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Kenworth overhauls medium-duty truck lineup for first time in 30 years

Class 5-8 models seek new customers following year of record market share

Kenworth revealed its first all-new medium-duty trucks in 30 years , featuring taller and wider cabs adapted from their Class 8 siblings. (Photo: Kenworth)

PHOENIX — Kenworth Truck Co. revealed its first all-new medium-duty trucks in 30 years on Monday, featuring taller and wider cabs adapted from their Class 8 siblings. 

The PACCAR Inc. (NASDAQ: PCAR) brand captured 11.7% of the medium-duty market in 2020. That was a record despite an aging lineup.

Now, with fresh products coming in the third quarter from Class 5 to a small Class 8, Kenworth is targeting leasing and sales to individuals at the lower end of the range. It emphasis has been Class 7 and light Class 8 vocational models. Its current lineup will be sold until at least the end of 2021.

“We’re really going to focus more on growing those pickup and delivery applications,” Mike Kleespies, Kenworth director of medium duty sales, told FreightWaves. “I certainly think we’ve got a large growth potential. There’s more and more goods being delivered to home and small businesses. ”

Kenworth doesn’t have to peddle its trucks to leasing companies. With PacLease Truck Rental and Leasing, it’s all in the family.  

Product splurge

Kenworth and sister brand Peterbilt Motors are riding a wave of product introductions this year. In February, Kenworth showed a freshened T680. Peterbilt showed off changes to its flagship Model 579. Kenworth’s medium duties emerged from five years of work. They cost “a couple hundred million dollars,” General Manager Kevin Baney said.

They carry over several advancements from the brand’s bigger trucks. That includes a cab nearly two-thirds of a foot wider and a standard height of 63 inches. A raised roof cab adds 4 inches. The larger cab was adapted from the Kenworth’s Class 8 models. The extra width allows for a bench seat for three. It is standard on the Class 5 T180, Class 6 T280 and Class 7 T380. 

A customizable 7-inch high-definition digital display controllable from the steering wheel is based on a 15-inch version standard in the refreshed T680.

The new Kenworth medium-duty trucks have a standard 7-inch configurable dash surrounded by standard gauges. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

The conventional-body trucks feature larger windshields with 17% better visibility than current trucks. Steeply sloped hoods practically disappear when behind the wheel. 

On the Class 7 T380V and “baby” Class 8 T480V vocational models, shorter wheelbases allow a tighter turning radius. The maneuverability helps in city driving and tight work environments.

Something for everyone

Cargo and refrigerated vans. Beverage and tow trucks. Landscaping and utility. Dump trucks and concrete mixers. Kenworth talked to hundreds of drivers and customers while developing the trucks. 

The Kenworth medium-duty T280 built as a tanker truck is among four new Class 5 to small Class 8 trucks debuting later this year. (Photo: Kenworth)

“I was fortunate to be one of several customers to provide feedback to Kenworth engineers during the design and development stages for Kenworth’s newest medium-duty models,” said Jeff Twohig, fleet manager of Badger Liquor in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “I think Kenworth did an excellent job blending customer feedback with what they envisioned with their new trucks.”

More than 500 people participated in design studies, helping Kenworth define dimensions and ergonomics.

“From a series of sketches to digital data, to clay models, full-size projections and prototypes, we involved [customers] through every chapter,” said Mark Wagner, Kenworth medium-duty product planning manager. “With all this input, along with thoroughly dissecting competitive products, we developed a clear road map of what needed to be done.”

Commercial versus automotive grade

Kenworth trucks compete with “automotive grade” trucks from Ford, Chevrolet and Ram. The cost of “commercial grade” components makes Kenworth pricier, and maybe a little intimidating. 

“I see it sometimes in the construction industry,” Kleespies said, mentioning the Class 6 Ford F650 and Class 7 F750. “Drivers are more comfortable when they bring it home and park it in the driveway because it looks more like a pickup truck.”

Kenworth’s beefier construction is a big reason why its trucks did not need to be redesigned for three decades, he said.

New commercial competition in the medium-duty segment comes from Mack Trucks, which is selling its first Class 6 and Class 7 trucks in 20 years.

“It takes quite a while to get into the market segments that you’re going to play in,” Kleespies said. “They’ll be successful with customers that already have Macks and might have a different brand for medium duty. They’ll slowly look at how to break into other segments. The struggle for them in my opinion is how are they going to differentiate themselves from others.”

Powertrain choices

Kenworth’s new medium duties are available with the Cummins-based PACCAR-badged PX-7 engine rated up to 325 horsepower and the PACCAR PX-9 rated up to 380 horsepower. Kenworth also is offering for the first time in its medium-duty trucks the near-zero-emission Cummins Westport LN9 natural gas engine, which delivers up to 380 horsepower.

With interest rising in zero-emission electric trucks the success of the natural gas offering is questionable. Kenworth sells battery-electric versions of the current Class 6 K270E and Class 7 K370E cabover models. It recently decided to halt further work on a natural gas-electric hybrid T680 at year end after delivering two of them for customer evaluation.

Kenworth is launching the new PACCAR TX-8 automatic transmission across the medium-duty range. Mated with the PX-7 or PX-9 engine, the maximum torque rating is up to 1,000 lbs.-ft. of torque and a 57,000-pound gross combined weight rating (GCWR). 

The TX-8 accelerates 15% faster than comparable transmissions. By sensing road grade, acceleration, torque demand and engine load, the TX-8 can improve fuel economy by up to 5%, said Laura Bloch, Kenworth assistant general manager for sales and marketing.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.