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September 22, 2021 10:15 AM, EDT

Spec’ing Means Choosing What’s Best for Your Application, Experts Say

TMC The panel discusses best practices for spec'ing, with Ptasznik at the panel. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

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CLEVELAND — Spec’ing a new truck means you’ll need to consider options, metrics and features in light of your own needs, experts said. There’s axles, ease of repair, safety systems, fuel economy and transmissions, for example. And don’t forget to ask for input from your drivers and technicians as you consider what to choose.

The experts spoke about How to Spec a Model Year 2022 Truck at American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council Fall Meeting & Transportation Technology Exhibition.

Kris Ptasznik, heavy-duty on-highway product manager at Cummins Inc., said one increasingly popular engine feature is downspeeding as a means to improve fuel economy and reduce parasitic loads that drain power.

“Downspeeding just simply is taking advantage of modern diesel engines that perform in a much lower operating range more efficiently than they did previously,” Ptasznik said.

“But downspeeding is not the same for every customer,” he added. A fleet operating on secondary roads should not spec a downsped piece of equipment the same as a fleet operating 95% of the time on the interstate.

Trucks on secondary roads most of the time suffer from greater gear down time when downsped too aggressively — irritating drivers, Ptasznik said. Running near 1,000 rpms, such an engine becomes “shift happy” in hilly terrain.

Another consideration is that low-speed reverse maneuverability diminishes with downspeeding’s faster axle ratios.

About 30% of fuel economy performance is tied to the truck driver’s behavior, he said. “An automated manual transmission helps reduce the gap between your best and worst drivers.” AMTs also feature “a coast mode that a driver could not do on their own.”

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The downside is AMTs cost more initially compared with a manual transmission.

“No matter what powertrain you are looking at, always talk to the powertrain experts. Make sure they are engaged in the conversation,” Ptasznik said.

Joe Eilerman, engine product manager at Daimler Trucks North America, said axles typically have been viewed as a “commodity component” on a truck. But there have been significant innovations, including with steer axles’ reduced service needs, increased steering angle and aerodynamic ride height control.

For drive axles, there’s choices in lubrication management and an electronically controlled air suspension on 6X2 axles can shoulder more weight and increase traction, he said.

“But if I could make one recommendation,” he said, “it is tire pressure management systems or auto inflation. I cannot emphasize them enough, especially if you are running dual tires.”

Federal statistics show tire issues are among the leading factors in large trucks’ fatal crashes.

Lee Long, director of fleet services for Southeastern Freight Lines, said technicians have to accept the new truck and have available to them good diagnostic software.

“When you think about repair processes in general, how easy is it to repair the equipment? That’s what’s key for us,” Long said. Southeastern operates 2,600 power units — including sleepers and day cabs —and 400 final-mile trucks.

“Driver acceptance is a big deal for us to make sure we are giving our drivers exactly what they need. So what we have found is, if you communicate with the driver what you are trying to do and why, and the number one reason is to add financial strength to the company, then they are pretty accepting of that,” he said.

Long added: “Also over-the-air-programming is a big deal for us. Consider operations in 13 states, and 2,600 power units that can be programmed with a touch of a button as opposed to having the trucks come into the shops.”

Southeastern Freight Lines ranks No. 34 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

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