Heir to the Throne
In the most detailed and expensive new model program ever undertaken in Kenworth’s Australian history, the arrival of the wide-cab T610 marks a dynamic shift in conventional cab design by the heavy-duty market leader.
IN FEBRUARY 2017, a dramatically different Kenworth conventional will start rolling down the Bayswater production line. It’s called the T610 and, in the 40 years and more since Paccar first started building Kenworths at Bayswater, there has been nothing like it.
Sure, the first T600s in the mid-80s revolutionised the world of conventional truck design and changed the face, literally and physically, of Kenworth for decades to come. But in the 30 years since then, the actual structure of Kenworth conventionals with their 1.83m-wide cab has changed very little. Until now!
In fact, when it comes to the time and money spent on local development of a single model for the Australian market, senior Kenworth insiders say there is nothing in Kenworth’s Australian history to even remotely match the investment made in the T610 with a cab that is 2.1m wide and provides major gains in operational appeal.
Word has it that by the time trucks start rolling out of the renowned Bayswater facility, around $20 million will have been spent on a long-term project that effectively grew from the conceptual possibilities provided by current Kenworth and Peterbilt models in the US. The end result is an entirely new conventional truck engineered and built to the specific requirements of Australia and surrounding regions.
Of course, most of us have heard Kenworth’s homegrown spiel many times but, in the case of the T610, it arguably carries more clout now than ever before.
Some perspective on the extent of the investment in the T610 and its critical role in Kenworth’s future is perhaps best gleaned from the assertion that the entire range of current 09 models (T409, T609, T909 etc.), plus the radically revamped K200 cab- over, all came to life for less than half of what will be spent on bringing the T610 into existence.
“This is the biggest single investment ever made in new Kenworth product in this country, and outside Australia there is nothing like this truck anywhere in Paccar,” says a passionate and intensely proud Brad May, Paccar Australia sales and marketing director. “We are responsible for our own market and, now more than ever, that makes us largely independent when it comes to right-hand drive engineering.
“This is our truck,” he says with total conviction.
“We basically took what we could from Paccar’s global platform – but no one should be in any doubt, none whatsoever, that the engineering and design of the finished product are all ours, all done in Bayswater.”
As May is quick to highlight, major cost items like the firewall and floor structures, as well as a completely new and strengthened dash, are uniquely Australian – fully engineered at Bayswater to achieve the structural durability and design goals deemed essential for this market.
“They’re the things that really cost a lot of money to engineer and produce in right-hand drive,” he confirms.
“Our parent company obviously had to approve the investment, and we certainly utilised Paccar’s facilities in the US in the durability validation process, but the engineering design is totally ours. This is a truck engineered in Australia, for Australia. Absolutely.”
BIGGER, BOLDER, BETTER
While external styling is hugely different, it remains resolutely Kenworth, and comes with a number of ancillary features adapted from the inventories of both Kenworth and Peterbilt. Air intakes on the sides of the hood, lights and mirrors, for example.
Yet the T610 is unquestionably an exercise in substance over style and, when it’s all boiled down, it’s the cab that counts. A cab that is wider, taller and, in sleeper form, vastly more spacious and liveable than the long-serving cab of Kenworth’s current conventional range.
In fact, unlike current T4 models, sleeper versions of the 610 provide full standing room from the seat to the sleeper. It’s easy to suggest that, in the eyes of owners and drivers alike, this fact alone will be a massive asset for Kenworth.
Critically, it’s also a cab providing a significantly shorter bumper to back- of- cab dimension than anything else in Kenworth’s conventional line-up – other than the baby of the bunch, the T3 series.
We’ll get to the dimensional details shortly. For its initial assault, Kenworth’s new T610 will immediately supersede the hugely successful T409 and its SAR derivative, but only those powered by the 15-litre Cummins ISXe5 engine. Or, as the engine will soon be known, the Cummins X15, which comes with existing hardware, a Euro 5 emissions system, and a more advanced suite of electronic features.
The 610’s first foray into the market will see it offered in setback and set-forward (SAR) front-axle configurations, initially as a day cab or with an 860mm (36-inch) sleeper. Of course, further sleeper options will be progressively added.
