By Shannon Pieper
See Rosenbauer in Product Connect
Published Monday, February 27, 2012
At a time when fire apparatus sales are floundering, Rosenbauer America is trying to shake up the market with the introduction of a new chassis, the Commander. Rosenbauer broke the news at an event at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, on Feb. 22.
The first thing to note was that this was not an event scripted for the media. Rosenbauer has made a considerable investment bringing this new chassis to market, and it knows that you don’t just introduce a new chassis, sit back and wait for the sales to come in. As with any major new apparatus design, the Commander will require adjustments and enhancements over the next several months, and this event was as much about getting end-user feedback as it was about breaking the product to the market. More than 300 firefighters were in attendance, and Rosenbauer representatives stressed repeatedly that they wanted to hear what they had to say about the Commander—good and bad.
“We’re trying to learn from all of you who use the trucks today,” said Rich Schalter, president of Rosenbauer Motors.
Schalter explained that the Commander is the product of two years of R&D, market research with small and large departments, and testing. The end product is an “extreme-duty truck,” available in multiple cab configurations, with up to 600-hp engines.
Perhaps most significant: Rosenbauer will be assembling the cab and chassis in-house (although, as with most in-house manufacturers, the cab sehll will be constructed elsewhere to Rosenbauer’s specs). To accomplish this, Rosenbauer has leased a 34,000-square-foot facility near its Wyoming, Minn., plant where all of the assembly will be done. “We’ve made the right kind of investment” to ensure the quality of the product, Schalter said.
Why build their own? “Although many people don’t realize it, Rosenbauer has been building ARFF chassis for many years,” said Harold Boer, president of Rosenbauer America. “We have a strong background in chassis production.” Nevertheless, the Commander represents a new foray into custom apparatus chassis for the company.
Mainly, this move appears to have been made because Rosenbauer believes it can deliver better quality by controlling all stages of production. “It’s an integrated unit, it’s all one truck” Schalter said. “The parts fit together better when you have your own chassis.”
To create the Commander, Rosenbauer shifted the engine down approximately 4 inches from industry norms and to about 8–10 inches from the radiator. This allows the company to use the same cooling package for all engines, while also providing access to the radiator without tilting the cab, which improves serviceability. The engine placement also allows more cool air to circulate around the engine.
A quick list of other features:
- Fully extruded 3/16" aluminum cab
- Wide grill
- Full range of Cummins engines
- Cab tilt to 45 degrees
- 46-degree steering cramp angle
- Fully EPA 2010-compliant
- Hendrickson front suspension
- Fully customizable Havis console
- Increased air flow to chest and feet of driver and officer
- Increased foot room for officer and hip room for driver
- Crew cab completely flat floor
- Wider doors and steps
- One-piece windshield that increases visibility
- High-performance HVAC—67,000 BTU of cooling
- V-MUX electrical option
Ride & Drive
Schalter introduced the Commander by listing the objectives Rosenbauer had when building it:
- Innovative operation
- Best-in-class HVAC
- Increased room for rider and driver
- Easy to service
- Cost effectiveness
- Modular console
- Many different apparatus options available
“We did what we intended to do,” he said.
Along with the others in attendance, I had an opportunity to ride in a Commander demo unit. Although I’m about as far from an apparatus expert as one can get, the ride-and-drive event did provide a bit of illumination into several of Rosenbauer’s objectives.
Safety: The Commander is in full compliance with FMVSS braking standards, and has fully passed NFPA 1901 integrity tests. Optional safety features include Roll-Tek side air bags and front air bags. The one-piece windshield offers a wide, unobstructed view of the fireground. Another feature mentioned: wider steps and doors. The doors indeed seemed wide, but the steps still seemed narrow for boots. Getting in and out of the officer and driver’s side, especially with PPE and holding tools, will likely still be cumbersome.
Comfort: Ultimately, a chassis is generally judged by how it drives—which can be a factor of the suspension as much as the materials that go into building the frame. Factors such as stopping distance, how smooth the ride is, how the vehicle corners, etc., all come into play. By those standards, the Commander seemed to stack up nicely in the initial drive. It was surprisingly quiet—you could easily talk to others in the cab while the vehicle was in motion—and there isn’t a lot of tilt and roll. Or as one of the firefighters in the truck I rode noted, “You don’t have to grab onto the handles when you’re cornering.”
Best-in-class HVAC: Rosenbauer is putting a lot of emphasis on the Commander’s HVAC system. The air conditioning in the truck I rode in blew cool and strong, for sure. Although it was an unusually warm February day for Fort Worth, however, it was still a far cry from the 105-degree days firefighters in this area will face come summer. Hotter conditions will determine whether the Commander’s HVAC is truly best-in-class. If it is, it will be a welcome addition to the market.
Increased room for rider and driver: One of the firefighters I shared a ride with in the heavy-rescue with a 60" cab remarked that it was “impressive sitting in the cab, there’s lots of room.” The increased driver and officer room was less noticeable, but often those changes are most perceptible to the user who’s riding in the truck every day.
Durability: The true test of durability is of course time, but again, Rosenbauer seems to have taken the right steps with the Commander. The 3/16" sheet metal and one-piece A pillar increases strength and durability, minimizing the chances of cracks in the chassis. 50,000-psi steel cross members, a belly band support below engine, a straight taper top frame flange, and one-piece drop frame add frame rigidity. “If you want to have a good chassis, you need a good foundation—strong frame, strong cross members,” Schalter said, and it appears Rosenbauer has put considerable attention to durability. The chassis has passed all third-party durability and destructive testing, as well as all NFPA tests and Cummins cooling tests, racking up thousands of miles on the track.
Easy to service: The tilt cab allows easy access to the fan and other elements, access to the electrical system is provided from the officer’s side dash, and the suspension was created with off-the-shelf parts that have “been proven true in the industry—this gives us confidence in the product,” Schalter says. The one-piece windshield is also commercially available.
Cost-effectiveness: Boer explained that when design of the Commander first started, the target was the middle to high end of the market in terms of cost. Given the way the industry has trended in the past couple of years, the company is at work developing a low-cost option. In the meantime, the Commander shows considerable promise for cost-effectiveness in terms of maintenance, as highlighted above.
The ride-and-drive event was the first step in the introduction of the Commander to the market, but Rosenbauer reports that there’s already a backlog in production. There are three demo units completed, 25 trucks have been sold, and the company recently received a 350-unit international order for export; those units will begin shipping in third quarter this year. Rosenbauer will be showcasing the Commander at FDIC in April.
The apparatus market continues to struggle, but Rosenbauer’s international reach has perhaps steadied it more than some of the domestic manufacturers. Boer reports that the family-owned company has always had a focus on long-term development of new products, rather than on quarterly results. This has provided the company the ability to invest properly in new offerings. The Commander is the latest in that line-up, and it provides a fresh alternative to chassis currently on the market.
It will definitely be commanding attention in the coming months!
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