By James Menzies CHICAGO, Ill. - It's not every day a truck is highlighted on the front page of a major daily newspaper - unless it has been involved in an accident, that is. But International's new L...
By James Menzies CHICAGO, Ill. – It’s not every day a truck is highlighted on the front page of a major daily newspaper – unless it has been involved in an accident, that is. But International’s new LoneStar was the hit of the Chicago Auto Show, its bold new look creating a buzz that transcended the trucking industry.
The truck captured the imaginations of visitors from outside the trucking industry and arguably garnered more media attention than any other vehicle at the auto show, appearing on the front page of the Chicago Tribune as well as in consumer magazines such as Popular Mechanics.
“This truck is unlike anything on the road today,” Daniel Ustian, president and CEO of Navistar, announced at the show.
When the LoneStar takes to the highway in earnest (by the time you read this, some customers will have received their first test vehicles) it will no doubt turn a lot of heads. The LoneStar has a retro look that is a throwback to International’s C-and D-series trucks from the 1930s and 40s. That’s not a coincidence, according to Dave Allendorph, chief designer, Navistar Truck Group.
“The initial question was, ‘What would it look like if we designed a modern vehicle with our heritage imbedded in there?'” he recently told Truck West. “We looked at our entire historic product line to see what was there and we ended up being really enamored with the C-and D-series…and we ended up starting to borrow from them.”
The most grabbing similarity is the sloped, v-shaped rad, which gives the truck a bold, sleek appearance. As International designers began mimicking the front-end design of its retro vehicles, the company noticed aerodynamics were an unintended benefit of the classic design.
“I think it was just the design of the time – nobody really thought about aerodynamics,” Allendorph said of International’s early vehicles. “But it turned out to be very correct. As we applied those shapes and forms to the LoneStar and tested it, we had a great looking truck for sure, but it also ended up having very high performance from an aerodynamic standpoint.”
When engineers set out to design the LoneStar, they aimed to appeal to those owner/operators who prefer classic-style trucks. However, given today’s fuel prices and thin profit margins, the company also realized it had to offer aerodynamic improvements over your traditional long-hood, flat-nose conventional truck design.
“Our benchmark (for fuel economy) was actually the aerodynamic industry, not the classic,” said Mark Wohlford, LoneStar program manager, International Truck Development and Technology Center. “Our best tractor two years ago was the 9400; that was our benchmark and what we went after and we are equal to many of the aerodynamic tractors out on the road.”
Wohlford said testing indicates the LoneStar is 5-15% more aerodynamic than other classic models, which translates to a fuel economy improvement of up to 7.5%. He said only International’s own ProStar and perhaps the Freightliner Cascadia can boast better aerodynamics. Because of the LoneStar’s impressive fuel economy, International expects its newest flagship to have some fleet appeal, even though it’s undeniably an owner/operator truck.
“When we looked at classic truck buyers in the past, 63% of trucks that are sold in the classic market are sold to fleets,” pointed out Wohlford. “We see this as a driver retention reward truck for fleets and there’s also a high interest from owner/operators.”
The LoneStar will undoubtedly appeal to owner/operators interested in customization. International eyed Harley Davidson as a benchmark for developing a fully-customizable vehicle. And like Harley Davidson, International has provided owners with a wide variety of customizable add-on parts they can purchase to truly make the truck their own. This feature will no doubt be appreciated by owner/ops who love chrome, but lack the time or skill to perform the customizations themselves.
“An integral part of the whole LoneStar philosophy was to make it distinctive and unique and not just a cool truck today, but to let it grow, evolve and become more and more personalized all the time,”Allendorph told Truck West.
A peak inside
Obviously, the exterior of the LoneStar commands the most attention. But the interior is equally distinctive. It features the look and creature comforts of an upscale condominium, rather than your traditional sleeper cab. Wohlford said the company aimed to create a “psychological break between work space and living space.”
Designers surveyed hundreds of truck drivers and found, not surprisingly, that many did not like eating on their bed. So instead of simply slapping a bed in the sleeper, the company engineered a comfortable living area for drivers featuring everything from hardwood floors (an option) and a stylish, curved sofa.
“When they’re ready to go to bed, that back wall folds down and it has a full 42-inch bunk behind it,” explained Wohlford. Other highlights include airline-style overhead storage bins and an integrated workspace with laptop plug-ins.
No prototype required
In what is a real testament to today’s computer simulation capabilities, International managed to skip the prototype stage of development altogether. The LoneStar was extensively tested through computer imaging and clay modeling, which negated the need to develop costly prototypes, the company said.
“That ended up saving about 12 months for us in the product development process,”Wohlford said.
Only a few “engineering mules” were created to test the truck in the real world, but Wohlford said this was done simply to validate the company’s existing expectations. That design-to-production approach shouldn’t concern customers, the company insisted.
“We didn’t cheat anything,” Wohlford said. “The quality expectations on this vehicle are higher than on any other vehicle.”
The LoneStar will be available to order in April. Production will begin in August at International’s Chatham, Ont. assembly plant with deliveries set to commence in the fall. Initially, the LoneStar can be spec’d with Cat and Cummins power.
When a 15-litre version of International’s own MaxxForce engine becomes available (likely not until 2010), it will also be an option.
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