Stars with the X-factor

In April 2024, International Truck of the Year8 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMay 8, 2024

The level of excitement and anticipation certainly ratcheted up a notch or three on the lead-up to 2024 Truck of the Year Australasia. The second outing for the award, it was presented at the inaugural Teletrac Navman Technology Maintenance and Safety Conference held in Christchurch in March and Western Star’s bang-up-to-date and ruggedly good-looking X-Series drove off with the trophy.

“It’s a real thrill to accept this award on behalf of the team at Penske Australia and New Zealand,” said Hamish Christie-Johnston, CEO of Penske for both countries. “To see such an iconic brand redesigned from the ground up, and specifically for this market is so exciting to the 1300 passionate employees who have represented the Western Star brand for just over 40 years in this part of the world.”

In a move absolutely on point, the Penske New Zealand crew came to the conference with a Western Star 48X 8×4. For the bucket load of reasons X-Series found itself a nose ahead – literally – in the local competition bringing that iteration to the show was the perfect statement for the brand’s commitment to market. You might well see 47X and 49X traversing the roads of the US and Canada, but 48X is ours.

Kurt Dein is Western Star brand manager for Penske Australia and his own family has a long-standing association with the brand. “It’s certainly a great pleasure for me to stand here and accept this award. Our first product change in 24 years and with our exclusive product in 48X we talk about segment fit from length, efficiency, safety, and driver comfort.”

To say the 48X should find many happy homes in our region is a truism for sure, more so when presented in 8×4 configuration to the odd little islands 2000km to Australia’s east.

For those who don’t find comfort in a precipitous drop immediately in front of the windscreen, or those who just can’t ‘click’ with the Euro vibe, having a genuine 458kW US bonneted 8×4 truck bristling with state-of-the-art Daimler platform safety kit, should induce an approving nod among the likes of the giant forestry and aggregate customers for a start.

“What a way to unveil the all-new X-Way,” said Penske New Zealand national sales manager Dean Hoverd. “The award recognises the partnership between Western Star and Penske in developing a truck specifically for our markets with the legendary durability combined with a new powerful integrated driveline, advanced safety features, and driver comfort.”

Our own in more ways than one. Western Star 48X 8×4 on display at the Teletrac-Navman Technology Maintenance and Safety Conference in Christchurch last month.

The path to glory

Like the parent International Truck of the Year (IToY) competition, contributing to improved safety and efficiency within its market segment are the core tenets in the judging criteria for ToYA. However, within the robust framework holding the five-decade-old IToY organisation together, the three regional competitions in existence to date are allowed an amount of leeway. We therefore included ‘availability’ as a pillar within the efficiency tenet, meaning availability to daily operations within a truck’s specific market sector commensurate with what that market would reasonably expect.

Unlike IToY, it certainly won’t be 47 years before an alternatively propelled vehicle wins ToYA. However, the availability requirement will ensure any truck winning our competition is completely relevant to its wider market subset at the time of winning, and it was that criteria that dealt a crucial blow to the Volvo F Electric series in ToYA 2024.

The Scania Super is without question an awe-inspiring vehicle, and as we’ve said previously, beggars the question, ‘Have we extracted all there was to gain from ICE in our environmental aims?’ Its real issue in the context of ToYA was the quality of the stable it comes from.

As good as Super is, overall, it represents an incremental improvement on an already outstanding truck.

That left us with X-Series. From the moment co-judges Tim Giles (PowerTorque magazine, Australia), Charleen Clarke (Focus on Transport and Logistics and SHEQ Management magazines, South Africa), and I first met, the X-Series presented itself as a compelling case.

Our thoughts were reinforced when Randolph Covich (Deals on Wheels magazine, New Zealand) and Bob Woodward (Australian Trucking Association technical engineer – retired) critiqued our decision as independent invited judges outside IToY membership.

With the vehicle manufacturing industry evolving at the pace it is, an independent brand allowing a model range to slip behind the eight ball might well be risking its obsolescence.

It’s at those times the big guns come into their own, and only a behemoth the size of Daimler Truck North America with its vast platform toolbox could fund a brand-new machine at the level we see in X-Series as successor to the old 4000 series Western Star.

Speaking in Sydney in 2019 at the launch the DTNA sibling Freightliner Cascadia, Daimler Truck boss Martin Daum made two things clear – that Western Star would be next to receive the platform treatment and, being a vocational model, it would ‘own’ the 8×4 bonneted option for this part of the world.

What X-Series has done is lift the industry bar for average levels of safety and efficiency, therefore improving the industry’s social licence to operate its machines freely in society.

Obviously, the Detroit driveline dominates, with Cummins popping up in 47X, ditto Allison auto transmissions. The latest iteration of Detroit Assurance 5.0 safety underpins an exceptionally good-looking truck with vastly improved visibility from the platform, state-of-the-art, roomy cab. All that said, Western Star has remained true to itself, its loyal devotees, and anyone seeking the North American bonneted look and feel.

There is still a woodgrain look on a gauge-riddled dash if that’s your jam, and for the purists, you can still tick ‘manual’ in the transmission section on the order form.

Only Louis Braille could deny the truck’s look; a big chunky bonnet with an imposing Western Star logo dominating the upper bezel of the chrome grille. As bang up to date as it might be, Western Star still unashamedly states its place in the world.

All in all, a worthy ToYA 2024 winner.