Does anyone buy trucks to get a certain engine anymore? Yes, but loyalty to engines — and transmissions and other components, for that matter — isn't what it used to be. It's a slow reaction to vertical integration, where truck original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), rather than customers, decide what will go into vehicles. This has long been the practice in Europe and Asia, and buyers accept it. In North America, however, customers are forgetting their specifications preferences as OEMs field proprietary products that do the work just as well.
For many years OEMs have culled slow-selling "oddball" components from their options lists. This was most visible in transmissions, but also affected everything from air dryers to axles. Long gone are "double-stick" transmissions, which used two separate gearboxes to achieve the multiple ratios needed by most diesels, as well as "air-shift" types and other adaptations. Only the most popular manual transmissions, primarily 10-, 11-, 13- and 18-speed models, have survived, working alongside full automatics and a new class of self-shifting automated mechanical transmissions. Eaton and Allison are the main names here.
Customers can still specify engines in heavy trucks, but the choices are fewer in recent years as consolidation among truck manufacturers and strategic agreements between them and suppliers have shortened all manufacturers' options lists. Most makers of medium- and light-duty trucks have long built their own engines.
International designs and builds its own midrange diesels and is now preparing to produce its own big-bore models. Paccar, parent company of Kenworth and Peterbilt, has now gotten into the engine business with its PX-branded products. Freightliner has linked up with Detroit Diesel and Mercedes-Benz, owned by Freightliner's parent Daimler AG of Germany. And Mack, the only North American OEM with a long history of vertical integration, still is, although it's now a sister to Volvo Trucks.
While there are many engines in the marketplace, only two builders — Caterpillar and Cummins — can still be called vendors. Various Cat and Cummins diesels are available in truck models from 11 domestic manufacturers (the number depends on whether one counts companies or nameplates). The list has shrunk in recent years as the manufacturers move toward proprietary components. Cat engines are available in Ford, General Motors (Chevrolet and GMC), International, Paccar (Kenworth and Peterbilt), and Freightliner-Sterling-Western Star. Cummins diesels are offered by Dodge, Ford, International, Paccar, Volvo and the Freightliner family.
These days, it's more meaningful to list engines by truck manufacturers because they all have proprietary engines that are standard and charge premiums for optional engines, if they offer them. Sometimes a truck maker touts the vendor's reputation, as Dodge has since the 1989 model year with its now popular Cummins Turbo Diesel (a modified ISB). Paccar, on the other hand, uses its own labels, PX 6 for the Cummins ISB and PX 8 for the ISC, because it's trying to build its own identity in engines. The engines are painted dark grey instead of Cummins red and use private-branded accessories.
In recent years, Cummins secured agreements with Mack and Volvo for heavy-duty diesels, but Mack (now a sister company to Volvo) dropped them completely in the '07 model year. Volvo continues to offer the ISX in its highway trucks, but seems intent on converting Cummins users to its own D-series engines.
Cummins is also a preferred supplier to Paccar's Kenworth and Peterbilt brands via the PX name and is the exclusive engine supplier in Paccar medium-duty trucks. Paccar offers both Cat and Cummins heavy-duty engines, but emphasizes Cummins, both in pricing and marketing efforts. It says it will continue to offer the two vendors' engines after it begins building its own PX-brand heavy diesels in time for the 2010 model year.
International uses Cat and Cummins engines in its heavy truck models, but later this year will build its own MaxxForce heavy engines. The company says it will continue to offer the vendor engines as long as customers want them. A major engine maker for many years, International continues to use only its own medium- and medium-heavy MaxxForce diesels in its trucks. The company's Work Horse Custom Chassis subsidiary uses a MaxxForce V-6 diesel but buys gasoline V-8s from General Motors.
Caterpillar's position as a vendor seems precarious because it doesn't have preferred status with truck builders and its share of the Class 6, 7 and 8 markets has shrunk considerably. Its C7 midrange diesel has been dropped by all truck manufacturers except two: Ford, which still considers the C7 its premier medium-duty engine, and General Motors, which is emphasizing the 6H diesel supplied by Isuzu and reports that the C7 has lost popularity. Cat's C9, C13 and C15 are still offered by several heavy truck makers, but they all either have their own engines as standard or will have.
