Gliders 101: Five common questions about glider kits answered

JAMES JAILLET |

Glider kits in the midst of the assembly process at Fitzgerald Glider Kits’ Byrdstown, Tenn., plant.  Today’s glider kits are taking off, offering the same amenities and similar resale value and warranties as dealer trucks.  One of the biggest attractions lies under the hood: Pre-EGR Detroit 60 Series engines. 

Despite the industry’s lackluster truck sales since the recession, Cookeville, Tenn.-based Fitzgerald Glider Kits has seen sales double each year since 2010, and it expects the trend to continue in 2014.””>Though Fitzgerald concentrates its builds and engine programming on fuel economy and maintenance ease, its sales point to a growing trend for its owner-operator customers: the desire to run a new truck powered by a pre-exhaust gas recirculation engine.  Also, gone are the concerns from 20 or 30 years ago about gliders’ quality and resale value, says Jay Burgess, a buyer for Insurance Auto Auction, a used truck reseller.

 HOW GLIDERS COME TO BE |

 Glider bodies, chassis, rear-ends and wiring are fully assembled and delivered to manufacturers such as Fitzgerald, the largest glider maker in the United States, and Ervin’s, the second-largest, which then install the engine and transmission.  Builders like Fitzgerald and Ervin’s have helped spur demand for new and used gliders.  What’s the most popular glider equipment? Fitzgerald stocks its own engines, obtained from truck teardowns or salvage companies, says Tommy Fitzgerald, owner and vice president.  It remachines and rebuilds them with remanufactured components.  Fitzgerald uses only 2003 year-model or older 12.7-liter Detroit Series 60 engines that are torn down and rebuilt in-house.  It couples them with remanufactured Eaton-Fuller transmissions purchased from Eaton.  Ervin’s buys Freightliner “powered gliders” with remanufactured Detroit engines, 2003 and older, already installed, says Ken Eggen, director of business development.  The company also uses reman Eaton-Fuller transmissions from the factory.

 Why buy a glider?  Three key benefits of buying a glider are lower upfront cost and the potential for both lower maintenance costs and improved aftermarket value, says Eggen.Ervin’s sells Freightliner Coronado and Columbia models, and they cost about 10 to 15 percent cheaper than a similarly spec’d factory truck. Gliders offer simple way to natural gas use: Glider kits can give owner-operators an easier, cheaper way to delve into natural gas power than buying a new dedicated truck off the lot, and for about $50,000 cheaper than a new natural gas truck off the lot.  A Coronado from Fitzgerald starts at about $109,900, and its Peterbilt 389 starts at $126,500.  Compared to a similarly spec’d factory truck, that’s about 25 percent cheaper, says Tommy Fitzgerald.  Initial equipment costs aside, Fitzgerald concentrates its builds on lower cost of ownership through fuel economy and lower cost of maintenance. “We set the engine up to where it can be more efficient,” says Tommy Fitzgerald.  Fuel economy benefits, he says, are achieved through special programming of the engine’s electronic control module and from the external and internal parts used in the engine rebuilding process.

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