-camera module, a centrally mounted control knob (similar to Ford’s PTBA), and a 360° surround view of the tractor-trailer combination on the truck-tractor’s console screen, Continental’s TRA system enables low-speed reverse and parking manoeuvres to be steered either from inside the cab, where the vehicle’s projected path is displayed on the console screen, or from a position outside the vehicle using a tablet or other smart device.

The remote control function controls low-speed steering, gear shifting, braking and acceleration, but requires that the driver remain engaged with the smart device throughout the operation, or the vehicle will stop automatically, thus preventing potential accidents.

The smart device display shows an overlay of the vehicle’s projected path, and images from the 360° Surround View video system, which utilises four 185° fisheye cameras. The TRA-equipped vehicle must also be fitted with an electronic brake control module, and an electrically-powered steering system.

Assistance for All

Continental claims that the TRA system will greatly assist inexperienced drivers, and even be useful for experienced drivers when they are challenged by unfamiliar surroundings, blind spots, inadequate sight angles, or an unfamiliar trailer configuration.

It will remove the necessity for having a second person, standing outside the vehicle, giving advice or directions to the driver seated in the cab. It also incorporates an anti-jackknife algorithm.

Continental says that this system would be ready for production by 2018. However, we are not aware, at this stage, of any similar system that will work with a double-articulated vehicle, such as an interlink or Australian B-Double combination. We feel sure, however, that such a device is not beyond the realms of possibility, given the capabilities of modern technology.

Continental North America’s home market is dominated by vast numbers of simple tractor-trailer combinations, so it has understandably concentrated initially on a solution for that scenario, but we await inevitable further developments with intense interest.


Global FOCUS is a monthly update of international news relating to the commercial vehicle industry. It is compiled exclusively for FOCUS by Frank Beeton of Econometrix.

Published by

Fuso’s new freighter – built for more
Prev Fuso’s new freighter – built for more
Next Take a seat
Take a seat

Leave a comment