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Argosy’s Ram Raid
What started out as a redesigned cooling package for emissions-compliant engines has resulted in a bold makeover blending engineering initiative with a gutsy new image for Freightliner’s popular Argosy Evolution. In this exclusive report, STEVE BROOKS puts Freightliner’s latest handiwork through its linehaul paces and finds a truck that’s smooth and smart but still carrying a few quirks in quality.
Back in the days when Ford still made trucks, a senior executive perched high in a corner office at Ford Australia’s Broadmeadows (Vic) headquarters would occasionally stroll to the window and just stare at the truck traffic rolling into and out of Melbourne along the Hume Highway. “Market research,” he’d say. “Stand here for awhile and you’ll soon see who’s buying what.” For years he swore it was some of the best market analysis he could get, and certainly the cheapest.
He’s long retired now and I haven’t seen him for years, but ‘Macka’ and his window on the real world came to mind recently while steering the latest version of Freightliner’s Argosy southbound along the Hume. And what made me think back to those times was the sheer volume of Freightliner cab-overs traveling the Hume that day.
Sure, one trip on one highway – even if it is Australia’s busiest linehaul route – is hardly a definitive measure of market prominence but there was simply no escaping the fact that on this day Argosy was the most prolific cab-over on the road by a factor of many to one. Even Kenworth’s classic K-series seemed swamped by the proliferation of Argosys pulling for major fleets and small outfits alike. Furthermore, most were Evolution models, easily identified by their chromed and deeper grille, and giving credence to the suggestion that Argosy has been enjoying something of a Second Coming since the introduction of the Evolution series in the back half of 2006.
The First Coming, of course, was when the stylish cab-over hit the Australian market in the late ‘90s. The first completely new Yank cab-over to appear in many years, Argosy was a welcome arrival and more to the point, an enticing alternative to Kenworth’s long-serving K-series at a time when the market for cab-over B-double prime movers was rocketing ahead. In fact, the timing was probably as good as it gets and not unexpectedly, early Argosy sales were impressively strong. However, broad smiles on the faces of Freightliner’s local executives soon turned to deep frowns as it became increasingly apparent that the missing link in a truck otherwise full of fine features was old-fashioned reliability.
Put simply, Argosy carried the typical traits of a fully imported, mass-produced American truck and subsequently paid the price for being thrown into a tough, demanding market with insufficient testing and poor preparation. In both the US and here, Freightliner principals should’ve known better. After all, Australia’s ability to unearth durability issues that exist nowhere else in the world is internationally infamous, if not legendary.
Anyway, as problems mounted customer confidence nosedived and many of those who had taken the early plunge were soon beating a path back to previous suppliers, invariably Kenworth and invariably taking a heavy hit on trade-in values. Meanwhile, Argosy’s road back to respectability became a long haul and it was only after six or so years of grindingly slow engineering updates and modifications, culminating in the launch of the Evolution series that the broader market started to take a renewed interest in the flashy cab-over.
Nowadays, Argosy is on a roll. Whether there’s enough momentum to knock Kenworth’s K-series off its perch as the leading linehaul cab-over is unknown – most truck suppliers (and most notably Kenworth) keep sales statistics for individual models a closely guarded secret – but there seems little question that Freightliner’s cab-over is today sitting very close to the top of the tree. What’s more, Argosy accounts for at least half of all Freightliner’s Australian sales and now, with the arrival of the latest derivative containing a two-part radiator package and uniquely styled intake scoops on the front quarters, the cab-over has somewhat belatedly gained the cooling credentials to meet new emissions standards without any apparent impact on operational efficiency.
Belated or not though, there has been no secret about the restyled Argosy’s pending appearance. In our May-June issue last year, for instance, we published the first images of the new design just before its first public appearance at a major truck show in Melbourne. It was, however, back in late 2007 that we first sensed something brewing when local Freightliner executives led by senior executive Carlo Beltrame announced the development of the two-part radiator package to meet the increased cooling demands on engines complying with the ADR 80/02 emissions standard introduced early last year. In Argosy’s case the engines are Detroit Diesel’s Series 60 EGR rated at 470, 500 and 525 hp, each with 1850 lb ft (2508 Nm) of torque, and Caterpillar’s C15 ACERT with performance peaks stretching from a modest 435 hp and 1650 lb ft (2237 Nm) up to a barnstorming 625 hp with 2050 lb ft (2780 Nm).
But things have changed dramatically in recent times and while they remain bitter rivals, there’s at least one thing local Freightliner and Kenworth executives now share: Deep concern over Caterpillar’s upcoming exit from the truck engine business and the gaping hole it leaves in each brand’s engine portfolio. Cat’s C13 and C15 ACERT engines were, after all, central platforms to both brands’ plans for many years to come.
