BORN AT THE RIGHT TIME

In Western Star, January 202118 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineFebruary 7, 2021

Western Star‘s arrival into Daimler‘s North American platform family has been eagerly awaited, and in late September it arrived. New Zealand Trucking magazine met with David Carson, senior VP Vocational Trucks Daimler Trucks North America, and Penske New Zealand GM Brent Warner to talk about the new star of the show, but first…

Some background
It‘s actually appropriate a new Western Star arrives in the grip of a global pandemic, when everyone‘s bogged down under the weight of it all and in need of a kick-start. They‘re the sort of truck you turn to when you ‘need to take a concrete pill‘ as grandpappy would have put it in the days before feelings. Well, it‘s been a long time coming, six years to be precise according to David Carson, senior vice president Vocational Tucks at Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), but at last it is here. The new Western Star 49X was launched in the US on 29 September this year, via a global online event. Its imminent arrival has been hinted at more and more recently. When we were in DTNA‘s North Carolina plant last year looking at its stablemate, the Freightliner Cascadia, staff there were talking about the new platform Western Star on the way. Then, at a press conference in Sydney last November (2019), Daimler‘s top Trucks & Buses man Martin Daum told us that Western Star was the next cab off the platform rank. The significance of the new Western Star 49X is huge for us. Although a well respected brand here in terms of delivering a robust chassis with longevity in arduous work, in recent years Western Star has struggled to sell in the numbers needed to pose a threat to archrival Kenworth. Penske New Zealand is Western Star‘s importer and retailer here, and believes it can now redress that imbalance.

“We‘re excited to be part of this global launch, with our partners at DTNA, and can‘t wait to bring the truck to the local market here,” said Penske New Zealand GM Brent Warner. A polished answer it might be, but again there‘s the message that Western Star is now part of DTNA‘s family of platform trucks. As we said at the time of the Freightliner Cascadia launch, we can‘t overemphasise the importance and size of the R&D resource pool available to the Daimler family of trucks in this part of the world now they‘re under the DTNA umbrella. For Western Star however, the impact may well be greater than for Cascadia. Firstly, it‘s been many haircuts since you‘ve been able to entertain a cabover Western Star in Aotearoa, so there‘s no shock that comes with 49X having a nose.

As good as Cascadia might be, it‘s not a cabover, and that‘s going to make life tough here. Second, Cascadia was due just as Covid hit and that‘s ankle-tapped it royally in terms of getting a head start. By the time 49X arrives, it‘s looking like most of us will have had a jab in the bum, and the world will be up and running again. Third, no dealership upheaval to unnerve the market. No legion of new techs to induct and train, no behind the scenes manoeuvring. The 49X arrives to a stable, longterm, local sales and support environment, which knows what market to target. Fourth, perception. In the US there might be a distinct separation in market space between Western Star and Freightliner, but it‘s far less so here. In New Zealand we need US vocational spec to survive on-highway, so there‘s no real differentiator. The 49X is going to have all the safety and tech of Cascadia, without the historical mental connection between brand and cab trim reinforcement. Last, and by far the biggest plus, the age-old Kiwi ‘bonneted 8×4‘ question. Harking back to Mr Daum and last year‘s press conference, there was a distinct cooling when the prospect of an 8×4 Cascadia was raised, and instead Daum said this: “The 8×4 is part of the Western Star project. Before an 8×4 Cascadia, what you might see in your country is an 8×4 Western Star, and with me that‘s fully okay. We don‘t need to double up.” That single comment will likely play out as a gift from God for Brent and the team at Penske New Zealand.


Photo: True story. When they shot the pic in Oregon State the bush fires were burning – that‘s smoke you can see. Very Western Star.

When and what?
In terms of when, there will be evaluation and test units on the ground mid Q3 2021. That will be the final phase regional tests, just to make sure there‘s no ‘gotcha!‘ moments down the track. To contextualise that, you have to appreciate just what‘s available back in Oregon State in terms of testing and development. Aside from their facilities, the intellectual property held on topography and operating conditions the world over, including us, is surprising. Or maybe it‘s not surprising. After all, Daimler products have been here a while and a lot‘s been learned. Also, don‘t forget about the data they‘ll have from the Cascadia. “We‘ve had trucks wired up and out with customers for some time, in oil field operations and bush work in British Columbia [BC],” said Carson. “BC logging proved the toughest environment. It‘s brutal. We then used all that information to customise the proving facilities at our Madras testing facility in Oregon. At the same time, we have our own over the road fleet gathering data.

