If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
by Graham Montgomerie
/7 ( ) r-§ I i D (--, . ) i , ) , B i U i G j U
WITH the number of commercial vehicles that Ford manages to sell each year — recession or not — any comments made by the company's senior executives are well worth listening to.
This was certainly the case when CM visited Peter Nevitt, director — truck operations at Ford's research hq at Trafford House. An obvious starting point was heavier weights.
Peter was rather non-committal on future gross weights because of the concerted fight put up by the self-styled environmentalists. "I wouldn't like to predict what's going to happen on weights. Whatever, it's going to be close."
He was in no doubt what should happen, however. In his view, 38 tonnes on five axles should get governmental approval but it must be with the extra axle on the trailer. There have been suggestions that 38 tonnes should have a 6x4 tractive unit but, if that happens, then, in Peter's view, "There won't be any 38-tonners."
Certainly the cost, weight, complexity and coupling problems with existing trailers will cause many operators to look long and hard at the pros and cons of such a move.
There is now little chance for the EEC Eurotruck with its 11tonne axle as this would obviously mean a move away from our current limit. Because of the latest pavement and bridge information which has become available (see CM March 13) Peter Nevitt does not believe that it would be an environmental disaster to go 11 tonnes.
On the transmission side Peter Nevitt does not see any minor shift (no pun intended) away from current buying patterns — particularly not with automatics. Ford offers them on a number of vehicles from the Escort van upwards, but in volume terms there are not many takers.
He certainly did not see the fully automatic box as a million . seller, particularly at the heavy end of the market. "And that's not because General Motors makes the only available auto! It's just that I'm not sure that an automatic transmission in a truck makes it any better."
In this heavy end of the lorry market Peter Nevitt sees "a trend, not a stampede" towards constant mesh gearboxes with the Fuller Road Ranger units being singled out as particularly good boxes that are nice to drive and very easy to match to the rest of the drive line.
Although he said that this was certainly not the death knell of the synchromesh box, Peter did suggest that if he was a fleet operator he would encourage his drivers to go for constant mesh. Above the 16-ton category he reckons that the professionalism of the drivers means that they should have no trouble handling a constant mesh box.
Constantly variable transmission (CVT) is a concept which crops up with monotonous regularity in proposal form but which never seems to get much further, although the van Doorne Unit has got further than most. I asked Peter Nevitt for his views on the feasibility or otherwise of such a transmission.
He certainly does not see any development on the horizon (which demonstrates the durability required by a heavy lorry) and he stressed that CVT would need to be proved before Ford got interested. He did admit that Ford has done some work on CVT for the lower end of the market but this was to investigate the feasibility of installation, not the durability. "It was twinkle in the designer's eye' sort of engineering", he said.
The disc brake for a heavy lorry is another piece of automotive hardware that has been predicted for a long time but is not yet in production. Peter Nevitt predicts that there will be a trend towards the use of discs with semi-metallic linings from the lower gross weights upwards during the next five to ten years.
The progress is mainly due to the development work put in by the lining manufacturers, he suggested. With the early prototypes, pads and discs wore out at a tremendous rate. "The cost of ownership was just not on."
A move back to hydraulic actuation has been suggested for increased response time but Peter certainly does not agree with this. In his opinion, the valves in current systems are satisfactory on this score and he therefore sees no trend away from accepted practice.
Not surprisingly, Ford in Europe carries out a lot of re;earch into alternative materials, nainly with an eye to weight laving. One point which is surprising, however, is that Europe 3Iways ends up with different ]nswers to the American re;earch.
As far as plastics for, say, body 3anels are concerned, Peter said :hat "It depends how hungry the Plastics people are. For sure, we mow how to make bits of tin." -le was worried about the pricng structure of plastics and :omposites as, by being oil 3ased, they are vulnerable to price changes.
Ford is currently doing relearch work on carbon fibre in :onjunction with (unnamed!) materials manufacturers. On the ower weight D-Series and the Fransit, the trend has been toNerds the minimum numbers of eaf springs and, in such cases, it would be easy to switch to car
on fibre. -This is a derelopment which may come luite soon", said Peter. "The earing/dam per relationship is what we are working on."
An easy way to save weight, at east from the technical point of riew, is to incorporate alu minium, but as Peter Nevitt explained, "We're very much in the hands of the vendors so I don't see it happening over the next five years."
Ford does of course use aluminium in its US-built vehicles (the frames, for example) but the proportion of such chassis out of the Ford total is minute when cornpated with that of Peterbilt.
Peter does not see any massive reduction in kerb weight coming in the immediate future. As he put it, "It's always possible to save a kilo here, five kilos there. If the manufacturer is prepared to accept the complexity, 100 kg can be achieved easily."
It is worth remembering that wheelbases are weighty, and often an operator can get by with a shorter wheelbase than he at first thought was possible. This brings us on to a subject which causes the bigger manufacturers a lot of headaches namely, how Many model variants (or marketing entities in Ford terminology) does the factory have to produce to satisfy the requireme nts of each and every operator?
It is impossible to be all things to all men. Somewhere a line has to be drawn.
Whereas the marketing department will say that it must have a model in that particular slot or 50 units a year will be lost, the production department wants to keep the variations and options to a minimum.
An extensive trimming exercise was carried out when the Dseries was replaced by the Cargo but as Peter explained "It didn't go far enough. We will be continually nibbling away at it."
Ford operates two "Option systems" as do many other manufacturers with the regular production option (RPO) and the special vehicle option (SVO). The former is a line build job with enough production volume to warrant it, while the SVO has a penalty on system and price. The SVO can be looked at in two ways: one, should Ford have it at all?; and two, as there were 200 of that variant produced last year, does this justify a move to becoming an RPO?
After a particular range has been in full production for a couple of years, there are the sales figures available to confirm or disprove the original estimates. As Peter explained, Ford does such an analysis every year with the result that a lot of SVOs get dropped while others become RPOs.
On the topic of electronic "vehicle management" Peter was very enthusiastic as to the possibilities, and thought that it would start at the volume end of the market where the Transit is almost considered as a sixth car line with its unitary construction and many engines in common.
He predicted that the first stage would be precise ignition and combustion control in what would not necessarily have to be an injection engine.
"We have to jump the first hurdle and get a stabilised power source. This sttabilised
voltage base is the entry ticket for the electronic system. All the hang-on bits will then come cheap.
The fuel-injected Granada is a good example of this. It has electronic fuel-injection with all the other electronic gadgetry being based around this system.
In the wake of the battle for higher weights and the environ mental concern over the heavy lorry, Peter had some interesting comments to make on the subject of spray reduction from multi-wheeled vehicles. He has been very active with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Department of Transport to see what can be done about reducing the spray.
What he would like to see is some form of recommended de sign standard for mudguards which can be based on a geometric standard and not on a quantitive measure of spray.
"What doesn't help is the 'them not us' attitude where the tyre companies blame the road builders who blame the lorry manufacturers and so on. It's always someone else's problem,"