To notice … yet also not notice

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It’s a curious trait of “ride and drive” events whereby a new truck model gets put through its paces: while ostensibly you’re supposed to notice a great many things, such as more cab space, plusher interior materials, and added visibility, often times you – whether as a test driver or passenger – are really NOT supposed to notice such details.

While that might sound contradictory, in many ways it isn’t, and for a very simple reason: trucks like Kenworth’s new T880 vocational model are tools, and often the most important characteristic of any new tool is how it gets a particular job done without drawing a whole lot of attention to itself.

[To view more photos of the new Kenworth T880, click here for pictures taken during a ride and drive at the 2013 Mid America Trucking Show and here for shots taken at the OEM’s booth.]

Let’s put it this way: a truck driver should be able to hop in or out his or her assigned vehicle and operate it all day (or night) long yet not feel like they’ve beaten with a two-by-four at the end of their shift.

For example: Switches and knobs should not only be within easy reach; a driver shouldn’t have to spend any time figuring out how to use them. The truck should be easy to operate to the point where the driver simply doesn’t notice it: there’s power on the hills, the shifting is easy, and it handles turns just like a car. No muss, no fuss: let’s get on with the job.

Indeed, riding along as a passenger in not one but two different configurations of Kenworth’s T880 a few weeks ago at the 2013 Mid America Trucking Show – one a Northwest 16-ft. end dump truck spec loaded with gravel out to 58,250 lbs., the other a daycab "bulk haul spec" tractor loaded out to 65,000 lbs. hauling giant stone blocks on a flatbed trailer – conversation could take place without raising one’s voice, while the seat proved comfortable yet steady enough for plenty of picture-snapping.

[Mike Russell, Kenworth’s vocational product planning manager, talks about some of these traits as he pilots the T880 daycab tractor.]

Some key “notice/not notice” features of the new T880 include its panoramic windshield for enhanced visibility, triple-sealed doors to reduce cab noise, plus easy-to-read dashboard cluster layout with nine standard gauges and 12 additional gauges available.

A real big deal is the 2.1-meter wide aluminum cab for the T880 that offers 23 inches of room between the seats. Basically, you can almost stand up right in the driver’s seat to take off a jacket, sweat shirt, etc.; providing the driver with significant “elbow room” to make simple tasks far less of a chore.

Like every OEM these days, Kenworth puts its trucks through rigorous pre-production testing to ensure any design changes hold up in the real world. Where Kenworth’s vocational products are concerned, that coalesces into what the Brian Lindgren, the manufacturer’s manager of research and development, calls the “Canadian logging” test, which he discusses below:

In terms of availability, Lindgren noted that the T880 will go into production later this summer aand will come standard with the 12.9-liter PACCAR MX-13 engine that offers ratings up to 500 hp and 1,850 lb-ft of torque, along with the optional Cummins ISX15 engine with up to 600 hp and 2,050 l-ft of torque.

It should be noted, too, that the T880 isn’t a loner in the vocational product mix at Kenworth as it will join a product line that includes the T800, T440, W900S and C500.

The real proof of the pudding, though, will be when fleets and drivers get their hands on the T880 and start reporting what they notice – and don’t notice – while operating this new vocational model. 

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