Acela converts military trucks into off-road workhorses

Acela truck

Trucks originally enlisted by the United States Army are finding new purpose on civilian jobsites throughout North America via the Acela Truck Company

Based in Montana, the Acela Truck Company is refurbishing the former tactical trucks to provide a vehicle capable of navigating rough terrain.

The idea for rebuilding the United States Army trucks was born after Acela was approached by a mining company in search of a new off-road trucking option.

“They were having a lot of trouble with their wheeled vehicles navigating through their mines,” said Acela President David Ronsen.

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“We were asked if we could come up with a solution.”

Outside of North America, there are about 15 companies that manufacture a truck capable of navigating the terrain required by the enquiring mining company.

However, Ronsen explained those vehicles are not sold in North America.

“The only real heavy duty, high mobility truck ever produced in North America was for the Department of Defense. It’s called the family of medium tactical vehicles (FMTV),” Ronsen said. 

acela truck company

Acela decided to look into purchasing FMTVs from the military, which are used by the army to tackle extreme terrain and weather conditions. Fortunately, the Department of Defense was looking to sell the trucks as surplus equipment.

“They made a production switch. Now the only version of the truck they buy is armoured, but they were looking for someone to buy their soft-skin vehicles, so our supply was there,” Ronsen said.

From there, Acela began a year-long research and development process to see if the truck could be revamped to tackle mining conditions and be backed by a warranty.

“Throughout that year we did a lot of custom molding and custom parts manufacturing, and we got a number of parts back into production that had not been in production for some time,” Ronsen said.

The company’s final product, named the Monterra, was able to meet commercial truck standards and perform in extreme conditions.

“What we’re left with is hands down North America’s most capable wheeled vehicles,” Ronsen claims. “These things will run circles around any truck manufactured in the United States.”

acela military truckThe Acela process

After Acela purchases the trucks from the Department of Defense, the vehicle is examined to ensure it is in good enough shape for repurposing.

“We determine if we have a viable donor, if you will,” Ronsen said. “So, if they have major engine, transmission or transmission case issue, then we make an assessment whether or not we’re going to build on that platform, which would involve either rebuilding or replacing those components.”

Once the truck is deemed a viable donor, they are made available for sale. Then, the vehicle enters into a production line where it is torn down and all parts are sandblasted, degreased prepped and painted and returned to the assembly line.

“We reassemble the trucks with about 650 new parts on them,” Ronsen said. 

At home in Alberta

In Canada, the trucks are proving useful in the Alberta oil sands. Ronsen said the vehicles are being used for a variety of tasks, from delivering fuel to utility trucks to load trucks to welding trucks.

“I saw one truck that has a 105-foot crane on it with a man basket, that’s used for nothing but cleaning the windshield of the shovel,” he said. “They’re anywhere they need a wheeled vehicle to get into where the bitumen is. In the summer, the bitumen gets liquefied, but these things have been performing.”

4×4 or 6×6

The Monterra is available in a 4×4 model with an 8,346-kg off-road payload capacity, or a 6×6 model with a 14,107-kg off-road payload capacity. Both models feature 56 cm of ground clearance, full-time all-wheel drive, a 330 hp Caterpillar 7.2 litre turbo-charged diesel engine, an Allison Automatic 7-speed transmission, a top speed of 119 km/h and US Army Ultra-Reliable Certification.

As well, the central tire inflation system provides adjustable psi for the 116 tall and 30 cm wide tires.

“It can get the tires down to about 22 psi with the touch of a button. What that does is doubles your tire patch,” Ronsen said. “You really start to mimic a tracked vehicle at that point. You just have so much traction on the ground.”

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For additional traction, torque split under normal operations allows 70 per cent of the trucks power to be delivered to the rear axle with 30 per cent delivered to the front. In off-road mode, power is split 50-50 between the front and rear axle.

“Now you’re not only pushing the truck with the rear axle, you’re pulling it at the same time,” Ronsen said.

Tackling snow

Acela is now building the Monterra trucks for the snow removal industry.

Last fall, the company fitted one of the vehicles with a 3.3 metre blade and spent a month pushing snow and fine-tuning the plow system.

“We put it in the hands of some larger snow removal contractors around here,” Ronsen said. “And we pushed a lot of snow ourselves and got access to roads that are normally closed in the winter time, so we could experiment with some really deep snow that’s four or five feet deep.”

In Montana, winter wind events are causing massive snow drifts. The Monterra truck are able to tackle the drifts, which are in areas where traditional wheeled vehicles cannot get through.

“They’ll perform as well as a giant front-end loader, but they’ll do it at 30 miles an hour. And you can drive from jobsite to jobsite at 74 miles an hour,” Ronsen said.

“It’s not your typical Walmart parking lot snow plow. I wouldn’t recommend it for that.”