To be or not to be; that is the Argosy

Australia’s latest Freightliner Argosy points to the future for the South African version.

In his monthly review of global news for local truckers, FRANK BEETON looks at important differences between the local and Australian versions of the latest Freightliner Argosy (to give local operators an idea of what might follow once the fuel availability issue has been addressed), discusses MAN’s hydraulic hybrid idea, looks at Daimler’s return to the Indian market, and laments on a “poor” year for commercial sales in China

When it comes to forward control premium truck-tractors from American brands, South African operators currently have just two choices: the International 9800 Series or Freightliner’s Argosy. Because US truckmakers’ domestic customer base has almost no requirement for this type of linehaul premium hauler, they are somewhat restricted in offering cabover models to the global market, where, at the top end of the mass spectrum, a combination of overall length and axle mass regulations almost invariably excludes conventional or normal control models. As a result, both the 9800 and Argosy have been around for some time, although their makers have introduced regular updates to maintain their competitiveness with products from the far more cabover-oriented markets in Europe and Asia. The 9800 grew out of the International 9670 that was first introduced in the 1980s, while the Argosy made its debut at the turn of the millenium.

The launch of the Freightliner Argosy was a significant event as it was an all-new, state-of-the-art truck-tractor from a US manufacturer with a forward control cab. In Australia, this model was expected to do well, as local hauliers had a well-established preference for US driveline components in B-Double and roadtrain applications, and the Argosy’s combination of Cummins/Detroit/Caterpillar/Eaton/Meritor major aggregate options, coupled to European-style driver comfort and dimensional appropriateness, seemed to be an obvious recipe for success. In reality, however, early model Argosies were not able to seriously challenge Kenworth’s segment-leading K-Series cabover. Subsequently, Freightliner made several efforts to address technical and quality-related “niggles”, which Australian operators reportedly found more irritating than potentially disastrous.

In May 2006, Freightliner announced that it was withdrawing the Argosy from the North American market, having failed to establish a viable level of demand in an area which doesn’t favour cabover premium haulers. However, the manufacturer gave assurances that it would remain in production for export territories such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and subsequent events have proved this to be true.

Recently, a heavily revised Argosy has made its appearance in these markets, having been a particularly impressive exhibit on the Mercedes-Benz South Africa stand at the 2011 Johannesburg International Motor Show. The announcement of the new model was reinforced with a spectacular launch event in Namibia, but it soon became evident that, because of a lack of widely-available low-sulphur diesel fuel in southern Africa, the local version would not include the latest level of driveline technology being made available to Antipodean buyers of the new Argosy. In fact, the revised frontal styling, which is the most striking feature of the new generation Argosy, has been mainly dictated by the need for more effective engine cooling in the Australian operating environment, when using the latest generation diesels.

Recognising this, Global FOCUS decided to run a comparison between the latest Australian and South African specification levels to give local operators some idea of what might follow once the fuel availability issue has been addressed.

The most significant difference between the two versions lies in the choice of Daimler’s in-house Detroit Diesel engines on offer. In South Africa, the popular and successful Series 60 power unit has been carried over in 12,7- and 14-litre displacement versions, both rated at power outputs of 373 kW (500 hp), but with differentiated torque settings of 2 237 Nm and 2 508 Nm respectively. In Australia, however, the new Argosy gets a member of Daimler’s global Heavy Duty Engine Platform family, in the guise of the DD15 variant. This 15-litre power unit is available in settings ranging from 373 kW (500 hp) to 418 kW (560 hp), with constant torque ratings of 2 510 Nm.

Cummins diesels are available as options in both markets. The South African execution offers 15-litre Cummins power units with outputs of 373 kW (500 hp), 395 kW (530 hp) and 462 kW (620 hp), with torque delivery ranging from 2 237 Nm to 2 800 Nm. The Australian catalogue lists Cummins ISX and Signature engines in a power range from 362 kW (485 hp) to 448 kW (600 hp), all with a constant torque rating of 2 510 Nm, plus an optional setting of 2 785 Nm for the most powerful unit.

Transmission-wise, both markets get Eaton’s 18-speed automated gearboxes. The SA specification places AutoShift units behind the DD60 engines, and pairs the more advanced two-pedal UltraShift-PLUS with the Cummins powerplants. The Australian execution offers a choice of AutoShift or UltraShift gearboxes to suit specific applications, and an 18-speed manual transmission if required. South African Freightliners, which have GCM ratings of 60 tonnes, are fitted with Eaton rear drive axles, while Australian versions use Meritor axles, good for GCM ratings up to 140 tonnes in road train applications.

