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Cabovers Gain Popularity in Medium-Duty Trucks

January 2014, by Staff

The cabover (left) is gaining popularity in medium-duty truck fleets; however, the conventional truck (right) is still seeing an advantage in terms of engine power options, driver comfort and acquisition costs.
The cabover (left) is gaining popularity in medium-duty truck fleets; however, the conventional truck (right) is still seeing an advantage in terms of engine power options, driver comfort and acquisition costs.

Although ubiquitous across the globe, the cabover engine (COE) truck — so named because the passenger cabin literally sits on top of the engine compartment — is a relative niche player in the U.S., where conventional cabs own the lion’s share of the Class 4 to 7 medium-duty truck market.

Yet the COE (also called cabover) has become increasingly popular in recent years for a growing number of fleet applications, including urban delivery, lawn maintenance, pest control and other jobs. In these applications, the cabover’s signature “flat nose” and wide windshield make it easier — and often safer — for drivers to maneuver in tight city and residential areas.

How do cabovers and conventional cabs compare? When choosing between the two types of trucks for specific applications, what should fleet managers consider?

Review these six comparison points:

1) Increased Maneuverability 

The primary reason for choosing a cabover is maneuverability, according to Mark Sugar, manager of truck engineering for PHH Arval, a U.S. and Canadian fleet management services provider.

“In highly-populated, urban geographic areas the cabover is the best option for navigating traffic-filled, narrow and challenging streets,” he said.

Ken Gillies, truck ordering and engineering leader for GE Capital Fleet Services, a global fleet management company based in Eden Prairie, Minn., agreed, but with a caveat.

“Where a customer is operating in tight streets, the cabover can be very beneficial,” Gillies said. “But many of the newer conventional cabs have very short front bumper to back of cab (BBC) lengths, although not as short as a cabover, and may offer the required maneuverability while still allowing a fleet the advantages of a conventional cab.”

Advantage: Cabover.

2) More Engine Power Options

One of the advantages of conventional cabs that Gillies referred to is a wider range of diesel engine power ratings to choose from, which enables the fleet manager to more precisely match the truck’s capabilities with the job.

As a frame of reference, Kenworth builds both cabovers (K270 and K370 models) and conventional cabs (T270 and T370 models) for its Class 6-7 lineup. The cabover models offer three horsepower and torque ranges — from 220 hp to 250 hp and up to 660 lb.-ft. of torque — whereas the conventional cabs substantially widen that range, to nearly a dozen options — from 200 hp to 325 hp, with up to 750 lb.-ft. of torque.

The truck’s application is a key factor here. If the truck is going to be used primarily for over-the-road, long-haul applications or needs to pull a heavy trailer, then the conventional cab, equipped with a higher horsepower and torque engine, would be the better fit.

Advantage: Conventional truck.

3) The Fuel Economy Edge

Which type of cab has the edge in terms of fuel economy?

“Cabover models tend to experience a fuel economy advantage, mostly due to their smaller displacement engines,” said Gillies.

This difference in engine displacement is mostly found in Class 4-5 trucks, where cabovers, such as the Isuzu N-Series and Mitsubishi Fuso Canter, are equipped with four-cylinder diesel engines, compared to conventional cabs, such as the Ford F-550, which is powered by larger V-8 or even V-10 engines.

In Class 6-7 trucks, the engine displacement gap is minimal, with both cabovers and conventional cabs being equipped with big bore I-6 diesel engines in most cases.

Which cab type is more fuel-efficient ultimately depends on truck class.

Advantage: Neither.

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