Not that many years ago, it was common to spec your preferred brand of engine with your preferred brand of transmission and axles. One truck model could offer three different engine makes and a couple of different transmission choices.
While you can still order a truck this way, there has been a definite move toward total vehicle integration where the manufacturer offers a proprietary engine, transmission or axle package. The theoretical benefit is a truck optimized for performance and efficiency, with components perfectly matched and seamless communication between the engine, transmission and various truck functions.
“Vertical integration... was a good decision years ago, but with the current cost of diesel fuel at $4 per gallon, it’s a great idea today,” says David McKenna, director of powertrain sales, Mack Trucks. “Mack Trucks has been vertically integrated from nearly day one.
“The immediate benefit is the capital cost of the vehicle,” he continues. Providing three or four different engine manufacturer choices for each chassis model could drive up the cost. “A significant amount of that cost would be directly attributable to EPA HDDE emission compliance for each engine offered, not to mention the complex installation and cooling ‘opportunities.’”
But there are performance benefits, as well. “The real benefit is the lower day-to-day cost of operating the vehicle — whether that is in the fuel efficiency area or as a chassis maintenance expense,” says McKenna.
Delivering A Unique Pedigree
Designing an integrated vehicle requires expertise. “Vertical integration can also be risky,” notes McKenna. “A great chassis, an engine, a competitive transmission and drive axle package are not enough to make the grade or close the sale in today’s marketplace. You have to excel in all areas. If not, you lose the whole deal. Customers have a lot of choices today, so we have to offer significant product differentiators and an understandable and accepted value proposition.”
Mack Trucks offers a Pedigree Powertrain that consists of a Mack engine, transmission and axles. “We offer customers a choice of three engine displacements: the 11-liter MP7, the 13-liter MP8 and the 16-liter MP10,” McKenna points out. “Within the MP7 and MP8 family, we offer three distinct engine performance profiles with four horsepower ratings in each. We also have the Super Econodyne MP8 engine. With all of these options available, there is not much of the market that we cannot commercially address.”
He adds, “To back up these engines, we offer Mack T300 series manual transmissions from six to 18 speed, and the Mack mDrive, which is a 12-speed automated manual transmission. To get the power to the wheel ends, we offer drive axles from 21,000 to 65,000 lbs. with leaf spring, walking beam and air ride suspensions.”
McKenna cites three main areas of benefit to the customer in selecting a Pedigree Powertrain:
Hardware: Various mechanical devices still have to work efficiently together. For example, the right horsepower with the correct engine profile must be mated to the optimal transmission connected to the proper drive axle arrangement.
Software: Communication and control are two key items to manage vehicle performance. Each applicable powertrain module must communicate with the other in a timely manner (milliseconds) and communicate in a language that is completely understood. Also, the amount of information exchange must be 100% all of the time, so that the engine knows exactly what the transmission is doing (and sometimes what it may do). This can improve vehicle performance while simultaneously lowering fuel consumption.
Uptime: If the truck is in the shop for unplanned downtime, this adds nothing to the customer’s bottom line or their credibility with their customers.