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July 25, 2017 6:00 PM, EDT

Kenworth Adds Options for Vocational Trucks Amid Rising Market

Truck Roger W. Gilroy/Transport Topics

KIRKLAND, Wash. — Kenworth Truck Co. says a new axle, compressed natural gas engine and air intake will be available by the end of July, as its dealership network expands and the number of trucks connected through its TruckTech+ diagnostic tool climbs — all of which underscores what it sees as strong industry fundamentals.

As it adds to the vertical integration of its powertrain, Kenworth will offer a Paccar front steer axle with a weight rating of 20,000 or 22,800 pounds for its vocational trucks. “It is our proprietary design. We start production at the end of July,” said Kevin Baney, Kenworth assistant manager, sales and marketing.

The axle comes with a five-year, 750,000-mile warranty, aligning it with most of the others it offers, he said.

Kenworth executives spoke with reporters here July 21 prior to a ride and drive of its vocational trucks, including dump trucks and mixers. Kenworth is a unit of Paccar Inc.

The new axle was installed on the T880S dump truck used in the ride and drive held at Dirtfish, a sprawling professional rally school on the 100-year-old former site in Snoqualmie, Wash., of Weyerhaeuser Co., a timber producer. The trucks went out onto bumpy, dusty tracks in Dirtfish and also took public roads nearby lined with towering fir trees.

Roger W. Gilroy/Transport Topics

Available in Kenworth’s vocational trucks this month will be the 8.9-liter Cummins-Westport ISL G engine fueled by either compressed or liquefied natural gas.

The engine’s nitrogen oxide emissions are 0.02 gram per brake horsepower-hour, 90% lower than the current federal and California standard of 0.2 gram.

The engine’s significant target markets will be in California and among customers who ‘spec’ trucks because their freight-providing customers need to support their own ‘green’ requirements with like-minded fleets, he said.

“We don’t see California changing or relaxing; we see California moving full-speed ahead with their mission [to improve some of the nation’s worst air quality],” Baney said.

A T880S mixer with the engine was available at the ride and drive and had a fuel capacity of 76 DGE (diesel gallon equivalent).

Kenworth’s vocational customers fall into four areas, Baney said, which in order of sales are: body-builders, vocational fleets, mixed-use fleets and owner-operators.

A variable speed fan drive for the T880 models is also headed to the vocational trucks. It provides a slight increase in fuel economy, but the main advantages are a decrease in vibration and “it reduces the dust you get out in vocational applications when the fan kicks on,” Baney said.

Also, Kenworth will offer a bright chrome air intake trim on its T880 and T880S models.

A lot of customers who have the chrome bumper, grill and mirror shells have been asking for it, Baney said. “It will be available this month, too [including the aftermarket]. This has been a very high request [item]. We see it to be a fairly high volume [item] for Paccar Parts.”

The anticipated take rate on the brightwork is maybe 50%, he said. “The other thing we do is use it in incentive programs to stimulate some sales,” he added.

Kenworth has 382 dealer locations and that is expected to increase to 400 by the end of this year. Its dealers have invested $600 million in the past five years to open locations or upgrade existing ones, including service bays — which currently total 4,700.

Its dealerships, however, are not experiencing a technician shortage, Kenworth General Manager Mike Dozier said.

“It’s like drivers, there are always opportunities with technicians. [The dealers] are being very aggressive in finding them and retaining them,” he said.

Also, “It’s broadening your ability to develop technicians when the pool of really good seasoned technicians fluctuates,” he added.

In related news, Kenworth’s TruckTech+ telematics service now is in 50,000 trucks that have traveled 2.7 billion miles since the service launched in March 2015.

Its diagnostic capability provides a recommended repair to the driver and fleet manager, and the service can locate the closest dealerships if repairs are needed.

The diagnostic feature uses machine-learning algorithms to increase its detailed knowledge of the proper maintenance steps to take based on its previous findings, and that continues to be refined over time, Baney said.

The Kenworth executives said the industry fundamentals remain positive, and Paccar forecasts Class 8 retail sales in Canada and the United States to be about 220,000, or the high end of Paccar’s previous guidance of 190,000 to 220,000.

“A key part of that is the vocational segment,” Baney said.