Unfortunately, the level of detail in the specification published on Freightliner’s South African website does not allow for any more detailed direct comparisons, but some additional features of the Australian version are worth noting. The radiator employed on the latest Aussie Argosy has a massive area of 1 650 square inches, up from 1 300 in the previous model. This pairs with the new and highly aggressive frontal styling in allowing sufficient cooling for GCM ratings of 140 tonnes, and the use of exhaust gas recirculation engines to meet ADR80/03 (equivalent to Euro-5) emission standards. The cab datum has also been raised by 50 mm, but considerable wind tunnel time has been invested to ensure that the new front end, including the external sun visor, is more aerodynamic than the previous version.

Finally, there have been some hints that Freightliner may be considering a reintroduction of the Argosy to the US market. There can be no doubt that parent Daimler Trucks would dearly love to see a reawakening of interest in cabover trucks west of the Atlantic, but this will take a great deal of promotional effort to achieve. However, who would have said, 10 years ago, that American truckers would accept vehicles with “vertically integrated” drivelines? Daimler’s DD13/15/16 engine family is now well-established stateside, Detroit (without the Diesel) is in the driveline business, and PACCAR’s own MX engines are now listed as standard equipment in several of the group’s American models. In marketing, nothing is impossible, it’s just the level of resources employed that makes the difference!

Truck manufacturers test hydraulic drive solutions
Early last year, Global FOCUS reported on the increasingly frequent use of hydraulic drive systems on heavy trucks. This trend first appeared in 2007 when MAN added its Hydro Drive package as a specification option on the TGS short-haul heavy-duty truck range. While these vehicles employed a conventional mechanical driveline to the rear axle or bogie, they were also equipped with hydrostatic drive motors on the front wheels. When used in conjunction with lockable rear differentials, this technology provides an effective short term all-wheel-drive solution at greatly reduced mass and cost when compared to conventional mechanical systems. Understandably, other manufacturers have been quick to follow suit, and in the intervening period, Renault Trucks has applied its own version, using Poclain hydraulic motors, in the Kerax on/off-road range, while family partner Volvo announced that it was evaluating the use of this system on its FH16-660 flagship for Swedish forestry applications.

MAN Latin America is using the 6x2 Volkswagen Constellation as the basis for its hydraulic hybrid project.During the same time frame, some truck manufacturers have also been working with hydraulic drive systems, but in applications that integrate into the primary driveline, rather than just driving additional wheels. Towards the end of 2008, PACCAR’s Peterbilt Motors Company, in conjunction with Waste Management Inc and Eaton Corporation, started field testing four prototype diesel-hydraulic Peterbilt
320 HLA parallel hybrid waste collection trucks in Fort Worth, Texas. These vehicles were equipped with Eaton’s Hydraulic Launch Assist system, which captures and stores energy generated during braking, while also supplementing the retardation process. The system is then used to assist subsequent acceleration, to the claimed benefit of both fuel consumption and engine longevity.

Following a similar thought process, MAN Latin America exhibited its own diesel-hydraulic hybrid refuse collector at the 2011 Fenatran truck show staged in São Paulo, Brazil, using the Volkswagen Constellation 17.280 6×2 chassis as the base vehicle. The driveline configuration of this unit was very different to MAN’s European Hydro Drive system, in that it does not keep the mechanical and hydraulic drive systems completely separate. In the South American version, the hydraulic motor/pump is coupled directly to the vehicle’s propeller shaft, and thus drives, or is driven by, the live rear axle whenever the vehicle is in motion. During the braking cycle, hydraulic pressure is generated, and stored in high pressure accumulators mounted vertically behind the cab. When the truck accelerates, this pressure is released back to the hydraulic motor, which – through its integration within the vehicle’s conventional driveline – assists with the workload of the diesel engine.

Waste collection vehicles, like urban buses, operate in the most fertile ground for hybrid driveline applications. The nature of the work can be typified as frequent stop-start, which provides ample opportunities for the generation of energy through braking, and its return to the drive system to the benefit of improved fuel consumption and acceleration, and reduced wear and tear. This applies equally to both electric and hydraulic systems, although the latter is said to enjoy the dual benefits of less added mass and reduced maintenance demand, having no need for heavy batteries that need to be replaced at regular intervals. On the downside, electric hybrids have the potential advantage of relatively easy “plug-in” recharging, providing more opportunities for all-electric operation and reducing the internal combustion engine to standby status, being called into action only when operational conditions demand. Most of the vehicles currently running are clearly defined as prototypes, and further development of both, and possibly even combinations of the two systems, still lies ahead before widespread adoption becomes a practical proposition.

