Kenworth secretive over Cummins’ X12
IT’S NOW history, but when Kenworth lost Cat and Detroit engines from its power portfolio, there was no shortage of sceptics predicting the truck maker’s tumble from the top of the heavy-duty ladder.
Looking back, the scepticism was not unjustified. After all, Kenworth had, for many years, made good mileage of its ability to keep the customer satisfied with a custom-built truck offering the choice of three hugely successful engine brands – Cat, Cummins and Detroit – each with its own legions of loyal supporters.
What’s more, there was no shortage of fierce competition between the three engine makers, with the contest between Cat and Cummins particularly blatant and brutal. Here were two engine makers that seemingly loved to loathe each other, fostering similarly potent passions among a customer base populated by incredibly loyal proponents of each brand.
Kenworth, understandably, thrived on the constant rivalry that not only drove all three engine makers to remain sharp in performance and service, but likewise kept pencils sharp when it came to tight commercial contests.
Of course, all that changed dramatically when Cat threw the towel in with its much maligned decision to desert the on-highway truck engine business.
This hit hard at Kenworth’s customer base and there are numerous instances where men with yellow blood coursing through their veins simply would not buy a new Kenworth or any other brand powered by anything other than a Cat engine.
Strangely and illogically, some customers even accused Kenworth of contributing to Cat’s departure when, in fact, it was Caterpillar’s decision alone to callously abandon its tribes of defiantly loyal customers. Indeed, the last thing Kenworth and its Paccar parent wanted to see was Cat’s exit from the business and a diminution of the battle between the engine brands.
On the other hand, Detroit’s departure from Kenworth’s books wasn’t quite so brazen, driven more by corporate competitiveness than abject abandonment.
The thing is, Detroit Diesel had been acquired by Freightliner parent Daimler and, in the United States especially, Freightliner was becoming an increasingly invasive competitor to Paccar’s Kenworth and Peterbilt brands.
So whether it was Daimler deciding to no longer sell engines to Paccar, or Paccar refusing to buy any more Detroit engines, remains a moot point. The truth is probably a bit of both.
For Paccar Australia, the numbers of Series 60 engines sliding into Kenworth chassis had been declining for some time anyway – exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) was delivering a slow and agonising death to the once great Series 60 – so the impact of Detroit’s departure wasn’t nearly as destructive as Cat’s capitulation.
Nonetheless, Kenworth, for the first time in its history of building trucks in Australia, found itself with just one engine brand. Cummins!
X MARKS THE SPOT
In time, of course, Kenworth would add the DAF-derived Paccar MX 13-litre engine to the hugely popular T4 family, offered alongside the 15-litre ISX Cummins.
Yet long before the arrival of the MX, Cummins was the only engine available in a Kenworth, and it’s worth pointing out again that plenty of people were willing to predict Kenworth’s slide from the top of the heavy-duty sales tree following the departures of Cat and Detroit.
Kenworth has, however, remained firmly ensconced at the head of the pack and, among a myriad of reasons for the ongoing ascendancy, is the fact that Cummins is an engine brand with
its own army of staunch advocates and a second-to-none reputation for service and support.
As a senior Kenworth insider confidently and quietly implied some years back, “If Kenworth had to have just one engine brand, Cummins was certainly the one to have.”
Still, that reputation and confidence has been sorely tested over the past decade. Indeed, you’d have to be living under a tent in Timbuktu to be ignorant of the issues that have plagued Cummins with its 15-litre ISX EGR engine.
Obviously Kenworth wasn’t too impressed either, knowing full well that the ongoing and seemingly ingrained failure of major components such as turbochargers and EGR coolers were a surefire way to send customers – even loyal customers – shopping elsewhere.
It’s again a moot point, but whether it was Kenworth pushing Cummins hard for an alternative to the EGR engine (which is still available in Kenworth) or the early success of trials of the ISXe5 SCR engine, there’s no question the e5 was catapulted into the market and has subsequently become an outstanding success and huge relief for Kenworth and Cummins alike. In effect, further cementing an association that has experienced its fair share of frustrations but has also delivered rich rewards for both brands.
