LOUISVILLE, KY. The new T-680 highway tractor unveiled by Kenworth Truck Co. here at the 2012 Mid America Trucking Show this week is a vehicle that’s been four years in the making, according to Preston Feight, the company’s chief engineer.

“This has been a four-year design project that involved feedback from 75 fleet and maintenance managers, 850 drivers and nearly 100,000 trucks represented; all provided input to Kenworth with a goal of creating a new level of [truck] performance,” Feight explained.

Gary Moore, Kenworth’s newly installed GM, stressed that the T680 is being positioned as an extension of its highway tractor line and not as a replacement for any of its current models.

“The T680 gives us a unique opportunity to offer a wider range of cab sizes to our customers,” Moore added. “We have the 1.9-meter T660 cab, the 2.3-meter T700 cab – which is designed for team operation – and now the 2.1-mter T680 cab.”

The T-680, which will go into production on May 21, is aimed to address several of what Moore said are critical demands in the trucking industry today: the need for better fuel economy plus better-designed cab interiors to enhance driver productivity and comfort.

“Fuel economy is still king,” Moore noted, pointing out that the T680 sports a 10% improvement in aerodynamic design when compared to the T660 – an improvement that translates into 5% better fuel economy, which Feight noted means $4,000 worth of fuel savings per truck per year, with diesel at $4/gal.

The T-680 is being aimed at linehaul, pickup and delivery, and regional freight operators and can be configured with a newly designed 76-in. sleeper or as a day cab. It comes standard with the 12.9L Paccar MX engine, with the Cummins ISX15 engine as an option.

As an aside, Moore noted that the Paccar 12.9L MX engine – available with a horsepower range of 380 hp. to 485 hp. and torque up to 1,750 lbs.-ft. – is now operating in more than 20,000 Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks throughout North America, with that number expected to keep expanding in 2012.“It’s steadily becoming a greater portion of Kenworth’s build,” he said. 

Feight said Kenworth T-680’s cab and sleeper represent new design efforts to improve driver productivity and comfort while on the road. The cab is 83 in. wide and sports 23 in. of room between the seats for excellent sleeper ingress and egress, he said, with stand-up height in the cab and sleeper designed so a person well over 6-ft. in height could move readily in and out of the seats with ample head room.

Altogether the truck’s interior offers 65% more storage capacity, a 50% larger windshield, 40% less interior noise, and 30% larger door openings.

Through customer validation, the T680’s instrument panel is now laid out with an integrated, sweeping “keyboard” surface that mimics the shape of the driver’s reach zone, with new toggle switches have a large surface for easy activation and operate with a “click.”  

Kenworth noted it reduced the wraparound and placed the most often-used switches closer to the driver and used the further away positions for “highly-critical” switches in order to prevent accidental activation or deactivation of truck functions.

One of the new features in the T680’s redesigned sleeper is an optional rotating passenger seat and dining table, allowing for the creation of more segmented work and rest space for drivers. The cab also features all-LED interior lighting, which includes dome lamps, reading lamps and sleeper lighting, plus an ambient light in the sleeper and also in the header to create a gentle “wash of light” on the instrument panel and the center console, the company noted.

Design efforts for the T-680 also touched on reducing maintenance expenses, Kenworth noted.

For example, its research indicated that 3 to 5% of tractors per year encounter damage to the side extenders and sleeper, so the company made those components easy to replace.

The tractor’s three-piece hood is also made of sheet molding compound (SMC), a lightweight, durable composite material, while its grille is now made from corrosion-resistant aluminum wire mesh for superior protection of cooling system components.

The two-piece aerodynamic bumper and chassis fairings are made from Thermoplastic Olefin (TPO), which note only improves impact resistance, according to the company, but lowers the cost of repair and replacement too.

“This is part of our focus on providing trucks with the lowest total cost of operation (TCO) to customers as possible,” Moore noted.

Natural gas engine added

Kenworth also announced that it will offer the Cummins Westport ISX12 G natural gas engine in its T660, T800, T800 short hood, and W900S models. The engine can run on either compressed or liquefied natural gas.

The ISX12 G will come with a range of ratings up to 400 hp. and 1,450 lbs.-ft. of torque, optional engine brake and manual and automatic transmission capability.

“The ISX12 G will really complete Kenworth’s line of factory-installed natural gas engines, which includes the 15L Westport HD and the 8.9L Cummins Westport ISL G,” said Andy Douglas, Kenworth national sales manager for specialty markets. “The ISX12 G is a perfect size for the operational needs of those regional and refuse haulers that require a little more power and torque than offered by the ISL G, but that don’t need as much as provided by the HD.