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King of the Road

By on July 1, 2009
RoadKing Mag

By now you may have heard that the Lonestar from International won top honors in the first Commercial Truck of the Year competition in the U.S.

Europe has had a Truck of the Year award for many years. It was easy to make that distinction overseas, where truck manufacturing has long been vertically integrated. That means that not only are the cab and chassis made by the truck builder, but so are the engines, transmissions, axles and other major components.

On this side of the Atlantic, we could choose between a Peterbilt with a Cummins, Caterpillar or Detroit Diesel engine with Eaton or Rockwell (now Meritor) drive train, or a similarly spec’d Freightliner, Kenworth, International, and even Volvo. For years, Mack was the only American class 8 manufacturer that made its own engines, transmissions and axles.

Until now.

Enter the Europeans
In the last 20 years or so, fundamental changes in ownership of truck builders took place, leading to more European-style vertical integration. Mercedes bought Freightliner and subsequently acquired Detroit Diesel. General Motors merged its heavy truck operations with White Motors. After its joint venture, WhiteGMC, was transferred to Volvo, GM sold the Swedish truck maker the rest of its share. Mack was acquired by Renault which, in turn, was bought by Volvo. That made Mack and Volvo sister companies, as are Kenworth and Peterbilt under PACCAR.

Even International, which made its own engines for its medium duty vehicles, used outside suppliers for class 8. They entered a development agreement with Germany’s M.A.N. and are now making their own line of MaxxForce engines for their big rigs. PACCAR positioned Kenworth and Peterbilt for vertical integration when they announced their new 12.9 liter engine derived from their European DAF division’s heavy truck engine, although Cummins engines will still be available.

The Stage Is Set
With vertical integration fast becoming a reality in North America, the American Truck Dealers, an arm of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), established the Commercial Truck of the Year Award. Invitations to enter were sent to each North American truck builder and five of the six submitted an entry.

Freightliner entered the Cascadia. International submitted the Lonestar for consideration. The KW T660 and Pete 386 were both entered by PACCAR. The only vocational class 8 entered was Mack’s new Titan, the others all being on-highway models.

Manufacturers were asked to make trucks available to the judges, a panel of trucking journalists representing major industry publications in the U.S. and Canada. Those with CDLs had the opportunity to drive each vehicle.

Judges were asked to rate a variety of criteria, such as ride quality and quietness, cab features, amenities and comfort, space utilization and performance as well as service considerations, safety and durability.

The first winner has been crowned in what will be an annual event. With the 2010 changes to heavy duty trucks already causing some heated discussion, it should be an interesting second year.

Road King’s senior technical editor, Paul Abelson, was one of the judges for Truck of the Year. An award-winning writer, he has had his CDL since 1992, frequently driving and evaluating new tractor-trailers and trucks for this magazine.

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