It was, therefore, perhaps inevitable that Cummins would not only be the power behind the bug in Kenworth’s introduction of its totally new T610 model, but that the new truck would also be the launch pad for a revised rendition of the 15-litre engine called the X15.
Described as an evolutionary development of the ISXe5 which Cummins confidently insists is the biggest-selling engine in the Australian heavy-duty truck market, the X15 comes with a number of attributes that most certainly include the slick marketing appeal of a sharp new moniker. X15 just looks and sounds better than ISXe5.
Beyond all else, though, Cummins has been quick to emphasise the Euro 5 X15 uses the same hardware and SCR emissions technology as the existing ISXe5 and, according to a statement by Cummins South Pacific managing director Andrew Penca, “… incorporates all the product improvements since the ISXe5 release in 2012 including power cylinder, cylinder head and turbocharger upgrades.”
Cummins insiders also report the X15 will have no problem meeting the proposed Euro 6 emissions regime with much the same components as the current engine.
Pushing the point further, emissions technology is no longer the driving force of product development, says Cummins South Pacific director of on-highway business Mike Fowler, who cites customer needs and application requirements as the dominant principles now guiding engine development.
With more than 6000 ISXe5 engines put to work in Australia and New Zealand since 2013, the X15 simply builds on that success and, as Fowler puts it, “… is a sign of what is to come from Cummins in terms of significant efficiency gains for our customers.”
Yet with the X15 utilising the same hardware and offering the same ratings as the ISXe5, from 450 to 600hp (336 to 447kW) and peak torque from 1650 to 2050ft-lb (2237 to 2779Nm), what makes it different to the e5 other than a slick new badge?
The answer is found in yet another confusing, contrived corporate anagram, in this instance called ADEPT, which in Cummins speak translates to Advanced Dynamic Efficient Powertrain Technology.
Basically, ADEPT is a suite of electronic features designed specifically to work in cahoots with Eaton’s UltraShift Plus automated 18-speed transmission, utilising load, speed and grade-sensing technology to more precisely tailor power, torque and gear selection for better fuel efficiency.
In its first foray onto the Australian market, ADEPT also includes systems known as SmartCoast and SmartTorque.
As Cummins explains: “SmartCoast operates when the vehicle is on a moderate downhill grade by disengaging the front box of the transmission and returning the engine to idle to reduce drag, maintain momentum, and ultimately improve fuel economy. Once the engine commands the transmission to be put back in gear, the appropriate gear is engaged.”
Meanwhile, “SmartTorque uses torque management intelligence to help eliminate unnecessary downshifts and keep the engine operating in the most fuel efficient ‘sweet spot’. Torque is varied across all gears depending on torque requirement.
“Further features such as predictive cruise control will be added to ADEPT in the future,” Cummins adds.
Again, though, ADEPT features are only applicable to trucks fitted with Eaton’s UltraShift Plus automated box.
But wait, there’s more. The X15 also comes with Connected Diagnostics, defined by Cummins as a “telematics system [which] automatically processes fault code data, sending instant notifications detailing probable root cause and providing recommended actions.
“The expert advice, delivered by email, app or web portal, enables the fleet manager to make an informed decision about continuing truck operation and when to schedule a service visit for the most convenient time, thus maximising uptime.
“Additional connected solutions to be added in the near future include Over-the-Air (OTA) engine programming and customisation. This will allow an engine to be reprogrammed or updated with the latest calibration without having to take the truck to a service bay.”
That’s about it for the X15, but have no doubt there’s another X in the Kenworth equation. For the time being, though, it’s an equation mired in corporate complexity.
“The Euro 5 X15 uses the same hardware and SCR emissions technology as the existing ISXe5”
Just as the X15 is effectively a direct offshoot of the ISXe5, so too is the X12 a retagged version of the ISG12 engine which, in Kenworth and Western Star models, has been undergoing extensive field tests in Australia for more than two years at peak outputs of 500hp and 1700ft-lb of torque.
