TRUSSVILLE, AL. Fontaine Fifth Wheel used the occasion of its grand opening of a new corporate headquarters and distribution facility here to introduce its first new products to the market in several years.

The four fifth wheels, which together comprise the new Fontaine Ultra line, are the Ultra NS, the Ultra LT, Ultra HD and Ultra HR. Each offers something unique to the applications for which they are designed.

“If you look at the fifth wheel system, there really are three primary types of components,” said Terry Mennen, vp of sales & marketing. “One is the lower assembly, which is application-driven, supports that fifth wheel and provides the durability that is required; then you have the top plate and last but not least, you have the fifth wheel lock.”

All of the new products feature a visual lock indicator and a secondary locking mechanism that prevents the lock from opening. The secondary mechanism is only unlocked when the straight-pull handle is disengaged, releasing the lock. The handle requires just 65 lbs. of pressure to pull, making it easy to use in all weather conditions, the company said.

The Ultra NS, designed for a 55,000 lb. vertical load with a 150,000 lb. drawbar pull rating, takes Fontaine’s No-Slack generation of fifth wheels a step further. It is the only such product, Fontaine said, to offer infinite automatic slack adjustment for a smoother ride and longer life.

“If you don’t have a slack-adjusting fifth wheel lock, that means you have a lot of slack in the fifth wheel and that slack is going to increase as the kingpin wears,” Mennen said. “As the lock wears, what happens is you have that kingpin slamming around inside the fifth wheel and that is transmitting up into the frame; the driver feels that and it impacts other components of the fifth wheel.”

The Infinite No Slack system, Mennen said, uses a swing cam that replaces the traditional jaw and wedge. Spring pressure is used to tighten the lock around the kingpin, and as both the lock and kingpin wear, the cam simply closes the lock a little tighter, keeping a secure, no-slack connection.

In addition, the new fifth wheels include a low-lube lock for added lock life. “Fleets do a pretty good job of greasing the top plate of the fifth wheel, but where they tend to lack is greasing the lock itself, they don’t tend to maintain that as well,” Mennen said. “We’re going to put a coating on that lock and it’s going to reduce maintenance costs.”

Each wheel also comes with another safety feature that prevents high-hitching or false hitching of the trailer. Because of the way the lock is created, it does not engage the kingpin until the pin is securely in place.

For weight-conscious fleets, the Ultra LT, a 50,000 lb. vertical load and 150,000 lb. drawbar pull rating fifth wheel offers 100 lbs. or more of weight savings over competitors, Fontaine said. With a fabricated steel top plate, Fontaine claims the Ultra LT is the lightest slider system available today and is within three pounds of competitive aluminum models, but with the strength of steel.

Inboard or outboard sliding mounts or a stationary mount are available, as is optional air actuation with in-cab air release.

Severe-duty fleets or fleets that run off-road can get additional safety with the Ultra HD, offering a 70,000 lb. vertical load and 200,000 lb. drawbar pull rating. It too comes with a visual lock indicator and the patented lock to prevent high hitching with a secondary automatic lock. The HD model is a combination of the H5092 and X5092 models.

Finally, the company’s Parts Connection division will be offering its first retrofit option that can be installed on Fontaine or competitive Holland systems. The Ultra HR top plate comes with a 55,000 lb. vertical load rating and 150,000 lb. drawbar pull rating. According to the company, no adapters are needed and the customer gets the benefits of the patented lock to prevent high hitching, the automatic secondary lock and visual lock indicator.

Delivery of the new products will begin early next year. The Ultra NS will be available in January on trucks purchased exclusively from two OEMs and for the rest of the market later in the year. The Ultra LT will be available near mid-year and the HD and HR models sometime in the first quarter, the company said.

During the tour of the new facility, company executives also displayed two products in development and one already on the market. Already available is an electronic lock indicator. Installed in-dash on Navistar models or as an aftermarket product for all other brands, the indicator, utilizing two sensors, displays red or green lights to indicate when the fifth wheel lock is properly engaged.

In the pipeline are two products that research & development manager Steve Mann is very excited about. One is a no-lube composite fifth wheel that includes a replacement top plate. The plate sits inside a steel base and the goal is to take an additional 35 lbs. of weight out of the Ultra LT product. According to Mann, the replacement top fits easily into the frame, attaching with nine bolts that can be easily reached.

The second product is a one-piece locking mechanism. The advantages, Mann said, are about an hour of time savings for maintenance personnel when replacing the mechanism. Two bolts hold the unit in place and when removed, the whole unit simply slips out and a new one can be installed.

Both products likely will not see the marketplace until late in 2010, Mann said.