This diesel-powered foundation, which will be unveiled at FMCA's 80th International Convention in mid-July, ushers in improvements that streamline the manufacturing process and enhance the RV lifestyle.
By Lazelle Jones
After surveying the emerging needs and changing tastes of the motorhome enthusiast, Fleetwood RV has changed the chassis used as the platform for its Bounder Diesel, Expedition, Discovery, Excursion, and Providence diesel pushers. Culminating three years of design, development, and prototype testing, Fleetwood RV plans to debut its Power Bridge Chassis at FMCA's 80th International Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, July 14-17, 2008. Featured on the five aforementioned diesel motorhome models for the 2009 model year, the Power Bridge is said to accomplish three objectives that Fleetwood’s motorhome division set out to achieve.
First, the new Power Bridge Chassis yields approximately 25 percent more overall storage capacity, and, in particular, 80 percent more pass-through storage than previous chassis. The pass-through compartments can be augmented with optional slide-out trays, which can include a two-thirds/one-third tray, where the larger tray is accessed curbside and the smaller tray is accessed streetside. Full slide-out trays are also available in these compartments.
For the 2009 model year, the number of coach-wide exterior basement storage bays can total up to three, depending upon the motorhome model. Single non-pass-through storage compartments that take advantage of smaller but available areas lace both sides of the coach.
In addition to larger basement storage and enhanced pass-through storage, a second objective has been to increase the interior height of the pass-through storage bay openings, from 10 inches to 21 3/4 inches. This height makes it possible for the basement compartments to house larger objects such as kayaks.
Fleetwood has achieved yet a third objective with the Power Bridge Chassis. Its design permits the state-of-the-art suspension system to be dedicated to modulating and reducing the forces that originate from traveling on irregular road surfaces. The suspension system, coupled with the Power Bridge Chassis, is designed to make handling more enjoyable for the coach enthusiast, whether driving across great distances, through urban settings, or along country roads.
Recently I had the opportunity to test this out by driving a 2009 Providence based on the new Power Bridge Chassis. Although admittedly a short test outing (approximately 50 miles over back roads and interstate byways), I enjoyed the manner in which the coach drove and handled. The Cummins engine was responsive and got up to speed quickly when entering a freeway on-ramp. The exhaust brake responded nicely when slowing the coach. I found the ride quiet, with few squeaks or rattles and no wind leakage around the windows. The coach stayed true (it did not deviate from a straight-ahead direction) when cruising at 70 mph on the interstate.
Power Bridge uses a bridge type of construction that distributes loads and stresses equally throughout the chassis. It shares this design characteristic with Fleetwood's Liberty chassis, which has been the platform for the company's American Coach luxury motorhome line and the Fleetwood Revolution LE since 2004. The Power Bridge comes with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 31,000 pounds, a few thousand pounds less than the Liberty chassis, and a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 41,000 pounds. According to Fleetwood officials, using this approach to chassis building allows the company to offer a wider variety of floor plans to coach enthusiasts.
To understand the scope of this chassis’ design, it’s important to learn how the Power Bridge is engineered and built. The process begins with two actions occurring in parallel. First, Fleetwood receives the front and rear assemblies from a Freightliner XCM chassis. These assemblies include the axles and all of the suspension components (a total of four air springs and shocks that are tuned specifically for the model to be built), as well as wheels, tires, brakes, the steering mechanism, and the Cummins diesel engine and six-speed Allison 3000MH transmission that come with the rear assembly package. The Freightliner XCM features a front straight axle that has a wheel cut (turn) of 55 degrees.
The same outside fabricator Fleetwood has worked with for years in the creation and building of its Liberty chassis also constructs the bridge components for the Power Bridge. The structural components span the distance between the Freightliner front and rear axle assemblies. The only variation is the length of the bridge members, a difference that permits the building of different diesel pusher coaches and models within those coach lines. Fleetwood takes these three subassemblies and combines them to create the Power Bridge chassis.
An advantage of the Power Bridge manufacturing process is that production line technicians now are able to build each chassis exactly the same, regardless of whether it is for a Diesel Bounder, Expedition, Discovery, Excursion, or Providence. The techniques employed to construct thousands of diesel chassis each year are totally standardized, as there are no chassis differences between product lines. What makes each model line unique is the size of the Cummins turbocharged diesel engine that is used; the house portion; and the length of the model that is integrated with the Power Bridge chassis. (The wheelbase ranges from 208 inches to 276 inches, depending on model.)
Ultimately, the commonality between all chassis allows the Fleetwood team to focus on making enhancements to functionality, utility, livability, and comfort for the end user regardless of whether they are parked in a luxury RV campground, enjoying stand-alone camping, or executing a long travel day between destinations.
One more benefit associated with the Power Bridge chassis is realized during chassis construction and when maintenance is needed on certain systems over the life of the motorhome. The large single raceway (conduit) that runs through the middle of the coach, between the bridge rails, has become a central location for all plumbing, electrical lines, and heat ducting. Centralizing these systems should prove especially handy when maintenance and service are required.