Meantime, ‘409s punched by Paccar’s own 13-litre MX engine will continue with the current 1.83m cab and existing sleeper options. However, it’s more than a fair bet that, within a year or so, the wider cab will be applied to MX-powered 409s as well.
In fact, it’s understood development work on an MX-powered version is already well under way. Logic suggests it will be known as the T410.
As for other conventionals in the Kenworth range, the 610 represents an entirely new product platform, and it’d be naïve to think the 2.1m cab won’t be applied across the full range of conventional models in due course.
Now, on the specific details and elements that make the T610 so decidedly different from anything in the past or present portfolios of Kenworth, it’s perhaps best to go back eight years or so.
Even while the impacts of the global financial crisis (GFC) were still raw, Paccar Inc proceeded with a US$400 million development program that, among other things, would ultimately lead to the US release of Kenworth’s T680 and Peterbilt’s 579 models. Later, these would be joined by the T880 from Kenworth and Pete’s 567.
Despite their intense sibling rivalry and fiercely held histories of going their separate ways in everything including truck design, GFC constraints dictated the new Kenworth and Peterbilt models would be developed with a couple of core similarities. The standout factor for both was the sharing of a 2.1m-wide cab in place of the 1.83m-wide structure, which, in Kenworth’s case, had been serving the brand on both sides of the Pacific since the 1986 launch of the original T600 Anteater.
Interestingly, Paccar chose not to go with the 2.3m cab width of the much touted but surprisingly shortlived T2000, a model which had been also evaluated in Australia.
“It’s perhaps fitting that the 15-litre T409 should be first to morph into a new era as the T610”
Paccar’s experience deemed 2.1 metres as the optimal width.
Anyway, with word sifting through corporate corridors that a 2.1m-wide cab was under development for upcoming Kenworth and Peterbilt models, Australia’s product planning team heard the whispers and didn’t waste time touching base with their US counterparts to investigate the possibilities of a wider right-hand drive cab for the Australian market.
Consequently, with opportunity spurring evolution and full support from the US, Bayswater engineers were soon enough digging into the developmental details of a wider conventional cab for our part of the world.
As Brad May remarks, it was a long and highly detailed exercise, and, while a wider cab was seen as a ‘no-brainer’ for the next generation of Kenworth product, the idea of simply taking a US truck such as the T680 and converting it to right-hand drive was never an option.
Apart from the inherent need to develop a truck capable of enduring our operational and regulatory requirements, some design aspects of the T680 simply weren’t suitable for Australia, particularly in areas such as the appearance of the dash.
Or, as a succinct Brad May put it: “Our demographic is simply different to the US.”
On the home front, the T4 range was seen as an obvious and ideal first candidate for the new cab. Evolving from the T600 with an original design goal as a short-haul distribution model with extremely limited options, the T4 family has grown to become the most versatile range in the Kenworth armoury.
Nowadays, its acceptance as a heavy-duty hauler for a vast range of applications is higher than ever, and certainly light years beyond its original goals.
Consequently, it’s perhaps fitting that the 15-litre T409 should be first to morph into a new era as the T610 and, in the process, overcome the inherent issues associated with the installation of a big-bore engine into the relatively narrow confines of the existing 1.83m cab.
Chief among those issues are a narrow driver’s footwell, awkward access to the bunk due to limited space, lack of standing room between the seats, complex steering geometry, and poor service access to the rear of engine – particularly the big red Cummins.
As a few hours behind the wheel of a pre-production unit quickly verified, the 2.1m cab of the T610 dramatically diminishes all these issues and, in the case of steering geometry, completely negates concerns about complexity thanks to a straight shaft from the cab to the chassis-mounted steering box.
While on the subject of steering, I can certainly confirm that steering quality is comfortably firm, impressively precise, and undeniably improved. First impressions are entirely positive.
As for the inside, there’s a substantial (30 per cent) increase in space around the driver’s footwell, the gap between the seats has been significantly opened, and, with a rise in the height of the bunk, there’s now room for an optional slide-out fridge. In fact, it’s quite amazing what Kenworth has achieved with an extra 270mm between the B-pillars.
