Ford ramps up truck involvement
In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON discloses the most recent significant developments in Ford’s reawakening truck interest, reports on Australian testing of Allison’s ten-speed automatic transmission, and further clarifies the Navistar International situation “down under”
Since mid-2011, Global Focus has regularly included news snippets suggesting that the Ford Motor Company was increasing its involvement in the global commercial vehicle business.
Although it is true to say that Ford never completely left this field of activity, it certainly retreated significantly from the position it had occupied in the 1970s, when Ford-branded medium- and heavy-duty trucks were a common sight on roads in areas as far afield as North America, Europe, and here in South Africa.
The subsequent sale of the iconic Louisville Line to DaimlerChrysler in the United States (US), and disposal of European trucking assets to Iveco, seemed to leave Ford with only European van and American pick-up spinoff models. We recently discovered, however, that truck manufacture continued in places like Brazil and Turkey, and it is from these bases that future growth can be sprung.
Driven by “One Ford”
Much of the renewed impetus appears to be rooted in the “One Ford” global strategy, sired by former president and CEO Alan Mulally in 2007. This strategy brought about the selling off of the Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo car brands, and resulted in a purification of Ford’s global image, concentrating on its famous “blue oval” emblem.
Its manifestation in the trucking arena has seen the development of new Cargo truck ranges in Brazil and Turkey. The latter are powered by newly developed in-house Ecotorq diesel engines. A strong alliance has also been formed with Chinese enterprise Jiangling Motors Corporation, in which Ford now holds a 32-percent shareholding.
In April 2013, it was announced that Ford Otosan (Turkey) had licensed its Ecotorq engine technology to JMC, and its affiliate JMC Heavy Duty Vehicle Co. Limited, for use in domestic Chinese and export commercial vehicle applications.
Important North American developments
The pace of rolling out this strategy has been steady, rather than spectacular, but it does seem to be heading in a positive direction. More recently, the announcement of a new Ford medium-truck series for the North American market has prompted a series of important developments in the global giant’s own back yard.
One of these was the fact that production of the latest F-650/F-750 medium-duty series has been moved from the Blue Diamond joint venture – shared with Navistar International and located in Mexico – to Ford’s own Avon Lake, Ohio, facility. The other important point is that this line-up will incorporate an in-house sourced driveline (including 6,8-litre V10 petrol and 6,7-litre V8 diesel power units) and six-speed TorqShift automatic transmission, in place of the bought-in Cummins/Allison combination previously employed.
Both of these moves signal a highly visible and significant increase in commitment by Ford to its domestic truck business, with the added benefits of securing employment and increasing investment in its own country of origin.
It would be unrealistic to expect Ford to unveil a complete global range of medium- and heavy-duty trucks anytime in the near future, but an incremental rolling out of products into receptive markets is a definite possibility.
The Chinese joint venture with JMC and the Turkish Ford Otosan operation seem to be promising starting points for future rollouts, but much will depend on favourable costings.
Turkey is becoming an increasingly important alternative manufacturing base for European brands, but the recent devaluation of the Chinese yuan may be a complicating factor with regard to export possibilities from the JMC source, so we will be watching for future developments with keen interest.
ALLISON’S TEN-SPEED AUTOMATIC IMPRESSES ON TEST IN AUSTRALIA
The subject of automatic and automated transmissions in trucks has taken on added importance in recent years. Following a period when full automatics were mainly used in intensive stop-start, relatively low-speed operations such as refuse collection and other “vocational” scenarios, the increasingly widespread use of automated mechanical transmissions (AMTs) in the 21st century has resulted in an intensified general demand for more driver-friendly driveline configurations.
The AMT’s capacity to reduce vehicle abuse, and compensate for lower-skilled drivers, while retaining fuel consumption at levels similar to well-driven manual gearboxes, has seen this transmission type enter virtually every facet of the operational spectrum, including long-distance line-haul.
Allison’s counter argument
Traditionally, torque converter/planetary gear automatics were expected to deliver higher fuel consumption profiles than the ubiquitous friction clutch/manual gearbox combination in higher average speed applications. This tended to limit their appeal in anything other than the lower-speed, stop-start scenarios, where fuel consumption was only a secondary consideration.
As the major global supplier of these gearboxes, Allison Transmission recognised the need to capitalise on the growing popularity of two-pedal driving in the global truck market, and set to work developing a solution that would enable it to take on AMTs over a broader operational spectrum than previously possible.
This led to the launch, in September 2011, of the Allison TC10TS transmission, an unconventional fully automatic unit combining a torque converter with a ten-speed mechanical gearbox, transmitting its power through wet clutches in the main five-speed gearbox and a two-speed planetary range change section.
At the launch, Allison claimed that TC10-equipped test vehicles were returning average fuel consumption benefits of five percent, when compared to manual transmission or AMT-equipped units.
Until recently, Allison has been concentrating its sales efforts on the TC10 in its home market of North America, where it has reportedly been well received. An example was put on display, two years ago, at the Brisbane Truck Show in Australia. This initial interest-generating exercise has since been followed up by installation of a test transmission in a Kenworth T359 6×4 car transporter operated by Prixcar Services. The rig grosses 36 t and, because of the TC10’s characteristics, the final drive ratio has been raised from the normal 4,3:1 to 3,08:1.
How does TC10 shape up?
At time of writing, the rig was reportedly returning somewhat better fuel consumption than AMT-equipped units in the Prixcar fleet, although no absolute numbers have been published. These are likely to be withheld until the combination has covered significantly more mileage.
