Beyond style

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While I was stopped at a traffic light, three guys got out of a pickup and started walking around the truck. They thought it was a custom rig and couldn’t believe it when I told them it was factory built. They had all sorts of questions but I kept telling them, ‘Guys, you have to get back in your pickup; the light is going to change!’" –Mel Fair, vice president of fleet sales, Central Maryland International dealership, sharing his experience with Navistar’s new LoneStar tractor

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Perhaps both the biggest advantage and danger to the singularly bold design of Navistar’s Class 8 LoneStar tractor is that it sacrifices the middle ground: drivers and truck buyers alike will either hate it or love it, period. There’s just no fence sitting with this one.

Yet making a decision solely on the LoneStar’s radical design cues (taken from the 1937 International pickup truck of yore) overlooks a ton of functionality built into this tractor.

This truck is built with a lot of things in mind -- especially, though, to create a factory-built "owner-operator" truck style yet not sacrifice things like fuel economy, practicality, or comfort to attain it. The substance of the LoneStar to my mind trumps the style (bold though it is) for it's that substance that's going to matter to a driver and owner over the long haul.

[Below is a video review of the exterior and interior of Navistar’s new LoneStar tractor.]

Take cab noise, for starters – it’s so well insulated that road noise and even engine braking hardly register. During my own ride and review of the LoneStar, I never had to raise my voice or strain to hear responses to my questions – despite plugging along at 65 mph on a grim rainy day on Rt. 15 north of Frederick, Maryland. The smoothness of the ride made an impact as well – especially since we were bobtailing. Without a heavy trailer, you find out quick if those rear tandems buck, shake and vibrate; in this case, they did none of those things at all.

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What really impressed me most about the LoneStar doesn’t even concern its style at all. First, it’s a fuel efficient truck – a hair or two below Navistar’s top fuel efficient model, the ProStar. In other words, an owner-operator or fleet captivated by the styling of the LoneStar doesn’t have to sacrifice extra diesel to drive it. This is a trend I’ve been noticing from all the truck OEMs of late and that holds nothing but good tidings for truckers of all stripes.

Then there’s the price. According to Mel Fair, vice president of fleet sales at Central Maryland International – one of six dealerships owned by the Beltway Companies – the LoneStar only costs on average about $9,000 more than the ProStar. Of course, spec upgrades can change that in a hurry, but the basic mid level LoneStar package I reviewed – equipped with a 500 hp Cummins ISX engine, 10-speed Eaton Fuller manual, air ride suspension, cab, and seats – proved very luxurious.

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It’s the thought that went into the interior design elements, though, that should really get the attention of drivers and owners – again, a trend I’m seeing from all the OEMs to varying degrees. Navistar’s LoneStar, for example, has many of the critical vehicle control elements – cruise, engine brake, and air horn to name a few – right on the steering wheel, just as you find in most cars today. Circuit breakers are elegantly hidden behind the dash, so no more crawling on the cab floor to find wires is required.

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Storage bins are designed using ergonomic “airline styling” so they slide open easily. The spaciousness of the cab is pretty telling, too – a nice wide-open feeling with plenty of head room and maneuvering space to make life on the road that much easier.

“Driver comfort is really critical today,” Mel told me. “You can’t have wobble in the cab; it’s got to be easy to live in this space on the road. Most importantly, though, it’s a clean, quiet truck – there’s no more black smoke; there’s no more of those high pitched harmonics as the truck goes by. This is a time when we’re truly revising the role trucks play out here.”

The hardest thing to shake, however, is the bad-old image of trucking – an image defined in many ways by the movie “Smokey and the Bandit,” Mel explained to me. “Look, as much fun as ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ was, it created a VERY negative stereotype for truckers,” he said.

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“Just look at this truck and see how far we really are as an industry away from that image. These trucks come with DPFs [diesel particulate filters -- pictured at left behind and below the fuel tank] so there is no black smoke anymore; they run almost as clean as cars," Mel noted.

"You can add in all sorts of safety technology – forward collision warning radar, lane departure warning systems, all kinds of things," he said. "These are safer, cleaner, and more efficient trucks than ever before – yet no one outside the industry understands that.”

It’s a struggle the trucking industry still faces and probably will face for a long time to come. Yet it’s important to note that trucks like the LoneStar keep revamping the standards on issues such as safety, efficiency, plus environmental stewardship even as they bring new styling to the iron that plies America’s highways and roadways every day. It’s well beyond styling where a lot of the most important changes to big rigs are happening today.

What's Trucks at Work?

Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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