However, it’s not just the bunk that has been raised. Floor height of the cab has been lifted by around 75mm.
While it adds another step for the climb in and out, the advantages far outweigh any negatives – perceived or otherwise.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of lifting the cab, however, is that it has allowed the cab to be moved forward to create a bumper to backof-cab (BBC) dimension of just 112 inches on the day cab model, giving the newcomer particularly strong appeal for any number of lengthcritical applications.
By comparison, the current T409 has a BBC of 116 inches, while its T609 big brother is 126 inches.
As for the future of the T609, particularly given its similarities to the T610 in terms of being an aerodynamic 600hp truck with a set-back front axle, an adamant Brad May says there are no plans to withdraw the 609 from Kenworth’s conventional crop.
“There’s nothing to be gained by dropping the T609,” he says.
Importantly, the higher stance of the cab allows greater airflow underneath to enhance cooling efficiency, and considerably improves service access to the rear of the engine.
Furthermore, the taller cab also improves visibility, though some drivers may rue the fact that the top of the KW ‘bug’ is no longer visible and therefore unavailable as a line of sight to the edge of the road.
While I’m reliably informed the bug remains visible over the snout of the SAR version, there are sure to be some operators who will question the cost-effectiveness of a single-piece windscreen over the two-piece screen available on current T4s. For now, though, Kenworth will be sticking with the single screen.
However, it’s highly unlikely anyone will question the mirrors. Adapted from US models, they’re mounted on low-slung dual arms and, unlike some competitors’ mirror arrangements these days, offer little visual interference on the approach to roundabouts and the like. They’re also incredibly strong, as one exuberant Kenworth executive demonstrated by swinging his full weight from the mounting arm.
Back on cooling efficiency, the T610 uses an aluminium radiator. With a frontal area of 1670 square inches (the T409 uses a 1600-square-inch radiator) working with the greater heat dissipation of aluminium over more traditional copper and brass combinations, an adamant Brad May says the new model has no difficulty cooling 600hp at high loads and high ambient temperatures.
“None at all,” he insists. “The cooling performance of this truck is
incredibly good. Cooling the engine isn’t a problem.”
As for durability of the aluminium cooler, May says there have been no issues with the aluminium radiator used in MX-powered 409s.
Given the amount of testing done on the T610, Kenworth is entirely confident there won’t be any dramas with the new installation.
Furthermore, Kenworth is adamant that despite the bigger cab, there has been no increase in tare weight, in large part due to the use of aluminium wherever possible – not least in the radiator and the majority of the cab shell.
It’s worth mentioning, however, that the roof of sleeper cab models is made of a strong yet lightweight composite material.
“Keeping tare weight down was one of our prime goals,” May says.
So, too, were quality and strength, with extensive engineering and test procedures put in place from the outset. One of those procedures was to ‘wire’ a T650 operating in road train roles with Queensland-based livestock specialist Ross Fraser to electronically record a ‘drive file’ of real-world and often severe road conditions for testing and engineering validation.
This data platform was the critical factor in creating what May says is “the strongest cab we’ve ever built”, with test cabs enduring three times the normal cycle of shaker tests. The tests were, in fact, programmed to dispense up to 30 per cent greater intensity than the road conditions recorded by the Fraser file.
“The tests were designed to kill the truck, either on the shaker or at Paccar’s technical centre, to find the breaking point in a simulation of 10 million kilometres on Australian roads,” an enthusiastic May explains. “No Kenworth cab has undergone greater durability
“The strongest cab we’ve ever built … no Kenworth cab has undergone greater durability assessment than the T610, and the whole structure stood up to everything put to it”
assessment than the T610, and the whole structure stood up to everything put to it.
“We could not be more satisfied with the results.”
Meanwhile, back in Bayswater, the cab was subjected to ECE R-29 crash standards, and again came through with flying colours according to May. However, when asked why a driver’s side airbag was not included in the options list for the new cab – a move that would’ve made Kenworth the only heavy-duty conventional truck on the market to offer a driver’s airbag – he said expense and lack of market demand were the concerning factors.
