SMOOTH OPERATOR: New Cascadia's streamlined shape minimises wind drag at high speeds.
SMOOTH OPERATOR: New Cascadia's streamlined shape minimises wind drag at high speeds.

New Cascadia to arrive soon

LATER this year, Freightliner's local people are going to be about as excited as truck company executives can possibly get, when the new Cascadia arrives in RHD form, tested and developed for Australian conditions.

But there'll be a large measure of nerves as well, because the US-based truck maker is looking for US-style results in the local market.

Given that Freightliner is well down on the pecking order when it comes to linehaul truck purchases - outsold by nearly all other major brands - this product will be expected to more than quadruple Freightliner sales in a short period.

Big Rigs went to Portland Oregon, home of Daimler Trucks North America, to meet engineers and executives and explore how they plan to make it happen Down Under.

We also visited the research and development test centre that includes the only full-size wind tunnel any truck manufacturer has, the proving ground in high desert country near Madras, and went to Charlotte North Carolina where one of the five factories Daimler Trucks operates in North America pumps out 109 Cascadias a day.

We wanted to see how much work was going into the truck that will be sold here, to make sure our unique terrain, payloads, ambient temperature and road surfaces were taken into account during design and engineering phases.

In between we visited the Detroit plant, where DD-series engines and AMT transmissions are built for the group's global markets.

A comprehensive report of what we were shown would fill a volume.

There's no room for that here so we'll just have to hit the highlights.

It takes up to six months to install testing instrumentation in a test truck
It takes up to six months to install testing instrumentation in a test truck

But an executive summary would reach a simple conclusion - Freightliner has nailed it with the new Cascadia.

There would seem to be no reason any fleet wouldn't at least consider the business case of Cascadia for their interstate and intrastate operations, particularly if they're chasing fuel efficiency.

On that note, perhaps the most telling endorsement was a privately owned operator in Utah that has doubled down on Cascadia as the primary truck in its 4700-truck fleet, for all the reasons the factory people were giving us - fuel efficiency, uptime, driver comfort and safety.

That story in detail later.

The Cascadia formula was born in a market of about 450,000 trucks a year and Freightliner has a gob-smacking 39.4 per cent share of the class six and class eight end of that market (heavy-duty).

Several things catch an Aussie's eye when you meet the domestic version.

Firstly, a gigantic sleeper with a roofline that will make you dizzy is hard to miss.

Then there are the shrouds over the fuel tanks.

Napoleon Isikbay, Freightliner's director of durability and reliability shows media through the test centre.
Napoleon Isikbay, Freightliner's director of durability and reliability shows media through the test centre.

On each front mudguard is an extended mirror that seems to be preferred to door or doorframe versions.

The apartment-size sleeper is a bonus from US regulations, where only trailer length is regulated. That's why cab-overs are rarely seen on the interstate.

The tank shrouds play a major role in making the truck slippery, but Freightliner local boss Stephen Downes told us they are unlikely to make it here, as "one decent roo strike would rip the shroud off”.

As for the fender mirrors, after punting some trucks around the proving ground, and appearances aside, I'm a convert.

I'd choose them in any truck I bought, particularly a multi-trailer rig.

I'd driven one of the test and development Cascadias in Australia earlier this year.

But the latest version has benefited from several additional refinements to its spec and appeal.

Firstly, the truck now has the full suite of Daimler-group safety and driver aid equipment that is standard on the Mercedes-Benz line.

Cascadia has test trucks in Australia.
Cascadia has test trucks in Australia.

Additionally, the DD-Series Detroit engines all reflect the standard-setting fuel efficiency statistics of the Mercedes-Benz sister models across the Atlantic.

The group development of the engine and 12-speed automated manual transmission, plus the melding of the control electronics means an integrated driveline second to none. The pay-off is fuel economy that is the envy of competitors.

DD13, DD15 and DD16 engines reflect the same technology with common cylinders, bores and pistons.

As far as the architecture is concerned, they differ only in stroke.

Smaller engines feature an in-house asymmetrical turbocharger.

Larger engines use a Holset turbo compounding set-up.

A glance at what is planned for the RHD versions indicates that vertical stacks, bullbar mounting considerations, and cooling adjustments are all on the table.

Stephen told me he'd prefer all the trucks used the single ground exhaust to optimise tare weights.

Some work will flow from in-service testing here, which is already under way across several states. For example, moving the driver's seat to the right puts it directly above the main exhaust pipe from the engine to the exhaust box.

Although the cab floor covering is heavily insulated, I saw nothing between the pipe and the underside steel of the cab. A shroud should minimise heat soak at a truck stop.

Behind the wheel on the test track I found it was one of the quietest trucks I've driven.

Some of that was due to the final drive, an un-Australian 2.16:1 meant the DD16 was ticking over at just 1140rpm at 105km/h. But even in the pre-production truck, there wasn't a single squeak or rattle, despite the torture tracks the trucks were driving every day.

New Cascadias are already on test in commercial applications here in Australia and the results so far are impressive.

We'll of course do a full road test later in the year. Roll on November 2019.

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