HEAD-TURNER: The bold design of the LoneStar won’t appeal to everyone -but it will grab their attention.
FORT WAYNE, Ind. –Even on the roads surrounding Navistar’s truck development centre -birthplace of the International LoneStar -the company’s new flagship tractor continues to turn heads.
During a recent drive on the snowy roads that circle Fort Wayne, it occurred to me that the LoneStar’s appeal transcends the trucking industry, as four-wheelers craned their necks for a better look. It also occurred to me that we were doing this truck a disservice, by running it in some of the most foul weather winter can dish out -this truck was too pretty to be driving through mud and snow and slush. The LoneStar didn’t seem to mind, however. The 475-horse Cat C-15 purred along, largely muted on the inside thanks to the LoneStar’s premium insulation package.
Behind the wheel was Tom Harting, director of global vehicle engineering and validation with International Truck and Engine’s Truck Group. In these conditions, I was pleased to let him do all the work while I sat back, took in my surroundings and simply enjoyed being along for the ride.
Before its glitzy introduction at the Chicago Auto Show last February, the International LoneStar made an unplanned debut on automotive Web sites after several “spy shots” were posted on the Internet. The buzz surrounding this extraordinary (some would say peculiar)-looking truck grew to the point where one had to wonder if the pictures had been planted intentionally as part of a clever marketing ploy.
David Allendorph, the LoneStar’s chief designer, insisted that wasn’t the case.
“That was literally an accident, but we thought it was great,” he said.
The story has it that the LoneStar was on the US West Coast for some promotional photo and video shoots. The dealer that was entrusted with its safekeeping parked the two International LoneStars nose to nose in the parking lot, where they were surrounded by other trucks. A curious passerby armed with a cell phone camera happened along and snapped the pictures, which were soon making the rounds on the Internet.
“It was a really exciting time,” recalled Allendorph. “I think that Internet buzz and the word of mouth really helped take it to the next level.”
Since then, the LoneStar has been rolled out and marketed in a rather unorthodox manner, befitting a truck this unique. It was formally introduced to the media at the Chicago Auto Show and then showcased to the trucking public at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March. A multi-million dollar documentary Drive and Deliver was unveiled in the fall, which followed three American drivers on the road as they drove and lived in one of the very first International LoneStars.
Finally, the first production model LoneStars are beginning to hit the highway. I’ve seen only one, and there was no missing it as it motored down the 401 decked out in Erb Transport livery. Another has been delivered to Jeramand Enterprises in Moncton, N. B. and a delivery company in Southern Ontario has also placed an order.
Heather Street, marketing communications manager, heavy vehicle segment with Navistar’s Truck Group, said more than 300 LoneStars have been delivered across North America.
“We’re pleased with what we’re seeing,” she said. She admitted that sales to date are slightly below projections -but those projections were made in better times, when people were still buying trucks.
The LoneStar is an on-highway truck, available with 46,000-lb rear ends but not yet tailored for off-road applications. The exterior borrows heavily from International’s C-and D-Series trucks of the 1930s, marrying a sleek, classic look with advanced aerodynamics. Even bulky components such as the air cleaners are wind-resistant -a close look reveals they are not round, but D-shaped to channel air around the vehicle.
Street said the LoneStar is about as aerodynamic as the ProStar, but a whole 10% more aerodynamic than traditional, square-nosed tractors. She also pointed out the LoneStar is the first classic-styled truck to become EPA SmartWay-certified.
While the LoneStar was built with the owner/operator in mind, International has found the truck has also caught the interest of fleets, which have been purchasing it as a reward truck for top-performing drivers.
Even Wal-Mart has placed an order, I’m told, which speaks volumes about the truck’s fuel efficiency. The retailer (which operates its own private fleet in the US) is known to spec’ only the most fuel-efficient vehicles.
The truck looks sturdy -which is usually synonymous with “heavy.” However, Navistar officials said the LoneStar weighs only a few hundred pounds more than a similarly-spec’d ProStar. The truck we drove around Fort Wayne was a pretty typical spec’ -if there is such a thing.
