Big yet easy

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It may be a work truck, but it’s got to be a more efficient, comfortable, and productive work truck than ever before.” –David McKenna, powertrain sales and marketing manager, Mack Trucks

As everyone knows, “heavy haul” is one of the most brutal segments of the trucking industry. You’re pulling big heavy loads – logs, construction equipment, ponderous bulk gravel trailers – that just puts a whole lotta stress on engines, transmissions, axles, tires, and pretty much every other component on the truck.

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Yet though trucks built for this market must be tough – there are no exceptions – they cannot be mere bare-bones styled sledgehammers. They must be comfortable, easy riding, and above all extremely efficient – for example, power can’t be sacrificed, but it must be managed so it doesn’t eat fuel.

These are just some of the many complexities of today Mack Trucks dealt with when it designed the new Titan. I got a chance this week to get an up close and personal look at this monster – a Titan model TD 713 tractor sporting a 605 horsepower MaxiCruise MP10 engine – so I could get some insight into how the needs of drivers and trucking companies are driving changes to the vehicles they use on a daily basis.

No detail is overlooked, no matter how small. Take cab height, for example: David McKenna, Mack’s powertrain sales and marketing manager (who’s been around heavy trucks for over three decades) noted that the Titan’s cab height got scotched up a couple of inches to improve under hood airflow, boosting cooling performance for the engine.

[You can watch McKenna note this and other subtle exterior improvements done to the Titan below.]

With a professional driver at the wheel of a Titan pulling a lowboy trailer loaded with an earthmover (What, ME drive? Hauling 71,000 pounds and change in heavy traffic? Are you crazy?) I hit some of the highways and roads outside Orlando for a stretch. Yes, they are paved and thus, yes, smooth as a baby’s you-know-what, but the smoothness of the ride is still remarkable.

Equipped with a Mack FXL 20,000 pound air front suspension and Mack S462 46,000 pound rears, the truck still rolled down the highway like a car, with none of the jostling and bucking you’d expect. And let it be known that I sat in a plain-old bench seat, though the cab had an air ride suspension. Even without the air ride seat my driver had, it still proved to be very comfortable – a key consideration for workers in the heavy haul market.

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Even the interior details, from the brushed aluminum accents on the dash to the nice trim work around the cab, made the Titan feel more like a high-end sedan than work truck. “We’re finding fleets in this segment today want parts of that higher grade interior for their driver,” McKenna told me. “They still want the rubber floors so they can wash them out, but they want better seats, dashboards and upper cab trim to help retain their experienced drivers – to make working in these trucks more attractive.”

Yet the power was all there – quick acceleration, despite our load, up the on ramps and from traffic lamps, with no stress or strain on the driver whatsoever. He clicked through the 18-speed Fuller RTLO transmission like a walk through the park – easy and smooth.

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Best thing, though, is the responsiveness. Cars made unexpected darts and dashes, with one idiotic motorcycle shooting the cab between our truck and a roadway construction site. Each time, the Titan driver maneuvered out of trouble with ease – partly because the larger mirrors, located just-so, made it easy to check blind spots and traffic flows. The ergonomic study involved in placing dashboard switches, steering wheel heights, and mirrors reflects the needs of drivers to have a tool that’s simply easier to use – so you don’t climb out of the cab at the end of the day feeling like you’ve been worked over with a two-by-four.

That’s one of the most interesting things about my time with the Titan: this particular unit is considered the “average” model in this segment now, yet in the past, it would be considered at the high-end of the scale. That means functionality in the heavy-haul segment is getting packaged in ever-better configurations – welcome news, I would think, to both drivers and fleets in a part of the industry long used to dealing with trucks stripped down to only the bare essentials. If the Titan is any example to go by, that kind of approach in heavy haul is long gone.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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