In case you haven't noticed, truck and component makers are in a temporary but deep recession as customers wait as long as they can before acquiring any 2008-model vehicles powered by the more expensive EPA '07 diesels. Like all builders, International Truck and Engine is trying to drum up interest in these products, and so is Caterpillar, which supplies two of its heavy-duty diesels to International.
In its promotional efforts, Caterpillar likes to tie the excellence of its machinery to its truck engines, and uses its proving grounds to do so. One is the Tinaja Hills facility southwest of Tucson, Ariz., where the two builders recently hosted a ride-and-drive event for dealers and customers. I was invited to join them, and as at previous events here with other truck builders, I drove as many trucks as I could get my hands on, including the "brilliant red" 7000 series tractor you see here.
All had '07 Cats with diesel particulate filters and other equipment needed to meet the new federal exhaust emissions limits. On most trucks the DPFs, which double as mufflers, were mounted on the frames with single tailpipes running stack-style up the cab corners. The engines all ran strong and produced absolutely no smoke or odor. When these trucks and engines eventually get on the road and work sites, drivers, workers and sidewalk superintendents will all breathe easier.
International representatives explained the rebadging of their truck line, with most models getting Star-suffixed names like those used in the 1970s and '80s, before numbers took over. Included are two severe-service models: The 7000 series becomes WorkStar, a newly coined moniker, and the premium 5000 series becomes PayStar, an old-line name that went dormant recently but was revived last year. The International name has been dropped from the badging, except within the small orange-diamond logo in the grill and stamped into rear of sleeper boxes.
The numbers are still used in the data book, though, and there are five versions of the 7000 series, including the 7600 highlighted here and the 7700, which uses a heftier main frame. Both come with either Cat's C13 or Cummins' ISM. By later this year, they'll also be available with International's new series of MaxxForce 11- and 13-liter diesels, based on designs from MAN of Germany and assembled in a new plant in Alabama.
Cat and Cummins power will continue as options in these heavy vehicles, International reps told me. Of course, in their presentations at Tinaja Hills, they talked only about the yellow diesels — C13s in WorkStars, whose engine compartments are sized for nothing larger, and C15s in the bigger PayStars. The C11 is gone, as the C13's larger displacement is needed to cope with the '07 emissions limits.
With scores of folks wanting to drive or ride and about 20 trucks and tractors available, time in each was necessarily limited. There was no highway driving, but the dusty stone roads effectively simulated many work sites. And there was a steep grade to climb, testing the skill and nerve of some guests. All trucks were loaded, so we had to use low-range (but not low-low) gears and go easy on power because of loose footing on the trail.
It was a glorious, sunny day, with temps in the low 90s, but pleasant because "it's a dry heat," as they say in Arizona. Still, air conditioning was on in almost every truck I climbed into, and I almost always shut off the A/C and lowered the windows. That was easy in the WorkStar tractor I focused on, as it had power windows — not your usual chosen option in a work truck, but one that's becoming more common as most drivers like the convenience.
The bright-red tractor's interior was nicely trimmed in grey plastic, and its National seats were leather covered — another unusual touch for a work truck. Its automotive-style instrument panel was set up with gauges and switches that were easy to see and use. Rocker switches control most electrical functions, with rotary knobs for HVAC settings. The electrical system is multiplexed — International calls it Diamond Logic — and the system claims operational and maintenance advantages.
Visibility to the sides and rear was excellent, thanks to big windows. And the view through the large windshield was better than I expected, given the WorkStar's new, tall nose — several inches higher than the previous design. This is the feature that most interested me, because from outside the nose seems high enough to impede vision. However, from behind the wheel it's barely noticed because it slopes downward, and I could spot people walking close to the front end. Will a snow-plow blade be sufficiently visible? John Wadden, International's severe-service marketing manager, notes that plow blades are tall, too, so spotting them shouldn't be a problem.
The nose is bigger on all 7000 models partly for style and mostly to house a larger radiator needed to cool the '07-spec diesels. The radiator, which has 1,469 square inches of core area on this tractor, sits atop the frame rails rather than between them. This keeps it away from road debris and off-road obstructions, and allows a front-mounted PTO to be driven straight off the engine without a hole in the radiator for the driveshaft. Wadden and his colleagues think those are important advantages in a vocational truck.
The C13 is the most powerful engine offered in the WorkStar 7600 and 7700, with up to 470 horsepower and 1,750 pounds-feet; the one in this tractor was rated at 430 and 1,650. With the hood tilted, the engine almost hid behind splash guards and under the air filter housing, a necessity with a compact-BBC design — 107 inches on the WorkStars — and an internal cleaner. But everyday fluid checks and inspection points are fairly easy to get at. The C13 mated to an Eaton 8LL transmission makes a nice combination and was more than strong enough to move this tractor-trailer over the trails and up that steep hill I mentioned.
With the setback front axle — about 9 inches farther back than on the 7600's set-forward variant — there's room for sharp wheel cut and a tight turning circle. The axle rides on parabolic leaf springs which worked smoothly; and air bags under the seat, rear cab mounts, and on tandem axles further smoothed the ride. As always, Sheppard power steering offered good feel of the trail surfaces with little mushiness.
Among WorkStar features is a "whisper" sound-deadening package that insulates drivers from road/engine noise. Two older 7000-series dump trucks were there, so we could hear the difference between them and the new trucks; and sure enough, the WorkStars' sound levels were noticeably lower. In fact, they were so low that I could barely hear the engine brakes, which took away some of the fun. But many drivers will probably appreciate the peace and quiet at the end of a workday. So might you.