Seeing, driving, believing

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OEM-sponsored ride and drives, in my opinion, serve a valuable (and yes, let’s admit it, extremely fun) purpose in the trucking business: they let customers (and in my case media hacks) touch, feel, and drive the products truck makers spend long years developing, testing, and building to serve in any number of hard-working capacities.

On top of that, it also allows the engineers to get face-to-face with the end users – drivers and fleet managers alike – to not only discuss current truck model capabilities but also what might be on the drawing board for the future.

That’s some of what I experienced on my latest ride and drive adventure, courtesy of Western Star, out at the Las Vegas Speedway this week – complete with a spin on a closed “rough road” course pitted with potholes, sharp turns, and a 15 foot hill sporting a 20% grade.

[Here’s a clip of my own turn at the wheel of a 4700 model dump truck, with Peter Schimunek, Western Star’s marketing segment manager, providing commentary along the way.]

Western Star took the opportunity during this ride and drive event – which marks the start of a two-week sojourn in the desert that will bring customers and dealers to the speedway on a rotating basis – to introduce its latest product, the 4700 tractor model.

Altogether, the company made 14 of its truck and tractor models in various configurations available for test drives – everything from dump trucks, concrete mixers, and highway tractors to a big 6900 XD mining truck chassis.

Yet it’s the 4700 truck model, which Western Star introduced last year in March, and the brand-new 4700 tractor version that occupied much of the discussion time. These are lighter weight “Baby 8” chassis being offered with a wide range of engine options and transmission choices in order to broaden Western Star’s appeal to both current and new customers, Mike Jackson, the company’s general manager, told me.

The 4700 is also helping boost production volumes at Daimler Truck North America’s Portland, OR, manufacturing plant – a factory that’s dedicated to building Western Star products only, noted Jackson.

The plant currently employs more than 1,000 people and just went to two full shifts to handle demand for the full line of Western Star products, which includes the 4700, 4800, 4900 and 6900 models. Interestingly, 2012 marks the 10thanniversary of when production of Western Star shifted from Kelowna, British Columbia, to Portland and the company has built nearly 50,000 trucks at the Portland site since then.

Now of course the challenge ahead of Western Star – as for all OEMs – is to keep the development process rolling, designing the next generation of hard working iron to be even more efficient, productive, and priced appropriately. Those are hurdles that just never go away.  

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