Technical Tips #17
By Bob Lowe BOA #696
BOA International Rally at Amishville, (Berne) Indiana (continued)
This is the second article on events at the Rally.
Bounder Diesel: One of the most popular tours at this Rally was right at the campground, where you were able to inspect a pre-production prototype Bounder Diesel, together with a Freightliner Diesel Chassis with the Cummins 275 HP engine and Allison six speed transmission. This 39 foot coach was upscale in appearance with an appealing updated interior trim, many fluorescent lights, a sofa/dinette slide-out, large kitchen area, Corian counter top and sink, dishwasher, washer/dryer, an Onan 7,000 watt, front mounted, Quiet Diesel Generator and 2,500 Watt inverter. The bathroom is roomy, showing evidence of a re-thinking of the interior layout inside a wide body coach. The re-location of the stack of linen closet drawers into the bathroom, not only increased the bathroom area, it moved the contents back into the area where they are used. My wife liked the mid coach location of the wardrobe closet making it easier to quickly grab a jacket if the weather is cooler outside than you think. She felt the Corian counter and dishwasher were unnecessary, especially if price is a primary consideration in the purchase decision.
The front cap is new and rounded in style and the coach appears better balanced since the front wheels are behind the driver. The Chassis has auto leveling air suspension, and air brakes with ABS. The display unit had a driver side, rear bedroom, entry door in addition to the mid-entry, passenger side, main door. The second door will not make it into production, which will allow one or two more storage bins to be installed. The display unit matched the electronically controlled engine to an Allison six-speed transmission, however the production transmission will likely be a four-speed. Those that were interested in knowing how this power-train performed were invited to test drive a Discovery Diesel with the same engine and a four-speed transmission. A number of us took the challenge.
The four-speed is not an electronic transmission, and the final fourth gear is direct 1:1 with a torque converter lock-up. It is reported that two identical Discovery coaches were produced differing only in the transmission. During a 370 mile roadtest in California, the four-speed delivered seven tenths (7/10) of an American mile per gallon more than the six-speed and was less than one second slower in the 0-60 mile per hour times. This performance was confirmed in actual roadtest drives. The engine had lots of power cruising effortlessly at 1600 RPM at 55mph and 1900 RPM at 65mph. It was somewhat sluggish off the line, typical of turbo-charged engines. The coach has a short turning radius making it very maneuverable. The brakes felt very strong and capable and the Jacobs Exhaust Retarder ("Jake Brake") is standard. Gearing down to third and applying the Jake Brake rapidly slowed the rig. The Jake brake activating switch is a long reach from the steering wheel, requiring awkward stretch at a time when you want both hands on the wheel. It is either On or Off (no momentary action) and the test rig did not activate the brake lights when the Jake Brake was applied. With some input from users, it is hoped that the switch will be moved beside the driver, have a momentary and lock on position and will activate the brake lights. Tall drivers found the speedometer and tachometer blocked by the steering wheel rim and the six way power seat did not go back far enough even though there was two inches of space between the seat back and the slideout end panel. Hopefully these deficiencies will be corrected in the production Bounder (and Discovery). As a Ford Chassis owner I missed the thick padded steering wheel center with fingertip cruise controls, the signal mounted wiper control and I found the thin turn signal/cruise control stalk not only a long distance from the steering wheel, but cheap in feel. The wiper/washer control is dash mounted, which goes against recent automotive design philosophy. I think Freightliner needs to revisit the control arrangement, especially in light of the fact that many motorhome owners are not full-timers and drive cars that have progressed to have lights, wipers, cruise control and signal levers conveniently at hand. Fleetwood should be encouraged to push for these changes as soon as possible.
Overall, the Bounder with a four-speed transmission should be satisfactory for most drivers, especially if competitors adopt this drive train and stick with it, even when the shortage of six-speed transmissions corrects itself. The concern expressed by those at the Rally was "Will Fleetwood continue to support the four speed when the six speed becomes available?" Dealers will face pressure to stock six-speed units because they can always move up a four-speed buyer to the six-speed, but will be forced to do more demonstrating of the four-speed to sell it. Fleetwood's biggest sales effort may have to be focussed on the dealer and their sales staff. Information such as provided by Allison representatives indicating that the six- speed often only utilized five of its gears and is programmed to go into fourth gear under any reasonable load, might be information that should be publicized because the four-speed transmission moves the coach along quite well. My only reservation was that all of our road test was along level roads. Anecdotal hill climb experience was supplied by Fleetwood representatives, who said that the six-speed tended to shift more often and hunt for the appropriate gear, whereas the four-speed geared down and let the engine do its work. My recommendation would be to allow those buyers who must have the six-speed to be able to special order it. Perhaps Fleetwood should make the four-speed standard on the Discovery and the Bounder thus freeing up some of the six-speeds for those special orders.