Those who work and drive trucks in the construction segment know the stresses of the job. Not only do truck drivers have to focus on operating a truck hauling valuable equipment on a tight schedule, they also have to be aware of their surroundings at all times when maneuvering through construction sites, as people and parts are constantly on the move.
The engineers and designers at Mack Trucks understand. That’s why they’ve equipped their Mack Granite—a construction industry powerhouse—with Command Steer. I drove a Command Steer-equipped Mack Granite on a quarry site, and I’m here to report back on whether the feature lives up to the hype.
Before we get into the industry innovation that is Mack Command Steer, let me offer a short refresher on the Granite.
Mack offers two engines with the truck, the MP7 and MP8. The 11-L MP7 engine offers 325 to 425 hp and 1,200 to 1,560 lb-ft of torque. The MP8, a 13-L engine, pumps out 415 to 505 hp and 1,460 to 1,860 lb-ft of torque.
The Granite’s MP engines pair well with Mack’s mDrive HD transmission. Tuned to work optimally at 65-mph with the flexibility to pull heavy loads, the 13- or 14-speed mDrive HD is lighter than competitor transmissions, and it also offers multiple PTO locations, enhanced stability with heavy loads, and more. The mDrive HD also features a Grade Gripper that prevents the truck from rolling when stopped on a hill for up to three seconds after the driver removes their foot from the brake pedal.
Another mDrive HD feature, the Mack transmission allows drivers to raise engine torque and RPM before engaging drive. This feature helps drivers in freeing their trucks from mud. Mack also offers uptime support with the mDrive, such as GuardDog Connect and Mack Over the Air. Mack also offers the Allison RDS Series and Eaton Fuller manual transmissions.
Aside from its powertrain, the Mack Granite, already a recognizable truck in the construction industry, features some of the latest innovations in technology and engineering. Tim Wrinkle, Mack’s construction product manager, says the Granite features “application excellence” with its forward and back axles, visibility, and steel galvanized cab for protection and driver comfort. He says the truck exceeds SAE rollover standards and features safety technology from Bendix with the Bendix Fusion 2.0. Mack also offers body builder support and integration with a dedicated team that takes calls and helps upfitters put thousands of different bodies on trucks.
So what exactly is Mack Command Steer? According to Mack, Command Steer is a “variable steering assist” system that provides up to 11 Nm of torque assist—the equivalent of 10.67 lbs of assist. It uses an electric motor and computer with the Granite’s existing hydraulic steering. The system includes sensors that ingest input over 2,000 times per second, monitoring driver input, road conditions, and the environment. The system essentially reduces driver effort—by a whopping 85%—and assists in reducing overall driver fatigue by 30%.
The system offers drivers a less-fatigued steering experience, smooths rough roads, split-friction stability, and a quick return-to-zero that slings the wheel back into position when the driver lets go of the wheel. Aside from comfort features, Command Steer assists drivers in controlling their truck and load in windy situations, blowouts, and helps with driving and braking on uneven roads.
Mack invited myself and several other journalists to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, to try Command Steer for ourselves. We drove out to the middle of a large quarry in the area, H&K Group’s Easton Quarry and Asphalt facility. Don’t worry—although there was work taking place at the facility, we had an entire section of it to ourselves … and we wore hard hats!
Mack and H&K Group made the facility a great testing ground for the ride and drive. The grounds included a maneuvering course with traffic cones, an off-road section with alternating depressions in the ground, an opportunity to simulate backing into a loading or unloading station, and an area to perform a three-point turnaround.
I was one of the first at the event to drive a Mack Granite that was not equipped with Command Steer. We drove a Granite spec’d without Command Steer first in order to adequately compare trucks with and without the feature. I performed all the events without hitting cones or finding myself stuck in a rut; however, the steering, which was comparable to other heavy-duty trucks on the market—required continuous cranks and arm over arm, hand over hand movements. I didn’t think much about it at the time because this was what I was accustomed to feeling when driving a Class 6-8 truck. It took driving the Command Steer-equipped Granite to realize the big difference between driving with and without Command Steer.
I TRIED IT
I’m not exaggerating when I say I immediately noticed a difference in the Command Steer-equipped Granite and the one without. I even said it out loud to the Mack representative who was riding along with me in the passenger seat. With Command Steer, instead of cranking the wheel with my arms on top of each other, I was gently steering the truck through the cones and other obstacles as I would in my personal Honda Accord.
Maneuvering in and out of the cones and other obstacles on the course was done with ease instead of with the anticipation that my arms would be sore the next day. That 85% reduction in driver effort and 30% improved driver fatigue was no joke—and numbers don’t lie.
Now, to answer the questions: Does Command Steer improve the driving experience? Will drivers prefer driving Granite trucks with Command Steer versus other truck models? Will Command Steer help with driver retention?
From my experience, Command Steer truly does improve the driving experience. Anything that offers less effort on a job that’s already stressful is a win in my book. I’m not a professional truck driver, so I won’t try to answer if a driver would prefer driving a truck with Command Steer versus one without. But I will say, how couldn’t they? As manufacturers are moving toward more driver-centered features in their work trucks, I’d say this one definitely hits the mark. The industry is hurting for professional drivers, and anything that improves their experience behind the wheel, in my opinion, will aid in driver retention.