There were, however, no such concerns when it came to internal cab design, and it appears Kenworth design engineers were intent on making the most of starting with a clean sheet of paper.
For example, between the firewall and an injection-moulded dash fascia said to be double the thickness of US designs, a totally new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system was created for Australian conditions.
Additionally, the structural integrity of the dash and its underlying components are founded on what Kenworth describes as a purposely designed cross-car steel beam stretching across the width of the dash.
“A huge amount of time, effort and – obviously – money went into the dash, and all the components attached to it. It was a complex exercise but we knew it had to be absolutely right,” May remarks.
Visually, the dash is decidedly different but, in typical Kenworth fashion, strong on function and form. The initial design sees a woodgrain fascia surrounding traditional gauges, with an optional multi-function touchscreen in the pipeline. Lower down, and within relatively easy reach, is a line of switches to a wide range of functions such as engine brake, diff lock and the like.
Meanwhile, switches for cruise control, audio, and menu functions for an LCD info display directly in front of the driver are mounted on the arms of a comfortably padded steering wheel.
Practicality, however, was clearly high on the agenda. Most prominent gauges are obviously the speedo and rev counter under the LCD screen, while on each side are well-positioned gauges for fuel and AdBlue, front- and rear-brake air pressure, coolant temperature, and engine oil pressure.
In total, up to 18 gauges can be specified in the T610.
Yet arguably the greatest concessions to practicality, and certainly bucking the trend in modern automotive design, are exposed fasteners holding the dash in place.
“The trend in automotive styling these days is to hide screws and fasteners,” May explains. “But if something needs attention behind the dash, access is made a lot easier, and there’s much less chance of damage by simply undoing a few easily reached screws to get behind the dash fascia.” Makes sense!
Still on the inside, it’s worth mentioning that cup holder trays on the lower edge of the dash centre differ between automated and manual transmissions. With a manual stick, the cup holder is neat and unobtrusive, but automated versions have the ‘cobra’ shift controller mounted on a much larger assembly, which extends notably into cab space.
Put simply, the cobra shifter is intrusive and outdated in an entirely new cab layout where the design emphasis revolves around space, function, and form.
Meantime, while Kenworth has been typically tight-lipped about its new creation, the past six months have revealed the first indications of a new generation of Kenworth conventionals.
It was mid-June this year, for example, that the first T610 field evaluation unit went to work with high-profile fleet McColl’s.
Over following months, another four units – day cab and sleeper versions – hit the highways. By the time production trucks start rolling out of Bayswater, at least 11 preproduction T610s will be involved in ongoing field trials.
Trial results have been extraordinarily positive May says, adding that the years of careful planning, local engineering and design experience, and brutal test procedures have driven high levels of confidence that Kenworth’s latest will also be its greatest.
“The T610 is homegrown and we are already incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved with this truck,” he says earnestly. “Yes, we’re extremely confident, but I think we have good reason to be.
“After all, the T610 is the latest evolution of what we’ve been doing in this country for 40 years. Building trucks for Australia.”
Proud and passionate. Paccar Australia sales and marketing director Brad May
Mirrors, lights and side air intakes came from Kenworth and Peterbilt stocks in the US. Intakes on each side feed air into pre-cleaners under the hood. For now, SAR versions have external air cleaners
Floor height is one step taller than the T409, but the benefits are great, particularly in allowing the cab to be pushed forward for a short bumper to back-of-cab dimension of just 112 inches
Schematic detail of the entirely new dash layout
On the inside. The 2.1m-wide cab provides a huge improvement in internal space, along with full standing room in sleeper versions
The lines are fresh, clean, and stylish. But, as Kenworth is quick to emphasise, the T610 is definitely a case of substance over style
Rare. Shot from inside Kenworth’s secretive R&D facility shows the floor, firewall and dash support beam are all designed and engineered at Kenworth’s Bayswater headquarters
Access to the 15-litre Cummins is significantly better, but perhaps the biggest gain under the hood is a straight shaft to the steering box. Kenworth has also gone to an aluminium radiator for the big red engine