March 27, 2017 2:45 AM, EDT

Kenworth, Peterbilt Offer Allison TC10

John Sommers II for TT

This story appears in the March 27 print edition of Transport Topics.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kenworth Truck Co. and Peterbilt Motors Co. said they will be offering Allison TC10 fully automatic transmissions on selected models, that they are starting certified pre-owned truck sales programs and that they soon will offer as standard, in certain cases, Bendix Wingman Advanced safety systems.

The two heavy-duty truck makers, units of Paccar Inc., made these and other announcements here March 22 at the Mid-America Truck Show.

Kenworth also displayed a new version of one of its vocational trucks, the T880S with a set-forward front axle, and rolled out a new cab interior called the Driver’s Studio package.

General managers for both companies said in separate presentations that recent economic news has led to a modest increase in optimism about 2017 Class 8 truck sales.

Kenworth’s Mike Dozier cited high levels of truck tonnage (measured by American Trucking Associations), strong construction spending, solid consumer confidence and steady automobile sales.

Kyle Quinn, who replaced Darrin Siver as Peterbilt’s chief in January, mentioned stronger spot market rates for trucking services and increased activity in the domestic oil and gas business. He also said talk of a large federal infrastructure program and corporate tax restructuring could lead to more need for trucks to haul freight.

The Allison transmission will become an option for Kenworth T680s and T880s, and Peterbilt 567s and 579s during this year’s third quarter.

Kenworth’s chief engineer, Patrick Dean, said the transmission is aimed at linehaul, regional haul and pickup-and-delivery applications. It has 10 gears for going forward and two for reverse.

Scott Newhouse, Peterbilt’s chief engineer, said the transmission could work with Paccar’s MX-11 or MX-13 engines, or the Cummins X15.

Dean said Allison has been strong in transmissions for vocational trucks, but now the company “wants to branch out” into over-the-road work. He said the over-the-road TC10 is “completely different” from the Allison automatics used on vocational vehicles.

Kenworth’s Dozier said that at his company, at least 60% of Class 8 trucks sold have an automated manual transmission, and the proportion is rising. The use of classic manual transmissions is less than 40% and falling.

Both general managers said their use of Paccar heavy-duty MX engines was closing in on 50% last year, and they expect MX engines to break through to majority status in 2017. Kenworth and Peterbilt also have been heavy users of Cummins engines, especially the 15-liter models.

The Wingman Advanced active safety system uses radar (but not cameras) for collision mitigation and builds on electronic stability control. Starting in July, it will be standard on the Kenworth T680 and the Peterbilt 579.

Those tractors are the most fuel-efficient highway tractors the two OEMs produce.

For the T880S, spreading the distance between the steer and drive axles makes it easier for heavy vocational vehicles to meet bridge-weight formula restrictions, Kenworth’s Dean said.

Although the economic news that Quinn and Dozier mentioned was optimistic, so far the expected effect on truck sales appears to be small.

Paccar Inc. expects industrywide Class 8 sales this year of 190,000 to 220,000 vehicles in the United States and Canada, largely flat relative to 216,000 units last year. Dozier said the difference lies within the range.

“Coming into the year, we were thinking sales would probably be in the lower half of the range. But now we’re thinking the upper half of the range is more likely. We’re hoping the optimism holds,” Dozier said.

One impediment to higher new truck sales has been the large inventory and accompanying drop in prices of used trucks. Low trade-in values, OEMs have said, make it more costly for fleets to buy used trucks.

To help spark demand for more used vehicles, both manufacturers are starting certified used-truck programs.

Kenworth and Peterbilt are seeking to market trucks up to 4 years old with as many as 500,000 miles. They are inspecting and refurbishing the vehicles and then offering warranties on the trucks and the engines.

Quinn, Paccar’s chief information officer before switching to Peterbilt, described the used-truck market as “a headwind.”

Dozier said the used-truck glut “is making the day-to-day selling of new trucks more challenging.” He added, though, that the used market appears to have stabilized “and isn’t going down as much now.”