Improvements in mileage and reductions in emissions are among the innovations in motorhome chassis at the start of the new decade.
By Jim Brightly, F358406
Sounding more like a science fiction title than a year, 2010 is being looked upon as the beginning of economic recovery for the RV industry. Fuel prices have stabilized somewhat, new companies are opening doors, and established companies are beginning to rehire. So, what does this mean for RVers in general and motorhomers in particular?
The industry expects that more folks will begin to look for a change in their mobile mansions. Some may opt for larger coaches with multiple slideouts and abundant storage areas; others may downsize to smaller motorhomes to economize their lifestyle. Either way, well-informed RVers in the market for a new motorhome will want to know about the new offerings from several of the independent chassis manufacturers.
With Caterpillar no longer making highway engines “” the company is concentrating on construction, farming, and mining equipment manufacturing “” Cummins is by far the major player in RV diesel power plants. Mercedes-Benz, Detroit Diesel, and MaxxForce (International) are other diesel engine manufacturers in the Type A and coach conversion market. Power Stroke (Navistar), which provides diesel power for some of Ford’s Type C chassis, is joined by Sprinter, which has become a significant player in the Type B and Type C chassis markets in recent years. Ford and General Motors share the market for gasoline power plants.
At the 47th Annual National RV Trade Show in Louisville, Kentucky, in December, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) introduced its newest product for the RV market, the MC-L chassis. According to FCCC product literature, the MC-L was designed with a durable frame and updated driver station configuration. Motorhomes can sit lower to the ground with the MC-L’s low-profile frame rail, increasing aerodynamics and ride quality. Powered by a Cummins ISB 6.7-liter electronic diesel engine (up to 200 horsepower and 520 pound-feet of torque) with an Allison automatic six-speed transmission, the MC-L has a 50-degree wheel cut, which allows a high degree of maneuverability, assisting RV owners as they traverse through urban settings and tight spaces. Also, the quieter front-engine diesel allows for a more comfortable ride for passengers. The MC-L has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 18,000 pounds.
FCCC also introduced production models of the ecoFRED chassis, the RV industry’s first hybrid-electric Type A motorhome chassis. Debuting in December 2008 as a prototype, ecoFRED provides improved fuel economy while reducing engine emissions.
Equipped with the Eaton hybrid-electric system, ecoFRED is said to be unlike any other chassis available in the RV market today. Powered by the Cummins ISB 6.7-liter engine with up to 300 horsepower and an Eaton automated manual transmission, ecoFRED provides increased torque for better acceleration.
“We are pleased that ecoFRED is ready for production,” said Jonathan Randall, director of sales and marketing for FCCC. “[The] ecoFRED offers reduced exhaust emissions, leading toward a cleaner environment; requires less fuel to operate; and has an improved brake life, all of which contribute to better overall performance and a reduced operational cost for our customers.”
The ecoFRED chassis, so named because of its increased fuel economy and ecological/environmental benefits, is said to offer significantly less brake wear as a result of engine braking through the variable geometry turbocharger and regenerative braking, which in turn leads to lower replacement costs. Company officials also boast that the chassis has better acceleration and increased towing capacity, and operates similar to an automatic transmission.
The ecoFRED chassis has increased towing capacity with a GVWR of 27,000 pounds and a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 37,000 pounds. This enables travelers to carry more weight in the coach storage compartments and/or tow an additional or heavier vehicle.
FCCC engineers also designed ecoFRED with a 55-degree wheel cut to improve maneuverability in tight areas. Similar to the popular FRED (front engine diesel) chassis, ecoFRED does not have the engine hump or “dog house” typically found on gas chassis. The result is a flat floor and more room in the cockpit, contributing to driver comfort and easier entry and egress from the seats to the back of the motorhome.
Another improvement FCCC has made can be found in its rear-engine chassis (XC and Powerliner III) , which now include front air disc brakes as standard equipment, providing RV owners with enhanced safety and improved ride and handling. The Bendix ADB22X brake system used on these chassis is a lightweight air disc brake package that reduces total wheel-end weight. The ADB22X system is said to offer long brake life; to permit straight, stable stops; to significantly reduce stopping distances; and to nearly eliminate brake fade.
Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation; www.freightlinerchassis.com, (864) 487-1700.
The Next Generation Platform (NGP) “” a specialty chassis integrated with a custom cap or cockpit “” from Spartan Motors Chassis Inc. also debuted at the National RV Trade Show. Spartan has filed a patent for this first-of-its-kind high-line RV cap and chassis design, which is said to provide the quality and performance of a premium automotive platform with increased flexibility for fully customizable interiors and exteriors. Spartan officials said optional coach-ready platforms featuring a variety of original-equipment manufacturer options for chassis integration also are available.
The development of the NGP was based on research conducted by Spartan, which confirmed that the exterior of a vehicle excites the potential buyer and draws them inside the unit, but the features of the interior floor plan are what typically close the sale.
Inspired by Spartan’s popular Furion fire truck chassis design, the Spartan NGP features a powerful rear-engine diesel chassis and independent front suspension. Options include a smart wheel, a tilt/telescopic steering column, adjustable pedals, and six-way adjustable electric seats. Spartan officials also said the company expects to introduce a front-engine configuration of the NGP in the fourth quarter of 2010, adding an even greater level of customization.
By offering coach manufacturers the ability to choose from an extensive menu of available options for the front, middle, and rear sections, Spartan officials said they believe this will give RV manufacturers the freedom to design a vehicle to their exact specifications, yet still achieve faster model changeovers and increased speed to market for new designs and product features.
Spartan Motors Chassis Inc.; www.spartanchassis.com, (517) 543-6400.
A significant change at Workhorse can be found in the Workhorse W20D and W22D front-engine diesel chassis, both equipped with the MaxxForce 7 engine. Workhorse has taken a big leap in improving motorhome fuel economy along with what is said to be a quiet V-8 diesel engine. According to Workhorse officials, during independent tests at Bosch Proving Grounds in South Bend, Indiana, the W20D chassis achieved up to 13.2 mpg, an almost unheard-of figure for a Type A motorhome. The tests were conducted with a 32-foot Four Winds Serrano coach body loaded to the chassis’ maximum GVWR of 20,500 pounds.
The latest version of the MaxxForce 7 V-8 turbo diesel, tuned for motorhomes, generates 230 horsepower and 620 pound-feet of torque. “This high-volume, rugged, midrange diesel engine is the heart of many International medium-duty trucks. Now it is making its mark in the RV industry,” said Tony Monda, Workhorse RV vice president of marketing. “Coupled with the six-speed Allison transmission, our W20D and W22D front-engine diesel platforms do not sacrifice power and performance in order to achieve better fuel economy.”
Drivers also will notice that the MaxxForce 7 engine is quiet. The noise level was measured at 68.9 decibels in a low-idle test. A high-pressure common rail fuel system, piezo-actuated fuel injectors, and a block and head design with a single-piece nodular iron bedplate are among the features that contribute to reduced noise and vibrations. The series sequential turbocharger is said to enhance acceleration, grade climbing, towing capability, and high-altitude performance. The MaxxForce 7 also provides unaided cold-starting performance at minus-20 degrees Fahrenheit within 4 seconds.
Workhorse is the first Type A chassis manufacturer to offer both gas and diesel engine choices for the same Type A motorhome platforms in what Mr. Monda calls “the current sweet spot of the Type A motorhome market, 28- to 35-foot coaches.”
Workhorse continues to offer the 8.1-liter Vortec V-8 gas engine. Coupled with the Allison transmission, this big-block engine is said to maintain peak horsepower and torque at lower rpm to provide more power for climbing, passing, and merging situations, making larger gas motorhomes competitive with diesel-powered units.
Workhorse; www.workhorse.com, (877) 294-6773 or (248) 588-5300.
Well, there you have it, the chassis changes for 2010. Let’s hope that the pundits are right and this is a year of recovery and rebuild “” and a time to enjoy a new motorhome.