“BharatBenz” – Daimler Trucks back in India
During 2010, Daimler AG sold the final 5,34 percent of its long-standing stake in Indian manufacturer TATA Motors, ending a relationship which dated back to 1954 when it had been the technology provider for the initial range of indigenous commercial vehicles produced by the Indian concern. However, TATA has subsequently pursued an increasingly independent course, including the establishment of a diesel engine partnership with Cummins, the acquisition of Daewoo’s South Korean medium and heavy truck manufacturing operations, and the establishment of engine sourcing arrangements with Iveco as part of broader corporate co-operation with Fiat.

BharatBenz of India will use Fuso’s Canter as the basis for its lighter truck range.With the TATA relationship effectively over, Daimler has been moving progressively into the Indian commercial vehicle market, which currently runs at around 300 000 units per annum and is reportedly the third largest in the world, for its own account. This process started in mid-2006 with the importation of heavy-duty Mercedes-Benz Actros tippers for sale to the Indian mining industry, and the setting up of an arrangement with Sutlej Motors Limited which covered the provision of luxury coach bodies for fitment to rear-engined bus chassis. Construction was then started on a new commercial vehicle plant at Oragadam near Chennai, subsequently inaugurated during April 2012, while the Daimler family’s Japanese-sourced FUSO trucks were introduced to India at the beginning of 2010.

With this as background, Daimler announced that it would build and sell its medium and heavy trucks in India under a new brand – BharatBenz (“Bharat” is the Hindi word for India). This was to become the fifth brand in the Daimler Trucks global portfolio after Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner, Mitsubishi FUSO and Western Star. The use of this generic brand name allows Daimler to select appropriate models from its various international product ranges to suit Indian conditions. It has been confirmed that the light-duty segment will be covered by FUSO’s Canter platform, while heavier vehicles are to be drawn from the Mercedes-Benz Axor range. Gearing up for the production and support of BharatBenz trucks in India has required an investment of some €700 million in brand, product, facility and aftermarket services development.

The Oragadam plant will have an initial production capacity of 36 000 units per annum when it starts up later this year, but this is planned to eventually almost double to 70 000 units. Seventeen truck models in a range from six to 49 tonnes Gross Vehicle Mass will be produced in India by 2014, and will be sold through an eventual network of 70 dealers, with access to financing and insurance facilities provided through BharatBenz.

Although it appears that Daimler will have a tough fight on its hands from dominant local players TATA and Ashok Leyland, it will be interesting to see how it intends to communicate its unique selling proposition in a market where the dividing line between TATA and Mercedes-Benz has been very blurred in the past. The use of BharatBenz as a brand name instead of the universal Mercedes-Benz badging appears to be a clearly thought-out component of its strategy, but it will still be a challenge to clearly differentiate between what “was”, and what “is”. Follow this one closely!

Chinese market in decline!
Believe it or not, the Chinese market for commercial vehicles actually shrank in 2011! Total sales of trucks, truck-tractors, buses and coaches barely scraped over the four million unit mark, ending at 4 031 838 units. This resulted in a 6,3 percent decline when compared to the 4 303 184 units reported in 2010. Interestingly, the only segment to return growth was the fully-built-bus category, which grew by 13,25  percent, while truck-tractor sales fell by a whopping 27,4 percent!

Of the individual manufacturers, Sinotruck led the category for bodied heavy-duty trucks (over 14 t GVM); Dongfeng the segment for light-duty truck chassis (1,8 to six t GVM), bodied medium trucks (six to 14 t GVM), medium truck chassis (six to 14 t GVM), heavy truck chassis (more than 14 t GVM) and light tractors (Gross Combination Mass ratings less than 25 t); Beiqi FOTON the light-duty truck segment (1,8 to six t GVM); and FAW both the heavy (40 t plus GCM) and medium (25 to 40 t GCM) truck-tractor classes.

In the bus categories, Yutong led both the medium and large built-up bus and coach classes (seven to 10 metres, and more than 10 metres respectively), Shengyang Jinbei the light bus and coach class (3,5 to seven metres), while Dongfeng headed up both the light and medium bus chassis categories (3,5 to seven metres and seven to 10 metres respectively) and FAW scored in the large bus chassis class (over 10 metres long).

It’s worth noting that the total Chinese commercial vehicle market has more than doubled since 2006, when it recorded just over two million unit sales.

The reverse suffered in 2011 is unlikely to reflect any ongoing reduction in demand, and provides early evidence of a trend favouring larger vehicles with greater carrying capacity. The reduction in absolute numbers, however, is certain to sharpen the awareness of Chinese brands towards export opportunities – and demands close attention from manufacturers around the world.


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.

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Focus on Transport

FOCUS on Transport and Logistics is the oldest and most respected transport and logistics publication in southern Africa.
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