From all this, prototypes go back to customers for re-evaluation. “Also there‘s the destructive testing at Daimler‘s Swan Island facility in Portland. Cab shakers replicating 800,000 miles, doors opened and shut 225,000 times, headlight covers and bonnets beaten until they‘re broken – sometimes with a baseball bat! By the time we‘re finished, we have a truck built for a 25-year life in the field.” In terms of the launch and first customer trucks, they‘re expected in New Zealand by late Q4 2022 early Q1 2023. Although the final specification options are yet to be signed-off, the preferred setup from Western Star‘s standpoint will undoubtedly be Detroit DD13 through 16, and Daimler DT12V and DT12VX (X – GCM 136 tonne) AMT transmission and all that comes with that, features like Rock-Free, Hill-Hold, Power- Launch, and Paver-Mode etc. Having said that, there‘s likely to be the option of Cummins power, as well as Allison, and Eaton Fuller manual and automated transmissions. Undoubtedly one of the bigticket items is inclusion of the Detroit Assurance proprietary safety suite. Being a platform truck allows components from the ‘global tool set‘ as Daum likes to call it.


Photo: Brent Warner Penske New Zealand GM, is looking forward to 49X bringing a mix of traditional Western Star DNA and class-leading safety to their customers.


Photo: David Carson, senior vice president Vocational Tucks at Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA).

“Yes, the Western Star is a vocational truck, but statistics tell us a vast proportion of vocational truck accidents occur for the short time the truck is on the road,” said Carson. The suite includes Adaptive Cruise Control to stop, and Active Braking Assist (ABA-5) to stop – including pedestrians; Lane Departure; tailgate warning; video capture; and Side Guard Assist as a safety option also. “We‘re not giving people the option on standard safety kit,” said Warner. “Chain of responsibility is only going to push further into the workplace and for that reason it‘s not negotiable. “We‘re providing a truck that meets not just our customer‘s standards, but also those of our customers‘ customers, as well as meeting the expectations of the social licence provided by the communities they operate in.” Being platform architecture there‘s telematic and data potential galore and Penske is partnering locally to ensure all mapping functionality and telematics are on point. “Warranty-wise, that‘s being worked through, however it will match the expectation of the market. We understand in this area there‘s variance, things like high engine hour/low kilometre work, and there‘ll be warranties and maintenance plans accordingly,” said Warner. “In terms of preparation, as you know Penske has two flagship state-of-the-art facilities in New Zealand, one in Wiri and one in Christchurch. There are 22 Detroit dealers, and 17 Western Star dealers, and more news to come soon in terms of support network. There are 10 dedicated training providers in Australia and New Zealand, and 50 world-class trained technicians in New Zealand. It‘s a very structured programme that‘s being rolled out in preparation for 49X.”

Is it a real Western Star though?
Obviously, time is really the only judge, and we‘ll let you know more in terms of feel and heritage when we get our mitts on one sometime next year. When Daum talks of the ‘global tool set‘, he is always at pains to emphasise the individual nature of each marque in their specialist area; things like chassis, undercarriage, component mounts etc. As Kiwis we‘d be arrogant to think BC loggers, and Canadian oilfield workers don‘t know how to evaluate new vocational trucks in terms of fit-for-purpose. The single skin frame has an RBM (Resisting Bending Moment) rating of 3.7 million inchpounds, the reinforced version up to 5.4 million. It sports bolted cross-members and there are front tow options at time of build. It‘ll be hardy, rest assured. Looks-wise the 49X is a good-looking machine, definitely the toughest version of a 2020s ‘softening‘ of an older style truck you could do. The X-series cab certainly has family ties to other platform machines, with its own ‘outboard‘ mounting system for improved stability.

It has wider openings, classleading room, and a clear back wall for easier body and equipment installations. Moving inside the familiarity increases further, although they have retained options that are more gauges and switches, and less screen and tablet. There are also woodgrain and buttoned interiors to placate the real traditionalists. It has a full width one-piece windscreen that contributes significantly to improved visibility, enhanced further by the elimination of the external air cleaners – sorry oldschoolers – which no doubt helps the aero also. The bonnet‘s had a big rework with rake to improve the view, and a new suspension system in the front mount called ISO tech, designed to take all the pain out of twisting and racking. The three-step entry has also been the subject of much R&D, now with a cascade to allow safe, clearly visible entry and exit, with a grip tread that won‘t clog with mud, sand, and gunk.


Photo: There‘s a myriad of dash options including gauges galore. There are also woodgrain and buttoned interiors.

One delightful touch is the reinforcement of the door pockets and steering wheel so both can be used as grab handles. “Our customers told us that regardless of what you tell them, they still use steering wheels to haul themselves in,” said Carson. “So we designed the wheel to allow that.” Then there are other things like the C-bracket mirrors that a 136kg‘er can do a chin-up on evidently (you have to find a 136kg person who can do a chin-up first; that‘d be the real impressive bit). “In order to get the door to flex you actually have to tow the truck by the mirror bracket,” said Carson. Without having a 49X to poke, prod and kick, it all sounds pretty good. Suffice to say, it‘s here it lives; it‘s on its way. Probably one of the more significant heavy duty and vocational trucks in New Zealand‘s recent history. A quick initial insight done, tracking the 49X‘s progress south will be a big topic next year for sure. We can hardly wait to get our hands on one, that‘s for real! Let‘s leave the last word for now to Penske New Zealand GM, Brent Warner. “The truck builds on Western Star‘s heritage and DNA, but with new technology. We‘ll certainly be targeting traditional logging and tipping markets, and obviously highway where the regulations allow.”