It goes to show just how well regarded Kenworth is in the Australian transport and logistics community that it was able to schedule a launch event on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the lead-up to Christmas and still convince the who’s who of the industry to make the journey to Melbourne – even without specifying which new model would actually be on show.
Despite – or maybe because of – the secret-mongering around the launch, several hundred hand-selected guests gathered in Melbourne on the first weekend of summer to witness the grand unveiling of the first new Kenworth model since the MX-13-equipped T409 in 2014 – the T610.
The result of almost a decade of development, more than 100,000 hours of local design work and some 10 million kilometres of testing and validation, Kenworth’s new heavy-duty model is arguably the brand’s most ambitious project to date: Walking the line between traditional design and high technology, it’s short enough to fit into Australia’s 26m B-double envelope and thus able to go head-to-head with the increasingly bullish European cab-over faction – all while retaining that distinct North American spirit Australian trucking is so fond of.
And, it doesn’t come a minute to soon: During Q4’16 alone, both MAN and Mercedes-Benz unveiled a new heavy-duty model to challenge Kenworth’s long-standing market hegemony, and Scania is busy working on the Australian roll-out of a new flagship model, too. Rival Volvo, meanwhile, has been able to grow its market share by close to nine per cent in 2016, while Kenworth’s shrunk slightly.
Interestingly, though, the Bayswater-based OEM didn’t just update an existing model in response to the European arms race, but seemingly created a whole new sub-category in the heavy-duty space – the modern conventional. After all, the T610 will appeal to the heart of the Australian truckie while also ticking all of the boxes around safety, efficiency and integrated driveline that transport businesses are looking for in 2017.
As such, the T610 is not just a response to the advent of modern electronics and safety technologies as seen in Europe, or the industry’s need for more productivity and data capture, but also a strong statement pro bonneted design and a first test of how Paccar Australia can make use of the Paccar Group’s increasingly unified global parts catalogue in the future.
Getting the brand’s vast, yet somewhat conservative, fan base to buy into the new strategy – especially the automotive-inspired ‘toolbox approach’ – will be crucial from here, which is why Brad May, Paccar Australia’s Director of Sales and Marketing, doesn’t get tired of pointing out that the T610 is meant to represent “everything a Kenworth should be in terms of durability, reliability and safety” and that it will continue to be built locally in Melbourne.
In a move to preserve the brand’s nimbus of extreme durability and easy repair-ability, Kenworth opted to retain the tried and proven chassis of the T409 – which it will replace – and focused on re-thinking the superstructure instead.
“The core of this project was about building a bigger cab, but it’s really about creating the ultimate driver environment,” Brad explains. “A good driver environment leads to better all-round driving performance, safety, efficiency and productivity.”
The all-new cab is based on the T680 model sold in the US, but had to be substantially modified to make it more suitable for the hotly contested Australian line-haul market: Kenworth not only pushed it some 300mm forward over the engine to meet the country’s stringent length laws, but also re-designed all fittings, seals and panels to suit the local climate. Even the front grille was ‘Australianised’ – it retained the same shape, but is now made from stainless steel by a local business from Melbourne. What’s more, the cab has been lifted to provide the dual benefit of a flatter floor and better airflow around the engine. The original width of 2.1m remained the same, though, making the T610 almost 300mm wider than the outgoing T409 equivalent.
“The result is a mix of additional foot space, more standing room and storage, wider walkthrough access between the seats and more expansive door and windscreen glass – providing space, visibility and ergonomics never before seen in an Australian Kenworth,” Brad says – adding that the extra space has facilitated the use of a direct steering shaft that clears the turbocharger and does away with the need for extra universal or CV joints, which is likely to improve the T610’s road feel. A comprehensive heat shield is fitted to the firewall to deflect turbo heat from the cabin area.
To ensure each element would work perfectly in every possible Australian setting, Kenworth’s Engineering Project Design Manager, Ross Cureton, says the testing benchmark for the T610 has been elevated to a whole new level. “The T610 has been tested three times more than any Australian Kenworth truck that’s gone before it,” he explains. “Every Kenworth truck would normally run on a standard, 60-day shake test program, where the physical cab is mounted on a simulation machine, as if driving on its chassis, to see if it survives. We put the T610 cab through three of these cycles, which act as if it were being subjected to the vibrations and forces of the worst-case road conditions found in Australia.”
Ross says despite the multiple, at times violent, simulations, the new cab passed with flying colours. “I’ve been at Kenworth for 23 years and the T610 shake test has proven it to be the most durable cab we’ve ever tested, and we wouldn’t want it to be any less, given the Australian market and our collective expectations.”
At the heart of the new cab is a new, automotive quality dashboard, which is not only twice as thick as the US equivalent – and sourced locally in Melbourne – but also arranged around a special steel bar sub-structure to ensure it can cope with the tough environment here in Australia. With improved access to the air conditioning (HVAC) system and tool-free access to electrical circuit protection, plus visually apparent fasteners in the dash to assist further access if required, it was optimised to keep servicing simple, even in the digital age.
Under the fibreglass bonnet, the new T610 will be powered by Cummins’ X15 Euro V engine with Advanced Dynamic Efficient Powertrain (ADEPT) technology – Cummins’ attempt at summarising the growing suite of electronic features that interact with the optional Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) and dynamically adapt to operating conditions to enhance fuel economy “with no impact to productivity”. The X15 will be available from 450hp all of the way up to 600hp in all models and boast an improved cooling package.
Also on the technology front, the T610 will be available with state-of-the-art collision avoidance and mitigation technology, “including active cruise with braking and lane departure warning working in harmony to take safety to the next level,”, as Ross puts it – a feature that should bring the T610 on par with the comprehensively equipped European competition.
The new model’s real point of difference, however, will likely lie in the design’s inherent versatility: The T610, which will again be offered with a set forward front axle (SAR), will be available with either a day cab or a 860mm sleeper version to make it suitable for virtually any application – including maximum payload 26m B-double work.
As such, Kenworth’s attempt at creating a whole new sub-category in the heavy-duty segment may just work out – making the T610 as much of a logical evolution of the T409 series as a revolutionary development for the market at large.