Vocational Truck Sales Grow: Kenworth

By Tom Berg, Truck Editor | July 24, 2017

The economy keeps rolling along, and with it, healthy activity in construction. That translates to continued growth in orders for vocational trucks, said Kenworth Truck Co. executives at their headquarters in Kirkland, Wash., last week.

Above: The T880, introduced in 2014, now accounts for 75 percent of all orders for Kenworth vocational trucks, the builder says. But the venerable T800 will remain in the lineup as long as enough customers buy it.

“Economic fundamentals remain very positive,” said Mike Dozier, general manager. Those include gross domestic product, housing starts, consumer confidence, and total construction spending. It now appears that overall Class 8 truck sales this year for North America, previously projected to be 190,000 to 220,000, will finish closer to the high end of that range.

There’s been a “steady uptick” in orders for KW’s T880, now the builder’s primary vocational model that is fast replacing the venerable T800. Kevin Baney, assistant general manager for marketing and sales, said the modern T880 has grown from 10 percent of total production in 2015, when it was introduced, to 45 percent now. “The market will decide” when Kenworth drops the T800, which still is favored by traditionally minded buyers.

Newest options for the T880 are a Marmon-Herrington front-driving axle, rated at 22,000 pounds, with a Fabco 2-speed transfer case, for off-road operations, and a variable-speed fan drive that’s quieter and kicks up less dust than standard on/off fan drive.

The share of proprietary Paccar MX diesels in KWs, meanwhile, is currently at 45 percent, and is expected to grow further. About 160,000 MXs are expected to be in service by the end of 2017. MXs are offered in 11- and 13-liter sizes covering horsepower ratings from below 400 to above 500, and are also sold by Peterbilt, Kenworth’s sister company.

The rest of engines sold in heavy trucks are Cummins diesels and Cummins Westport natural gas engines. Low-priced diesel fuel has softened the demand for gas engines, with sales and interest now coming from customers already using the cheaper, cleaner-burning fuel, especially those who have invested in the infrastructure needed to support it.

KW now offers a Near-Zero-Emissions version of the Cummins Westport ISL-G, said Kurt Swihart, marketing director. It produces 90 percent fewer nitrogen oxide emissions than now allowed by federal standards. The engine will be sold in California, where a state program subsidizes up to $100,000 per truck for NZ-rated engines.

“We don’t see California changing, no matter what the Trump administration does” on exhaust emissions limits, said Baney. KW has begun building about 100 T880 mixers with ISL-G NZ for Cal Portland, a concrete producer.

Kenworth dealers now have 382 sales and service locations in North America and that should climb to 400 by year’s end, Baney said. In recent years, dealers have spent $600 million expanding and upgrading their facilities to support KW trucks and the MX diesels.