At the moment though, Freightliner appears to be in the better position. For starters, Detroit Diesel belongs to the same corporate family as Freightliner and accordingly, the Series 60 EGR engine is simply not available to Kenworth. Meanwhile, Detroit’s new 14.6 litre DD15 and 12.8 litre DD13 engines from Daimler’s global HDEP – heavy-duty engine platform – range have been unveiled in the US and word has it that test engines have already arrived in Australia in early preparation for a local introduction around 2011. Ultimately, of course, the new DD15 and DD13 engines will fully replace the stalwart Series 60.
In the meantime, will Freightliner fast-track a 15 litre Cummins ISX engine into its Argosy cab-over and Century Class conventional in a bid to fill the coming void created by Caterpillar’s departure? Right now, Freightliner’s local leaders are refusing to comment but it’s our bet that Cummins will eventually become an option, specifically for the 550 hp-plus market which Cat currently fills.
Across Melbourne’s ‘burbs at Kenworth’s Bayswater bunker, Cummins will be also increasingly relied upon to fill the gap in the big bore business as Cat’s presence dwindles. As for the likelihood of Paccar’s 12.9 litre MX engine jumping into the space left by the gradual withdrawal of the C13 ACERT, our information is that the MX is yet to find its way into a Kenworth chassis even for early testing. On the other hand, Cummins’ 11 litre ISM engine is already being engineered into Kenworth’s new T388, ironically a model that stands to gain from Daimler’s recent decision to dump the Sterling brand.
Still, as things currently stand, the only certainty appears to be change itself and it takes only one look at the latest Argosy to prove the point. However, there’s far more to the change than meets the eye.
NECESSITY AND COMPROMISE
Harking back to our reports in early 2008: ‘The introduction of the ADR 80/02 emissions standard caused Freightliner to have a serious rethink about Argosy and the high cooling requirements demanded by engines complying with the new standard.
‘If Freightliner was to follow the standard practice of simply using a bigger single radiator, the problem was how to fit the bigger cooling package under the cab without costly re-engineering work of cab and chassis structures. Major cab and chassis redesigns are immensely expensive exercises and for a relatively small market such as Australia, the dollars simply didn’t stack up. What’s more, the idea of crucifying the inherent design advantages of the Argosy cab was anathema to Freightliner executives both here and in the US.
‘Ultimately a compromise was found in the form of a two-pronged cooling package using the existing 1300 square inch radiator and a 500 square inch auxiliary core under the passenger side rear of the cab. Our first sight of the auxiliary radiator was in a pilot installation and to be blunt, the fit and finish of the design were surprisingly neat and tailored for such an early stage of development.’
Asked at the time how the system would fare in durability terms, Freightliner product support manager Chris Loose said the results of extensive testing on Freightliner’s ‘shaker’ test bed in the US along with prototype testing both here and in the US had delivered strong confidence in the new package. More than a year on and with far more testing now completed, confidence is even higher.
In fact, DIESEL willingly became part of the test program when early last year we were offered a ‘quiet’ drive from Melbourne to Sydney in an Argosy B-double fitted with a prototype version of the dual cooling package. For engineering test purposes, coolant hoses between the main and auxiliary radiators were fitted with taps which allowed engineers to operate the 14 litre Series 60 EGR engine with either the full 1800 square inch cooling capacity or the ‘standard’ 1300 inch core. As luck(?) would have it, a technician had forgotten to open the taps just prior to our run up the Hume and consequently, with the outfit grossing a tad under 52.5 tonnes, the entire trip was with only the standard radiator doing the cooling. Needless to say, particularly given the EGR system’s inherently higher heat factors, engine fan activation was prolific to say the least. It was also annoyingly loud.
On the positives though, performance of the Series 60 EGR engine was impressively smooth and strong – at the time, Detroit was still determining final performance settings of its top EGR rating and would only say the engine was rated at 500-plus – while the compatibility of the engine with Eaton’s Autoshift 18-speed transmission was exceptional. Actually, it was unquestionably the best performing Autoshift installation we’d ever come across, bettered only by the production unit tested recently on the Sydney to Melbourne run.
Since then, of course, the frontal intake scoops have been added and the engineering details finalised after a long-winded process on both sides of the Pacific. “We wanted to make absolutely sure we got it right,” said Freightliner sales executive Gary Wheatley in defence of the time taken to bring the reworked Argosy to production reality. On the scoops, he confirms they are an Australian initiative developed and designed by Freightliner’s local team in close association with Detroit Diesel Australia engineers led by the astute Guy Macklan. At this stage, emissions standards in Argosy’s other main markets of New Zealand and South Africa preclude the need for the dual cooling package, making the restyled cab-over uniquely Australian.
