On the Prowl

Jack Roberts | April 01, 2012


Cat truck proves it’s ready for all hauling terrains


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Usually you go to the truck. But sometimes, the truck comes to you. And that’s what happened when Truckers News reached out to Caterpillar and told the manufacturer we wanted to drive one of its new heavy-duty, on-highway trucks. As it happens, the Truckers News editorial offices are in the same town — Tuscaloosa, Ala. — as RACON Construction, the company that is already receiving the very first production trucks off the assembly line. As a result, the local Cat dealer in our area, Thompson Tractor, helped Caterpillar with validation testing on the new models and is set up to service the trucks.

Unless you’ve been orbiting the moon for the past five years or so, you’re probably aware that Cat has come back strong into the on-highway truck market. For decades, its presence on North American highways was under the hood — as yellow Cat engines powered, and continue to power — many of the big rigs thundering down the roadways today. More to the point, Cat yellow iron customers use trucks, and they use them a lot. And — thanks in large part to the Peoria, Ill., company’s legendary dealer support — they’re also fanatically loyal to the brand. As Cat executives studied their customers’ needs and the markets they manufacture equipment for, the need to offer an on-highway truck became more and more apparent.

Flash back to this time last year in Las Vegas, when and where Cat gave the world the first sneak-peek at its new truck. It is well-documented that Cat takes what it calls a “donor truck” from Navistar as the basis for its CT Series. But Cat officials at the time stressed that from the frame rails up, their truck was essentially all new. Under the hood, the engine block once again gleams with that old, familiar Caterpillar yellow paint. The engines, too — the Cat CT13 and CT15 — are International MaxxForce diesels. But it’s worth noting that there’s an awful lot of Cat DNA present in that engine block. International and Cat have collaborated on engine designs for years. And the fuel system on the MaxxForce series of engines is a Caterpillar design.

In a time when it seems news stories are all too often about companies leaving the truck market, it’s exciting to see a major player like Cat inject some new energy into the big rig universe. Cat didn’t get where it is in the world today by cutting corners. Clearly the company knew an intense spotlight would be focused on it when it decided to enter the on-highway truck market. The resulting vehicle would have to be exceptional to withstand all the scrutiny. How would the new Cat truck perform in the real world? I found-out during one of the first extended test drives.

Down to the swamp

For once, I get to drive a route I know like the back of my hand. Usually, I’m in the middle of Washington, Texas or Arizona, with no real idea of where I am and where I’m going to end up. But I’ve run the roads for this drive all my life.

With me for the day in my Pearl White Cat CT660 is Adam Ackermann, a Midwesterner who serves as the liaison between the Cat executives up in Peoria and Thompson Tractor down here in Dixie. Like many in this industry, Ackermann grew up in Illinois wanting to work with big trucks. When Cat offered him the chance to get in on the highway truck program’s ground floor, he jumped.

Adam brought me a dual-axle straight truck to drive today. It’s not the usual type of rig you see in the pages of Truckers News, but Cat trucks of any type are hard to get these days. Cat also is currently producing a regional-haul tractor with a daycab. Right now, the company is concentrating on getting construction-specific models into the marketplace, for obvious reasons, and remains coy on any plans for long-haul, sleeper-cab models. (It’s worth noting that Cat already has such a model for sale and running through the Australian Outback.)

It’s raining hard this January morning. But at least it’s not too cold. The route I’ve picked will give us a good mix of road conditions to take the truck through. We’ve got a full load of pea gravel in the dump body, and our trip will give us a solid mix of interstate and two-lane roads. We’ll cross the fall line on Interstate 20/59 running southwest toward Mississippi, through the flat swamps in Greene County, Ala. before turning off in the dying cotton town of Boligee for a long run on the back roads leading to the hill country around Greensboro, Ala. (famously called “Greenbo” in “Forest Gump”), and finally back to Tuscaloosa.

Walking around the truck before our drive, I’m once again struck by how progressive the vehicle styling is and how attractive a vehicle it is. Cat wanted to be sure they integrated the overall “look” of the CT Series trucks into that of the equipment lines — as much as that was possible. To that end, the CT660 borrows many styling cues from Cat’s wheel-loader line and the overall effect is outstanding. It’s a tough yet modern-looking truck, combining a highly aerodynamic hood and front fenders with distinct styling cues that make it instantly stand out in a crowd. This is exactly the blending of old and new design elements that appeal to contractors and truckers the world over.

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