In ISG guise, the 12-litre engine made its first public appearance at the 2015 Brisbane Truck Show and has since been operating in single trailer and B-double applications, with a number of fleets well known for chalking up big kilometres in roundthe-clock line-haul and intrastate roles.
According to the few reports filtering through, performance of the 12-litre in-line six has been surprisingly strong and fuel consumption highly impressive.
Cummins, however, makes no secret of the fact that the “the field test program is solely a Cummins project, with engine installation carried out at Cummins South Pacific headquarters in Scoresby, Melbourne, and the company’s engineering team working closely with the fleets selected for the program”.
Yet despite Cummins’ initiative and the positive reports from field trials, the newly named X12 has no chassis to call home. At least, not yet. For their part, senior Western Star executives have already stated the engine will not be offered.
On the other hand, Kenworth is at least more positive, with several insiders unofficially acknowledging the X12’s potential appeal to customers. Meantime, quiet discussions at the launch of the new T610, with a number of key Kenworth customers and dealers, revealed no shortage of interest in the 12-litre Cummins.
Right now, though, that’s as far as it goes and, despite what appears to be a groundswell of reserved optimism in the engine’s prospects as a Kenworth option, there are no guarantees the X12 will be on Kenworth’s books anytime soon.
The reason for Kenworth’s caution concerning the X12 is not too difficult to discover. Installed in a Kenworth T4 model, for instance, the X12 would be a direct competitor to Paccar’s own 12.9-litre MX-13 engine and, while this may first appear a good position for Kenworth to adopt in the interests of customer appeal, it’s unlikely to be favoured by Paccar Inc. in the US.
After all, and despite the fact that Australia’s MX-13 is derived from Europe, the US has invested many hundreds of millions of dollars in development and manufacturing facilities for the North American MX.
Still, the connection between Paccar and Cummins runs extremely deep and, with almost no likelihood of Paccar designing its own bigbore engine to rival or even replace the X15, the possibility of the X12 finding a niche in our part of the Kenworth world is certainly not out of the question.
Even so, Kenworth’s local leaders are adamant that with up to 510hp (380kW) and 1850ft-lb (2508Nm) of torque, the MX-13 has easily met the company’s expectations in terms of market acceptance.
The thing is, though, parts of the market view the MX as a ‘DAF engine’ and, while Kenworth denies any disappointment in either the sales or operational performance of the MX-13, the perception hasn’t always been entirely favourable.
Cummins, however, has an extremely long and strong history with Kenworth and its vast customer base – from the 8.9-litre ISLe5 engine in the T3 range to the latest X15 in the big boys.
What’s more, until the arrival of the new T610, which replaces the ISXpowered T409 model, the 15-litre Cummins was sold alongside the MX-13 in the T4 range; a fact that perhaps enhances the case for the X12 to step into the shoes vacated by its bigger brother.
Besides, it’s not as if the X12 doesn’t have plenty to offer in a compact package which, at less than 900kg, is said by Cummins to have not only the best power-to-weight ratio in its class but, vitally, inherent technology that will allow it to meet Euro 6 emissions without any EGR input. By any measure, that is a critical factor.
Designed with a single in-head camshaft, the X12 also incorporates the XPI common-rail fuel system derived from its 15-litre sibling, generating injection pressures in excess of 30,000psi to further improve combustion efficiency and fuel economy while also helping lower noise output.
There’s no doubt Kenworth will carefully weigh all the pros and cons before any decision is made on the X12. There is, however, equally no doubt that, offered alongside the versatile Paccar MX-13 engine in the popular T4 range, the 12-litre Cummins has the potential to further strengthen Kenworth’s grip on the top rung of the heavy-duty ladder.
So far, requests for a stint behind the wheel of one of Cummins’ X12 test trucks have been unsuccessful. But then, maybe all good things actually do come to those who wait.
to call home … “Thenewly named X12 has no chassis at least, not yet”
Cummins X15 attached to Eaton’s UltraShift Plus automated transmission. X15 updates include new software tailored specifically to the automated shifter
Cummins X12. Still looking for a home but there’s no doubt the engine has Kenworth’s attention