Some observers think Cat will leave the truck engine business by 2010, when tighter emissions limits take effect. Another speculation — which includes the side comment that Caterpillar is a huge and very strong corporation — is that Cat will begin building its own heavy trucks.
Detroit Diesel, once a popular vendor with its old two-stroke and later four-stroke models, was acquired in 2000 by Daimler-Benz of Germany (now Daimler AG) through its American truck manufacturer, Freightliner LLC (now called Daimler Trucks North America). So Detroit devotees can order those engines only in Freightliner family trucks, which include Sterling and Western Star.
Daimler sold Detroit Diesel's off-road products and business and melded its own Mercedes-brand commercial engine operations into the organization. The plant in Redford, Mich., has been assembling Mercedes-Benz 900 medium-duty engines for more than a year. By 2010, the current Detroit Series 60 and MBE 4000 heavy diesels will be replaced by a new DD15 series and new midrange diesels are also due out.
Volvo Powertrain, which supplies diesels to Volvo Trucks and Mack Trucks, began building an entirely new engine family at a retooled Mack engine plant in Hagerstown, Md., last year. While the 11- and 13-liter heavy-duty engines are mechanically all but identical, the two truck makers claim they have different operating characteristics. Mack Power engines include three sub-types for varying applications, reflecting Mack's traditional catering to specialty markets, while Volvo's D models are more geared toward highway use.
Most midrange truck manufacturers, including domestics and importers, design and build their own diesels and use them exclusively in their vehicles.
Ford's V-8 diesels, used mostly in its Class 2, 3 and 4 SuperDuty models are distinctive, as they offer more power and torque than International's own MaxxForce 7 versions and use double turbocharging vs. single turbos on the MF 7s. But serious legal squabbles between the two builders over an earlier version of the V-8 could put the relationship in jeopardy.
International insists that the Blue Diamond joint venture between it and Ford will continue. This "contract manufacturing" agreement has International building Ford's medium-duty F-series conventional-cab trucks using components from both companies, plus engines from Cummins and Caterpillar, at a plant in Mexico. That plant also builds Class 3 and 4 low-cab-forward models sold by both Ford and International dealers that use a MaxxForce V-6 diesel and a Ford TorqShift automatic transmission.
Likewise unaffected by the Blue Diamond deal is the tentative agreement under which International will buy General Motors' Class 4 through 8 medium-duty trucks. If the details are worked out, by year's end International will take over the GMC TopKick and Chevrolet Kodiak conventional-cab products, as well as T-series low-cab-forwards now made by GM in Flint, Mich. International will build those products in its own facilities and sell them through GM dealers. The trucks will remain the same, using engines from GM, Isuzu and Caterpillar, though business analysts think International will eventually offer the trucks with its diesels.
Ford no longer builds Class 8 trucks, but could resume doing so now that a 10-year non-competitive agreement with Freightliner, under which Ford sold its "HN80" Class 8 products that became the Sterling A- and L-Lines, has expired. Class 8 Fords would likely be based on the F-650/750 and thus would be "Baby 8s" with midrange powertrains.
All diesel-powered 2008-model trucks have EPA '07-compliant engines with advanced combustion, air-handling, and exhaust systems, plus bigger cooling systems, to meet emissions limits. These advances allowed builders to offer more standard horsepower and torque in their medium-duty diesels — typically 200 hp or more, where base ratings previously were typically 175 hp. That's a bonus of sorts for the higher prices most began charging for the 2007 diesels to try to recoup heavy investments required for research and development.
Price hikes were known in advance by customers and dealers, many of whom purchased trucks with the less costly pre-2007 engines. That contributed to the current depression in sales of heavy trucks and also hurt sales of midrange and light trucks. One exception is Dodge, which is expanding its efforts in commercial truck sales partly by holding the line on the price of its Cummins Turbo Diesel option, at about $6,000 above a gasoline-powered truck.
While vendor engines are still a factor, especially in heavy-duty trucks, the alliances and strategic agreements — both part of the trend toward vertical integration — makes the vendors less important now, and truck dealers say loyalty to engine makes is waning. Some buyers of construction trucks are still willing to pay thousands more for a particular engine, but most are sobered by price differences and will go with an OEM's lower-cost standard engine, especially if it has established a good reputation.