‘Command Steer’ adds power to power steering

September 23, 2022

Tom Berg

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Trucking can be a tough profession, and sometimes just steering a truck through strong crosswinds and on sloped, crowned roads or over rough terrain is tiresome. Mack has smooth, quiet trucks to improve drivers’ lives, and a product that even eases that wheel-working chore: Command Steer, an intelligent electric-boosted variant of Mack’s normal hydraulic power steering.

Mack Anthem with Command Steer
Command Steer’s advantage was obvious in the Granite dumper as it twisted its way through a rough off-road course in a quarry pit. It was less impressive in this Anthem tractor, which ran over a much smoother course. The feature would’ve been convincing in strong crosswinds on a high-speed highway, though. (Photo: Mack Trucks and Tom Berg)

Though it’s not a new product, but Mack is placing new emphasis on the option, introduced several years ago on vocational and highway models. It reduces effort and fatigue, and it can boost productivity and safety simply because drivers become less tired, executives said during a demonstration this week in a rock quarry outside of Easton, in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley near the builder’s ancestral home of Allentown.

Helpful in windy situations, crowned roads

Trade press reporters drove two Mack Anthem highway tractors and a pair of Granite dump trucks – one of each type with Command Steer and one without – to experience the difference the device makes. The electric assist made the chore of piloting the dumpers over a severely scalloped surface in the quarry’s pit noticeably easier but not so much with the bobtailing tractors on a gentler gravelly course. Product planners said the electric assist in the tractors would be far more valuable in prevailing winds, such as in many western states, and on crowned pavement that slopes to aid water drainage, which are found in many areas. Those conditions, of course, were not present in the quarry’s pit.

The Command Steer advantage in the Granite dumpers, though, was obvious and impressive. Driving the standard and electric-boosted dumpers through the extremely bumpy path revealed the considerable amount of muscle added by the device – up to 10.7 foot-pounds, according to Tim Wrinkle, Mack’s senior manager for vocational trucks, who rode along as the instructor The closely spaced perpendicular ruts shook the cab and twisted the frame, and the standard steering sometimes wrested the wheel from my grasp.

But with Command Steer, the steering wheel remained steady and all but unaffected by the mechanical violence beneath us. Sensors in the steering column and elsewhere were reading what was happening and instructing the electric motor on the gearbox to make constant corrections, he explained. These translated to the smoothness in the wheel at my hands. Actually, much of the time I took my hands off the rim and watched as the truck steadily continued straight ahead.

Mack Trucks' Command Steer moto under the hood.
An electric motor, in the silver-colored casing atop the steering gearbox, adds up to 10.7 foot-pounds of effort as ordered by sensors and electronic controls. Granite’s steering wheel, aided by the Command Steer device, remains almost unaffected by the rough track, making one-handled or even no-hands steering possible for a driver (below). (Photos: Tom Berg and Mack Trucks)

One-hand steering with Command steer

“Return to neutral” is among Command Steer’s features, and came into play during turning numerous turns with the dumper and the tractor. This helps drivers who are maneuvering around a job site or on a terminal lot. The driver doesn’t have to use the usual hand-over-hand method of turning the wheel to change directions while backing a trailer or pulling it through tight spaces, said Stu Roselli, director for Mack’s on-highway segment. Just let go of the wheel and it quickly returns to the straight-ahead position, though not so fast as to batter one’s hands or wrists. That’s why the dump truck moved straight ahead without manual input from me. It also greatly reduced exertion of my arms and shoulders and speeded the process of steering a Granite through a slalom course marked by orange cones.

Also in Volvo trucks

Volvo, Mack’s sister company, calls the electric-assist product Dynamic Steering, and offers it on its VHD vocational and VN highway models. It was developed over several years by Swedish engineers at Volvo Group, the parent of both U.S. builders. The builders also share automated manual transmissions called I-Shift by Volvo and mDrive by Mack.

All four trucks in this Mack demonstration had mDrive: standard 12-speeds in the Anthem tractors and optional 14-speed HD versions in the Granites; the extra two gears are low-low ratios in a short gearbox bolted to the main transmission’s main box (a 13-speed HD with one “crawler” gear is also available). All trannies shifted smartly and smoothly, greatly reducing driving effort and nicely complementing the added luxury of Command Steer.

Haines & Kibblehouse

The demonstration was hosted by Haines & Kibblehouse, a major contractor and owner of the sprawling Easton Quarry, plus 20 others in eastern Pennsylvania. H&K is also a big Mack customer, having bought its first two – U-model tractors to pull lowboy trailers – in 1969, according to John B. Haines IV, a company founder and current co-chairman.

Its fleet now includes scores of Mack trucks and tractors, from old R-models to late-model Granites.  A son, James Haines, is H&K’s president, and like other members of the owning family, he started out literally in the trenches, as a laborer. Four members from a third generation are now doing the same. John Haines has a huge collection of restored trucks and construction machinery in a place called the Haines Estate, in Montgomery County, illustrating his love for his life’s work. LL

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Tom Berg worked his way through college by driving trucks. Since 1978, he’s been writing about trucks and trucking. He holds a Class A commercial driver’s license and drives trucks as part of story research. While semi-retired, Berg still writes about semis as a contributing editor at Land Line.