Another opportunity Fleetwood has taken full advantage of during the design of the Power Bridge chassis concerns the size and location of the holding tanks. The 75-gallon gray water tank and 105-gallon fresh water tank are 15 gallons and 20 gallons larger, respectively, than on the previous chassis. In addition, the 50-gallon black water tank has been reshaped to improve access and facilitate dumping. The RVer who enjoys stand-alone camping might be especially interested in this news. But equally important from a production standpoint, each fresh water, gray water, and black water tank is now the same size on every chassis constructed and is located in the same place regardless of the coach model or floor plan. The same goes for the 100-gallon fuel tank and the LP-gas tank. Fleetwood officials note that such standardization has improved overall operational efficiencies, such as when replacement parts are ordered by a dealer.
With the added amount of pass-through storage and the options offered with regard to the slide-out trays, Fleetwood made a design change to all of the exterior bay doors. These doors are now vertically hinged along the side and swing open. Even the non-pass-through storage compartment doors are configured in this manner. Stainless-steel hinges have been incorporated as the hinge of choice on all of the exterior bay doors, taking into consideration the mechanical forces and environmental effects placed on these outside areas.
My visit to Fleetwood's corporate offices in Riverside, California, included a detailed explanation of the Power Bridge chassis’ benefits as chronicled above, and an opportunity for me to see the first production coach built on the Power Bridge chassis, the 2009 Providence 40T (see sidebar). One thing I immediately noticed on the Providence is the enormous streetside full-wall slideout. When this slideout was extended along with the two curbside slides, the interior living area became one of the largest I have ever seen in a motorhome.
Fleetwood's introduction of the Power Bridge chassis is heralded as an improvement in production, innovation, and, ultimately, livability. RV enthusiasts in the market for a 2009 Bounder Diesel, Expedition, Discovery, Excursion, or Providence motorhome will no doubt benefit from the improvements built into this new platform.
Fleetwood RV, P.O. Box 1007, Decatur, IN 46733; (800) 322-8216; www.fleetwoodrv.com.
The Providence 40T
Along with its new Power Bridge chassis, Fleetwood RV has taken the opportunity to make several notable enhancements to the Providence motorhome line. It’s immediately evident in the wider bus-style entry door, which previously measured 27 inches wide; for model year 2009, this door is now 30 inches wide. The obvious plus to this increased size is the ability to load and off-load items more easily. An electric stairwell cover is new for 2009, as is an additional 4 inches of legroom between the cockpit seats and a totally redesigned dash. Power visors have been added to the right of the passenger and to the left of the driver. These join two existing power windshield visors that also serve as privacy curtains for the single-piece windshield. The Pioneer dash radio features touch-screen controls. A SmartWheel has been added to make the driver’s tasks even less complicated, with the touch screen providing visuals recorded by the backup camera and the side camera.
The Providence now includes two LCD flat-screen televisions: a 36-inch model in the front living area, and a 26-inch model in the rear bedroom. The bedroom can be appointed with either a queen-size bed or an optional king-size Sleep Number bed by Select Comfort. The bedroom in the 40T now includes an upholstered rocker/recliner swivel chair as well. Two sliding doors with frosted-glass panels pull closed to the center, sequestering the bedroom from the front of the coach. This transforms the interior of the 40T into two distinct — and spacious — areas.
The galley offers an optional 17-cubic-foot stainless-steel refrigerator-freezer that features an ice and cold water dispenser in the face of the door. (A 12-cubic-foot four-door refrigerator-freezer is standard.) The galley features a two-burner electric cooktop with touch controls, plus an optional dishwasher. Fleetwood designers have included a hidden raceway behind the splash panel at the back of the solid-surface countertop where 110-volt electrical receptacles have been added. No longer are they found in the bottom or underside of the overhead cabinets.
Customers have their choice of three finished woodwork choices: Plantation Cherry, Bijoux Cherry, or Symphony Cherry. A laminate floor tile that begs to be visually distinguished from ceramic tile is now included in the Providence. The dual-pane windows throughout the coach are now dressed with day-night shades that feature air pockets that are designed to help prevent heat from migrating to the interior of the coach while permitting soft light to enter. A simple adjustment allows the shade to provide nighttime privacy.
A third high-efficiency 13,500-Btu roof air conditioner now can be added to the two that come standard with the coach. A 2,000-watt pure sine wave inverter permits the operation of all 110-volt appliances on board, with the exception of the roof air conditioners. Fleetwood’s RV designers have introduced new, more residential style furniture in the 2009 Providence as well.
The Providence is available in four models/floor plans, with three slideout rooms in each. Lengths range from 39 feet 6 inches to 41 feet 6 inches. The coach comes equipped with a Cummins ISC 8.3-liter turbocharged diesel engine that delivers 360 horsepower and 1,050 pound-feet torque. All models include full body paint and graphics. Pricing had not been finalized by press time. Visit www.fleetwoodrv.com for more information.