It was a dog and pony show starring a fuel-efficient big rig with enough bells and whistles to draw longing looks from fleet managers, drivers and trucking company executives.
The low-riding, diesel fuel-sipping Cascadia Evolution, Daimler Freightliner’s next big offering to trucking companies, rolled into Memphis on a mission to create a buzz in one of the nation’s trucking capitals.
TAG Truck Center on Brooks Road invited customers to check out the traveling Cascadia Evolution display trailer and test drive the tractor prototype on Wednesday.
On Thursday, TAG will take the show on the road to FedEx Express World Headquarters on Hacks Cross for a private audience with the transportation giant’s fleet managers.
Daimler’s Freightliner and Detroit Diesel units teamed up to bring the Cascadia Evolution to market as the first heavy duty truck meeting tougher federal standards on greenhouse gas emissions, said TAG Truck Center general manager Jason Stewart said. It’s a full year ahead of the standards phasing in starting Jan. 1, 2014.
TAG expects to start taking orders for the new truck in a couple weeks and arrange the first deliveries in the first quarter of 2013, Stewart said. “Right now we’re building people’s appetite for it. We’re getting people to want it.”
Fuel economy numbers do much of the selling for a truck with a $124,000 to $150,000 price tag, depending on equipment.
Daimler AG, the German manufacturer, has touted the Evolution as achieving 10.67 miles a gallon in controlled conditions on a Texas test track and 9.31 mpg in a real-world, cross-country scenario, Stewart said.
That compares to a current U.S. trucking company fleet average of about 6.5 mpg for heavy duty trucks, Stewart said.
Driving the push toward more fuel-efficient trucks are federal regulations and the industry’s imperative of controlling fuel costs.
“To reduce green house emissions we will need to burn less fuel,” Stewart said. “The great news is that heavy duty trucks will start to see big improvements in fuel economy.”
Efficiency standards announced last August by President Barack Obama require big rigs or semis to reduce fuel consumption and production of greenhouse gases in 2014, 2017 and again in 2020. The trucking standards are designed to achieve percentage reductions, rather than specific mpg targets like passenger cars, trucks and vans.
“We are on a quest for 10 mpg,” Stewart said. “That may not sound like very much but many SUVs only get about 14 mpg and our trucks are pulling 80,000 pounds.”
Mark Cooper, co-owner of Cooper Freight Services, said a gain of 1 mpg translates into about $500,000 a year in savings for Cooper’s 85 trucks. Cooper has achieved that improvement from its last fleet upgrade: Cascadia tractors that are equipped with a similar engine as the Cascadia Evolution.
Cooper wasn’t sure Daimler’s impressive fuel economy numbers for the Evolution would hold up, but he’s confident it will produce substantial savings for his fleet, which logs 120,000 to 140,000 miles a year.
“I’ll be excited to try it,” Cooper said.
The tractor is edged with rubber skirts that almost touch the ground, reminiscent of a body kit on a customized passenger car. More skirts divert air from the back of the tractor, reducing wind drag on tractor and trailer.
Noticeably absent from the cab are a clutch pedal and manual transmission shifter. Instead, there’s a steering wheel lever marked D-N-R (Drive-Neutral-Reverse) that engages an automated manual transmission, a manual transmission that’s shifted electronically.
The display trailer shows the Evolution’s components in pristine condition, all shiny and new: an upgraded Detroit Diesel DD15 engine with transmission, tandem axle and steer axle.
Kent Pierce, a 25-year truck driver from Omaha, Neb., has been crisscrossing the country driving the prototype and hauling the product display from dealership to dealership. He has logged more than 11,600 miles since leaving Oregon with the rig six weeks ago.
Pierce said the Evolution is a high-tech throwback to a time when manufacturers like Mack rolled out tractors integrating engines, transmissions and drivetrains.
“I’ve driven all kinds of trucks and this is the best I’ve ever driven,” Pierce said.
He has driven other trucks with automatic transmissions, but the Evolution is smoother.
“It doesn’t lurch.”