More Pricey, More Friendly, More Efficient

Manufacturers combat rising prices with fuel efficiency, driver amenities.


General Motors Corp., Detroit, has gone the route of offering a variety of powertrains-pg on its models this year to increase fuel economy for its customers. The company's V6 and E85 engines are now available for its half ton vans and medium duty trucks. "We're also offing the choice of gas or diesel," says Carmelita Badia, marketing manager for commercial vehicles for GMC. Badia and others point to the choice of gasoline engines over diesel engines as a major way for companies who are only putting 25,000 miles or less on their vehicles to save money.

"A gas engine has a manufacturers' suggested retail price that is $5,000 less than a diesel engine," notes Isuzu's Bloom. "That's a huge savings right from day one." And, the cheaper price of gas means gasoline engines are a better choice for the fleet performing local delivery applications.

This year, truck customers will also see an increase in the number of automatic transmissions on trucks.

GM is offering the Allison six-speed transmission in its medium duty trucks and commercial vans. "Having the extra gears allows the engine to always be in the perfect gear, given the load situation on an engine," says GMC's Badia. "This has a direct correlation to better fuel economy."

Greensboro, NC-based Volvo Trucks North America is offering the Volvo I-Shift automated transmission, which was designed specifically for Volvo's heavy-duty diesel engines. According to the company, it not only offers better fuel economy, but extremely smooth operation due to its ability to communicate with other components in the truck systems, such as the engine break.

"The move toward automatic transmissions is a growing trend," says Peterbilt's Gustainis. "Drivers are very hard to find and automatic transmissions make vehicle operation easier for them."

Driver Friendly Interiors

Manufacturers report that fleets are looking for other driver friendly amenities, in an effort to combat high driver turnover rates. Manufacturers such as Freightliner are striving to make the cab interior more ergonomic for drivers by putting all of the dashboard controls well in reach of the drivers and in plain sight. New models also feature buttons on the steering wheel itself so that drivers don't have to take their hands off to engage the engine break.

Along with this is a trend toward increasing visibility on medium class delivery trucks through bigger windscreens and more hood slope, in order to improve the drivers' line of sight while going around tight corners in urban delivery applications.

"We're being asked to provide drivers with features that can assist them in meeting the needs of the company," says Frank Bio, product manager, trucks, for Volvo. One of those areas again, is fuel economy. "Volvo is outfitting the dash with a fuel economy meter that helps the driver determine if he should apply more throttle or move more throttle from the accelerator to help with the fuel economy."

Hino also provides a fuel economy meter as part of its Driver Information Display. The display allows for the monitoring of the shoot level in a truck's DPR system, for regeneration status. It also provides information on engine diagnostics, service intervals, trip meter settings, engine operational time and cruise speed settings.

"We also see more of a trend on safety and driver protection equipment on our vehicles," notes GMC's Badia. According to her, customers are now asking that this type of equipment be installed on their trucks. With operational costs rising along with everything else, more companies are becoming sensitive to vehicle repair costs, not to mention the exorbitant costs associated with medical care, if drivers become injured on the job.

In response to this, companies like GMC are offering new options such as driver's side airbags, on-traction control, anti-lock breaks, stability control, tire pressure monitoring and hand mirrors with directional indicators.
"Everyone keeps asking how they can optimize their bottom line," notes Navistar's Johnson. This year's offerings by the truck manufacturers are designed to do that on a number of levels, in addition to optimizing truck emissions.

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