Yet while appearances are important – the scoop on the driver’s side is purely for aesthetic ‘balance’ – the obvious purpose of the opening on the passenger side is to feed ram air into a boxed channel funneling airflow across the full frontal area of the auxiliary radiator. Taking the place of a mudguard, the underside of the boxed section is reinforced and further protected by dense spray matting, giving the entire assembly the impression of being neat and strong.
Wisely, both main and auxiliary cooling systems employ the same large capacity coolant reservoir, meaning there’s no need for separate top-ups. The auxiliary system does, however, have its own electrically controlled thermostat and fan which according to Freightliner, engages and disengages at 100 degrees C and 89 degrees C respectively.
Yet while the auxiliary cooling package is the critical assembly in Argosy’s emission-driven armoury, it’s certainly not the only feature designed to keep a lid on engine temperatures. For instance, dual exhaust and twin air intake systems mounted on a stout gantry at the back of the cab are now standard issue on Argosy to aid the flow of air into and around the engine, in the process improving thermal and cooling efficiencies. More significant though is the inclusion of Horton’s advanced DriveMaster two-speed fan as a standard feature of the main cooling system. According to a Freightliner sales bulletin: ‘The DriveMaster 2-Speed Fan Drive alternates between eddy current drive for low speed fan operation and spring actuated/direct coupled for high speed fan operation with precise cooling. This results in highly efficient temperature control and reduced average operating noise levels.’
Vitally, particularly given reliability issues with earlier Horton fan clutch designs, DriveMaster has been extensively tested for several years under Australian conditions in applications ranging from linehaul to severe roadtrain work, with reports from more than four million kilometres of accumulative testing pointing to high levels of reliability and durability.
In Argosy’s case and with Detroit’s Series 60 EGR engine underneath, the fan fully engages at 99 degrees C and disengages at 92 degrees C while with Cat’s C15 ACERT providing the punch, the fan engages at 103 degrees C and disengages at 94 degrees C.
There can be no question though that with Cat’s eventual departure from the engine range and no immediate offer of a Cummins between Argosy rails, Detroit’s presence within the Freightliner fold will become increasingly pronounced as commercial necessity and corporate decree encourage the two brands to further intensify their collaborative efforts. And judging by the recent performance of a 525 hp Series 60 EGR on a Sydney to Melbourne trial of the re-sculpted cab-over, that won’t be a bad thing.
To meet ADR 80/02, Detroit Diesel opted for a ‘de-tuned’ version of the successful 14 litre Series 60 EGR engine package developed to meet the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2007 emissions standard. Simply explained, the ‘de-tune’ meant deletion of the extensive and expensive after-treatment systems required for the US standard but retention of such advanced features as the highly advanced DDEC 6 electronics system and the much acclaimed variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) from Holset, ironically a Cummins-owned company.
In mid-2006 we were first to test the Series 60 EGR engine, again on a Melbourne to Sydney run, and it was an adamant Guy Macklan sitting in the passenger seat of a Freightliner Century Class who emphasised the vital role of the VGT. “It is the critical component,” he remarked, “and the beauty of the ’07 engine’s electronics is that turbocharger performance is monitored by five different sensors. Effectively, that means the turbocharger is wrapped into the engine management system and since the US did that there has been a major reduction in turbocharger failures.”
But back then it wasn’t just Macklan’s technical talk delivering a positive outlook for the Series 60 EGR engine. On-road performance at a gross weight of 55 tonnes was undeniably impressive with our ’06 evaluation revealing higher levels of response and tenacity across a broad rev range, and plainly supporting Detroit’s assertion that the long-serving Series 60 had undergone a bold character change with the move to EGR. Similar sentiments emerged the following year during our ‘quiet’ test of an Argosy B-double fitted with the prototype twin cooling package. On this occasion though, performance of the EGR engine was delivered in a substantially more refined and less boisterous manner. However, the best effort by far was our recent stint in what was effectively a production version of the restyled Argosy.
Tailored for B-double duties, the reworked Argosy was fitted with the popular 101 inch (2573 mm) mid-roof sleeper cab – 90 inch and 110 inch cabs are also available – punched by Series 60’s top 525 hp rating feeding into Eaton’s RTLO-20918 AutoShift transmission feeding into Meritor’s RT46-160GP drive tandem running a 4.3:1 ratio and riding on Freightliner’s AirLiner airbag rear suspension. Fuel was contained in dual 645 litre square tanks.