The driving impressions reported by several journalists given the opportunity to sample the TC10-equipped Kenworth, at the recent 2015 Brisbane Truck Show, have, however, been most favourable. Comments included a feeling of above-average performance for an 11-litre engine and a “seamless” feel to the gear changes.
The TC10 is programmed to keep engine revs as low as possible, has two reverse ratios, and senses the gradient situation, vehicle load condition and engine brake status when timing its gearshifts. It also has a feature that selects neutral when the vehicle is stationary with the driver’s foot on the brake pedal, and then re-engages drive when the brake pedal is released.
One of the testing journalists expressed the opinion that the TC10 was able to perform more decisively than present-generation AMTs in the situation where the driver slows down before entering a roundabout, and then accelerates into a gap in the traffic.
This scenario reportedly has the potential to “confuse’ an AMT, resulting in some indecisive hunting for the most appropriate gear. The general consensus was that, given confirmation of the claimed fuel consumption benefit, the TC10 would provide American, and some Japanese, manufacturers with a viable alternative to AMT fitment at the heavier end of the gross combination mass (GCM) spectrum.
NAVISTAR “INTERNATIONAL” BRAND BACK in AUSTRALIA
Two issues back, in our initial coverage of the Brisbane Truck Show, we noted some changes in the profile of the former NC² operation in Australia. Significantly, these included a name change to Navistar Auspac, the arrival of Tim Quinlan (formerly resident in South Africa) to head up the operation, and the announcement that the International truck brand would be returning to the Australian market.
This latter revelation raised many eyebrows, because, for more than eight decades, International trucks were greatly favoured by Australian operators, and their success in that market led to the development of unique families of locally manufactured, indigenous models named ACCO (Australian Model C Cab Over), S-Line and T-Line.
These vehicles combined US-style truck engineering with the configuration preferences of Australian operators. They were built for both the domestic and some export markets, including South Africa.
However, the demise of the original American parent International Harvester Company in 1986, and its subsequent replacement by Navistar International and the International Truck and Engine Corporation, eventually led to the acquisition of International’s substantial Australian assets, including the Dandenong factory, by Fiat Group truck manufacturer Iveco. The International nameplate then gradually disappeared from the Australian scene.
After 1992, Iveco Trucks Australia, in addition to its own range of products, took responsibility for the marketing and support of certain Navistar International trucks in the “land down under”. Having obtained the rights to the ACCO line in the acquisition, Iveco Trucks Australia subsequently continued to manufacture and market these models successfully, and rebranded them as “Iveco” products in 2002.
Navistar Returns to Australia in 2010
Navistar International subsequently announced that it would formally dissolve its supply, technical, assistance and licence agreement with Iveco Trucks Australia on October 9, 2010, and that, from that date, it would assume responsibility for the launch of new products from the NC² range into the Australian market.
It was also announced that NC² would establish a truck assembly facility at an existing Caterpillar manufacturing site located at Tullamarine, Victoria. Since then, however, the global cooperation between Caterpillar Inc. and Navistar, which had resulted in the creation of NC² branding, has been progressively scaled back. Further announcements, made at the most recent Brisbane show, have shed more light on the future direction being plotted for the Australian operation.
This commenced with the local launch of the International-branded ProStar, which also happens to be the model on which the Australian Cat range has been based. However, the International-badged version will be powered by a Cummins ISX ES rated up to 410 kW (550 hp) in place of the Navistar-built C13 and C15 engines used in the Cat-branded CT610 and CT630 models.
Other features include three cab options (day, extended and high-rise), GCM ratings of up to 90 t, and wheelbase dimensions of 4,6 or 5,7 m. Future plans include a lighter and smaller displacement engine, possibly from the Chinese-manufactured Cummins ISG range, and the possible introduction of further International-branded products such as the WorkStar vocational truck family and retro-styled LoneStar.
Existing Cat dealers have been offered the option of also selling International-branded products, and a total distribution network is currently being formulated.
We continue to be astounded by the efforts being made by Navistar to grow its Australian presence, while its future position as a new vehicle supplier in South Africa remains clouded in mystery.
At best, the American manufacturer can capture a share of that portion of the Australian market currently held by the likes of Kenworth, Western Star and Freightliner with their normal-control models, but with the International and Cat brands dividing any success into smaller slices of cake.
The absence of a forward-control model in the Navistar line-up will preclude any direct competition with Kenworth’s market-leading K Series, Freightliner’s Argosy, or any of the premium European models lining up for increased Australian market share.
If, on the other hand, Navistar had continued its earlier plan to develop a replacement for the forward control 9800 Series, which enjoyed much long-term success in South Africa, it could have retained its previous substantial presence here, and created a suitable spin-off derivative to cover a much bigger slice of the available Australian demand.
Meanwhile, back in the US, Navistar claims that it has taken the industry-leading position in offering Eaton’s Procision dual-clutch transmissions to US operators. These new seven-speed automated transmissions will be made available to buyers of International DuraStar medium-duty trucks, and IC Bus CE series school buses.
Global Focus first covered the introduction of the Procision transmission in the June issue, noting that it was intended for trucks with gross vehicle mass ratings from 8 864 to 15 000 kg, has an input torque limitation of 895 Nm, and can be installed behind engines such as the Cummins ISB with outputs of up to around 225 kW (300 hp).
Navistar has also announced that its WorkStar vocational models can now be specified with Cummins ISB 6,7-litre engines, rated up to 242 kW (325 hp), as an alternative to Navistar’s own 9,3-litre and 13-litre MaxxForce power units.
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.