It could’ve been Celine Dion or the Blue Man Group or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra coming on stage amid booming hard-rock music and fire-and-smoke special effects, but it was something more important to the people in the room: a trio of International LT trucks, representing Navistar’s new highway model, launched Friday afternoon in Las Vegas.
The people here were fleet customers, dealers, and trade press reporters who came to see and hear about the replacement for the now familiar ProStar tractor, a vehicle popular primarily among freight carriers but also haulers of building supplies, aggregates, cement, and pipe. Executives from Navistar International put on an enthusiastic and informative show inside a quarter-mile-long tent at the World Market Center near the north end of the Strip.
Navistar, steadily working its way back from near ruin over a failed diesel strategy under previous management, is on a truck model roll. The LT, for Linehaul Transport, follows the HX premium vocational truck, introduced eight months ago and now in production. We recently drove an HX 620; read our Field Test here. Other models will be out next year, said Bill Kozak, president of Navistar’s Truck and Parts unit.
Prior to the bombastic unveiling, Kozak and other executives had described extensive customer research and meticulous design and engineering work that had gone into the new model. The LT will begin replacing the nine-year-old International ProStar series when it enters production in November.
The LT is the first model from Navistar’s Project Horizon, a three-year effort to update and improve models using the company’s steel cab. WorkStar and DuraStar trucks are now being worked on, and their replacements are slated for introduction in 2017. The HX uses an aluminum cab from the PayStar series it’s replacing, so was not part of Horizon.
The LT’s primary focus is the driver, Kozak said. Pleasing drivers to try to retain and recruit them will help fleets counteract the shortage of drivers, which will grow worse as many older truck operators retire. “The driver shortage is the biggest barrier fleets have to uptime” because many trucks now are unmanned. So Navistar ran multiple clinics where designers and executives quizzed drivers and fleet owners on what they wanted in a truck and how the ProStar could be improved.
Designers listened and put the customer ideas into the LT, which has driver “delighter” features, said Steve Gilligan, VP product marketing. They include greater comfort and roominess, ergonomically laid out instruments and controls, measurable quietness, better ride, and easier handling. He called the LT “driver centric.”
Other goals for the LT were improved fuel economy, accomplished through smoother aerodynamics and use of Cummins’ re-engineered X15 diesel and later, Navistar’s own improved N13 diesel; more uptime through easier servicing of carefully placed components; and improved safety by making Bendix’s Wingman Advanced collision mitigation system and roll-stability control standard.
The LT625 will use Cummins’ 2017 diesel. Cummins power was chosen for the initial vehicle because the current ISX15 is more popular with customers than Navistar engines. The X15 will have ratings of up to 500 horsepower for its Economy series and 550 for the Performance versions, Gilligan said.
The ’17-model Navistar N13 will be available with up to 475 horses and 1,750 lb.-ft. It will be used in the LT613 that will enter production in April. Equivalent ProStar models will phase out as the new LTs go on line. All will be built at Navistar’s plant in Escobedo, Mexico.
Navistar might later offer the Cummins X12 when it becomes available in North America. “We’re studying it, we’re testing it,” said Gilligan. “Most intriguing is the weight. It’s 2,000 pounds. Our N13 is 2,400 pounds. To weight-conscious customers, like bulk haulers, 400 pounds means a lot. So we’re evaluating it.”
Although a goal of the recently announced strategic alliance with Volkswagen Truck & Bus will focus on communizing power train components among International, Scani, and MAN trucks, Navistar will offer Cummins engines in general “for the foreseeable future,” Gilligan said. “In fact, we just introduced the Cummins L9 on some of our vocational models.”
“Cummins is a great partner,” said Jeff Sass, senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We’ll offer Cummins engines as long as customers want them.”