Attached to a Vawdrey curtain-sided B-double set on BPW running gear and equipped with a roll stability package, the outfit grossed 52.5 tonnes and had less than 8000 km on the clock when driven out of Stillwell Trucks’ Milperra dealership in Sydney’s south-west. A short run through suburban traffic, the Argosy was soon cantering down the Hume Freeway notching 100 km/h at around 1650 rpm.
Typically, a few things were quickly apparent. It’s easy to forget, for instance, how wonderfully easy and safe access to the tall cab is made by the driver’s side swing-out staircase, particularly when you’re carrying a bag or two. Sure, the innovative step design has had its fair share of frustrating reliability issues but after a long process of fixes, complaints are these days rarely heard.
Likewise, it’s worth emphasising how well the interior design stacks up against its main rival, particularly in the ability to move from the driver’s seat to the bunk. Critically though, there are still areas where Freightliner’s build quality needs attention. Wide gaps between some sections of the dash and the emergence of annoying squeaks were disappointing in what is otherwise a premium and modern design.
Still on the inside, gauges and switchgear are well arranged although identification and in some cases, operation of certain switches – wipers, for instance – leaves something to be desired. However, operation of Eaton’s Autoshift transmission through Freightliner’s superb SmartShift control wand mounted on the steering column couldn’t be better. It needs to be pointed out though that manual transmission models have a short, cable-operated gearlever mounted on the dash and while this position enhances movement around the cab, in our experience the shift movement is decidedly heavy and notchy compared to most other cab-over installations. Meanwhile, the air-suspended EzyRider high-back driver’s seat provides ample adjustment and reasonable comfort on long hauls, aided by a steering wheel easily adjusted via a pedal tucked under the far righthand-side of the dash.
Argosy’s on-road traits are undeniably good with vision, ride and road manners all rating highly but the most outstanding and even surprising feature of this particular combination was the performance of Eaton’s Autoshift transmission and its excellent compatibility with the Series 60 EGR engine. While I’ve been occasionally critical of Autoshift, particularly behind a Cat or Cummins engine and especially when compared to its European counterparts, Eaton’s automated transmission was at its absolute best during this exercise. Initial expectations that manual mode would deliver more efficient shift points than fully automated operation were quickly shelved as the electronic ‘marriage’ of engine and transmission delivered just the right gear at just the right revs on just about every occasion. In fact, in all but a handful of instances when a shift to manual mode seemed warranted, the transmission was allowed to remain in full automated mode and did a superb job, delivering smooth, concise shifts that made the most of the Detroit’s abilities. Indeed, long before the trip was finished it was firmly concluded that this was by far the best performing Autoshift installation we’ve yet come across. And believe me, over the years we’ve used many in many different makes and models.
So the big question is, why can’t Autoshift be this good in all trucks with all engines? Perhaps the answer goes way back to the days when Eaton was first developing an automated transmission and the then revolutionary Series 60 was the only engine with full authority electronics. Whatever the case, there’s no question the combined efforts of Eaton, Detroit Diesel and Freightliner have created an exceptionally smooth and effective engine and transmission package.
As for the performance of the Series 60 EGR engine, it simply confirmed our earlier opinion that with emissions-driven advances such as Holset’s variable geometry turbocharger and DDEC 6 electronics, the 14 litre engine’s standards of response and determination have become noticeably sharper and bolder, and more potently consistent between power and torque peaks. At the 525 hp rating, the latest Series 60 – remembering that this could be the final chapter in this remarkable engine’s evolution before the introduction of the HDEP range – certainly has the ability to surprise in B-double work. For example, on three of the southbound Hume’s most demanding climbs, the Argosy reached down to …
• 13th gear at 1750 rpm on Catherine Hill before a manual upshift to 14th took engine speed back to 1300 rpm.
• 15th gear at 1300 rpm on Conroy’s Gap.
• 13th gear at 1450 rpm on the southern slope of Wagga Hill.
On the vital question of cooling capability, it came as no surprise that the combined 1800 square inch package certainly appeared to have plenty in reserve on a day when ambient temperatures were generally around the mid-20s. In fact, we kept count of engine fan engagement and over the 870 km trip recorded just 19 times when either one or both engine fans were operating. What’s more, fan engagement times were in most instances short-lived while noise levels were appreciably lower than our earlier experience with the prototype cooling package. Obviously, much work has been done between then and now.
A tad disappointing though was a fuel consumption figure of 1.6 km/litre, or 4.6 mpg. Sure, the truck didn’t have much mileage under its belt but Series 60 is traditionally a pacesetter in fuel economy and in this instance, didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Meanwhile, the Evolution continues.