COLUMBUS, Ohio – International has spent a lot of time, energy and money promoting its new flagship highway tractor – the ProStar. The company recently invited key customers and trade journalists to the Transportation Research Center in Ohio to see the truck in action during its ProStar Customer Experience.
The first thing you’ll notice about the ProStar is its futuristic-looking lines. The truck has a bold new appearance resulting from the attention the design team dedicated to aerodynamics.
International utilized computer simulations, 1/8th scale wind tunnel testing and full-scale wind tunnel testing (performed right here in Canada at a federal wind tunnel in Ottawa) to optimize airflow around the chassis. The result is an 8% aerodynamic improvement over International’s current 9400 – enough to deliver a 4% fuel economy improvement based solely on the shape of the truck, explained International’s Ron Schoon.
International has come under fire from competitors for claiming to be 9.4% better than its closest competitor, however the company has invested more than $1 million into wind tunnel testing and stands by its claims that it’s 14.2% better than the Pete 386 and 10.7% superior to the Kenworth T2000 when it comes to aerodynamics.
“We spec’d them (competitive models) out in their most aerodynamic configurations,” Schoon said. He also claimed the ProStar beats the Volvo 780 and the Freightliner Columbia and Century models as far as aerodynamics are concerned.
The powertrain has also been designed to provide for better fuel economy with a fuel map that’s optimized to make the sweet spot even sweeter. Schoon warns that operating outside the sweet spot does result in a more severe fuel usage penalty but the fact remains the ProStar rewards fuel efficient drivers.
International engineers also optimized the ProStar to cut through crosswinds. The average wind speed in North America at any given time is 7 mph and designers acknowledged the vehicle isn’t always driving straight into a headwind. The truck has been designed so that even a gale force crosswind is barely noticed – and this was proven when I had the chance to drive through a series of fans that pushed about 40 mph of crosswinds across my path. The steering wheel barely moved in my hands, despite the fact I was not expecting the manmade gust.
Cost of ownership is another of the ProStar’s value propositions. International officials said there have been more than 60 features built into the truck to make it more user-friendly for owner/operators and mechanics. Many parts on the new truck can be removed without tools. The front bumper tilts out of the way providing easier access to key components and fluid containers.
A telescopic engine oil fill eliminates the need for a funnel.
ProStar designers paid plenty of attention to the little things – like ensuring fluid containers are translucent for easier monitoring of fluid levels and enlarging the luggage door so it can fit a milk crate. The mirrors and headlights can be replaced without tools and the air filter is also easy to replace. I don’t pretend to be mechanically-inclined, yet I was able to perform most basic maintenance tasks with ease.
The ProStar also makes a transmission removal fairly simple. While I didn’t attempt this procedure, International representatives insisted it can be removed in just over two hours since the air tanks have been relocated out of the way and hosing has been removed from the area.
International engineers also concentrated on uptime when developing the ProStar. More than 15 million miles of component testing was simulated and suppliers were held to a high standard of reliability, the company said. For example, 10 years of openings and closings were simulated on the cabinet doors.
The truck has undergone nine million miles of durability and field testing, which began two years ago. Eight customers have been operating the ProStar in various applications – including Erb Transport here in Ontario. Erb has racked up 100,000 miles on the ProStar along a dedicated run.
“It has seen temperatures of 40 below and 90 degrees plus,” says International engineer Mark Brawn.
In driving the ProStar, one of the features that most impressed me was the responsiveness of the on-center steering system. It felt like I was steering a passenger car rather than your typical Class 8 tractor. The steering system also reduces vibration. The ProStar also features a stiff cab floor that reduces vibrations in the cab itself and it is practically immune to cab sway.
The cab and engine mounts have been separated to reduce engine noise and engineers have now shifted their attention to reducing wind noise. Even the cabinet materials have been modified to reduce squeaks and rattles inside the cab.
I left Ohio convinced the ProStar is going to create some waves in the heavy-duty truck market in Canada. What impressed me the most was the attention to detail that went into the design of the truck.
A case in point: more than 1,900 drivers were measured in 42 different ways to provide optimum ergonomics for your typical truck driver. Whether you like the look of the truck or not, you can’t accuse International of not doing its homework.
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