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Kenworth's T600 - The Truck That Pioneered Aerodynamic Technology Celebrates 20th Anniversary

2005-08-25 17:14:10

DALLAS, Texas - This year marks the 20th anniversary of the aerodynamic Kenworth T600 which helped revolutionize the trucking industry. Kenworth is exhibiting a new, fuel efficient, 2006 model T600 with world-class quality, comfort and productivity this week at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

Kenworth's T600 has evolved and changed significantly over the past 20 years, undergoing numerous aerodynamic and creature comfort updates. Today's T600 has a 26% lower drag co-efficient as compared to the very first T600, making it a truck model with a fuel-economy performance that is still very much cutting-edge.

The "cutting edge" story of the Kenworth T600 began nearly 30 years ago. In 1976, PACCAR director of research and development Larry Orr, who passed away in 2001, and a small team created wood and wax models, testing different shapes and configurations, often at the University of Washington's wind tunnel in Seattle. Later, in the early 1980s, Orr's group built a prototype and ran tests at the PACCAR Technical Center. "It confirmed the whole idea of aerodynamics and fuel economy," he recalled in a 1997 interview.

While the Kenworth T600's sloped hood drew most of the attention, the truck was loaded with other innovations. A set-back front axle allowed for easier front axle loading. New 64-inch taper-leaf springs provided a much improved ride, and the turning radius was 23% less than on other conventional trucks. The new design reduced splash and spray by 50%, to the great benefit of other vehicles on the road.

But the truck's biggest selling point was economy. "The fuel economy numbers we got in wind tunnel testing were pretty significant," Orr said, "and we were confident those numbers would prove themselves-but we had to do some real-life testing to confirm our calculations."

The next step was testing a standard straight hood conventional tractor and computing its fuel use at the PACCAR Technical Center test track. Then the hood was removed and the truck was reconfigured like the Kenworth T600, while leaving the power train and other components as is. The T600 turned out to be 22% more fuel efficient than the straight hood conventional.

The new truck was officially introduced at Kenworth's 1985 dealer meeting. Reaction was positive. "The aerodynamic advantages were so obvious that anyone who didn't jump on that bandwagon would be out of the band," recalled one dealer.

"There's no doubt the T600 revolutionized the industry," said another dealer.

The truck's fuel economy numbers were too substantial to ignore: the first users of the Kenworth T600 saw a significant reduction in fuel bills, which accounted for 20 to 25% of operating costs. By year's end, T600 sales represented more than 40% of Kenworth's new business.

Kenworth's first fleet customer was Glenn Brown, now chairman and CEO of Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI) in Joplin, Mo. CFI had nearly 500 leased operators working for the company, but wanted to bring on its own trucks. Brown, a CDL driver himself, looked closely at the T600. "I recognized that it was innovative and different. We were looking for ways to improve our efficiencies and decided to order 100 of the trucks. We were hoping the new design of the T600 was something we could use to get a head start on the rest of the industry. It was definitely a gamble to be the first in the market to put the truck on the road, but it proved out." CFI's fleet average for fuel efficiency increased by about 1.5 miles per gallon.

Today, CFI has more than 1,600 Kenworth T600s in its fleet. What's more, the company is so fond of the T600 that it still has the very first T600 it purchased back in 1985.

While the principal testament to the T600's success has been the number of orders for the truck since its introduction in 1985 - more than 108,000 have been sold - Kenworth also received the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Award for the Advancement of Motor Vehicle Research and Development, in recognition of the Kenworth T600's advancements in safety, energy savings and reduced environmental impact.

Awards aside, the aerodynamic, fuel-efficient Kenworth T600 continues to make history today. It recently became the 250,000th truck produced by Kenworth's plant in Chillicothe, Ohio, and was one of the initial Kenworth 2006 Class 8 model trucks featuring a brand new cab interior with world-class quality, comfort and productivity. The 2006 model T600 was presented to Kenworth customer Halvor Lines Inc. of Superior, Wis., during a special ceremony at the plant.

And that original, now legendary, Kenworth T600? It now has a special home in the Pacific Northwest Truck Museum in Brooks, Ore. After all, it's a part of trucking history.