“There are lots of options, so you can get a truck just like you want and you’re not going to see another one exactly like it on the highway,” Allendorph pointed out.
International has launched its DoubleSix Customs line of accessories, consisting of about 40 parts today and growing. Customers can simply visit their International dealer and dress up their LoneStar however they wish. The line currently includes components such as: sun visors; light bars and panels; door handles; shifter accessories; and exhaust stacks, to name a few.
“We wanted to create a lifestyle vehicle, so you can go back to the parts department, hang out, buy parts, talk trucks and then go home and play with your truck,” Allendorph said, comparing it to highly-customizable brands such as Harley-Davidson and Mini.
While the truck’s unique exterior is what first grabs one’s attention, it’s the interior that really won me over.
Designers have gone to great lengths to create what Allendorph aptly termed: “A way to delineate the office from the home part of the truck.”
Wood floors are standard in the sleeper, creating “a very obvious, intuitive transition from the office (cab) to the living area.”
The LoneStar also features a curved couch with fold-out desks and tables that create a comfortable and ergonomic workspace. Working with Carnegie Mellon University students and polling hundreds of professional drivers, International found drivers don’t particularly like eating on their bed. When the bunk is stowed, the couch gives the sleeper the ambience of a living room.
The fold-out bunk with 42-inch mattress sits higher than most, making it easier to climb in and out of bed, Allendorph pointed out.
Perhaps the only drawback of the sleeper’s design is that it’s only available with a single bunk. Team drivers requiring double bunks, however, can order the ‘Limited Plus’ version of the LoneStar, which comes with what essentially amounts to a ProStar sleeper. The LoneStar practically glides down the road, muffling wind and engine noise and minimizing bumpiness. When I can take notes in the passenger seat while travelling down the highway and then read them afterwards, it’s a good indication of a smooth ride.
Harting attributed this in part to chassis-mounted rear hood mounts, which limit input and vibrations into the cab. Long springs, 11-inch frame rails and some other subtle design traits add to the ride quality.
“Performance was the mantra,” explained Allendorph. “We wanted it to look hot and sexy, but we needed it to perform too.”
Visibility through the large, curved one-piece windshield is better than you’d expect from a classic-styled truck. The LoneStar is also nimble for its size. It has a 41-inch bumper-to-axle (BA) measurement, and boasts a 50-degree wheel cut. Harting told me he manuevered it through downtown Chicago without any trouble and it doesn’t get a whole lot tighter than that.
Currently, the LoneStar is available with Cat and Cummins power, but in 2010 a 13-litre version of International’s own MaxxForce engine will be the standard offering. Having driven trucks equipped with the inherently quiet MaxxForce, I ant
icipate that will be an even quieter combination.
When it comes to price, most OEMs hold their cards close to their vests. Since it’s a “premium” truck geared towards image-conscious owner/operators and fleets, the price will probably be comparable to the likes of classic Peterbilt, Kenworth and Western Star models. Street said the LoneStar that was featured in Drive and Deliver pushed about US$160,000 – and that one was decked out with all the bells and whistles. (Incidentally, one of the drivers who starred in the film has since placed an order for a LoneStar of his own).
Whether or not the bold design of the International LoneStar appeals to your individual taste, it’s difficult not to want to see the truck succeed. Navistar ventured far from the beaten path with this design, and has carved out its own spot in the North American marketplace.
Does the LoneStar signal an evolution towards more aerodynamic classic-styled trucks? Or will receding diesel prices make owner/operators more reluctant to give up their traditional long-nosed conventional designs? Only time will tell what the long-term impact of the LoneStar will be.
But for now, owner/operators can be thankful they have yet another option – one that’s unlike anything else on the road today. The LoneStar combines a bold, sleek exterior design with a luxurious interior and sleeper that’s as “homey” as anything else I’ve seen on the road.