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In a move that could shake up North American heavy truck design, International introduced its latest Class 8 road tractor, the LoneStar, at the Chicago Auto Show in February.
Officially, LoneStar is described as an “advanced classic,” combining bold styling that normally appeals to owner-operators and other premier truck buyers with fuel-saving aerodynamics popular among large fleet managers.
It’s clear that International’s designers were given the permission to color outside the lines during development. The truck, which borrows some chassis, electrical and body panel components from existing parts bins, is bold and angular — some might even say aggressive and imposing. The front end, awash with chrome and lights, is based on design cues from 1930s era International C and D Series pickup trucks. The look is anything but subtle.
“From the start, we’d decided that this wasn’t going to be a garden variety vehicle,” says L. David Allendorph, International’s chief body systems designer. “We truly wanted it to be polarizing. Obviously, some people weren’t going to like it, and we’re fine with that, as long as it is a minority opinion.”
In the days leading up to the official introduction, however, critics seemed to outnumber admirers. At least one truck-oriented blog site had posted “spy” photos of the LoneStar, and those images generated a considerable number of negative remarks. Fortunately for International, this initial sentiment turned much more favorable after the unveiling in Chicago, when more attractive photography became available.
Allendorph and his colleagues monitored a number of websites to gauge reaction to the LoneStar. He says some of the earlier posts “might have hurt our feelings a little, but at least people were talking about us, and that’s a good thing.”
The catty comments were reminiscent of the chatter that surrounded another unconventional truck introduced in 1985: the Kenworth T600. Back then, the consensus of many drivers was that the Anteater, as they’d dubbed it, was the ugliest vehicle to ever set tire on an American highway. Those attitudes eventually changed, of course, and the T600 went on to become one of Kenworth’s most popular trucks, at least among fleet buyers.
Trucking has always been a tradition-bound industry, averse to anything too far from the norm. Allendorph says this mindset caused a certain amount of hand wringing among executives at International as they debated the futuristic LoneStar.
“We had a lot of passionate discussions early on,” he says, “and there was a little trepidation initially. But we were pretty sure it was time for a bold move to shake everybody up a bit — not only in the industry, but inside the company, too. Basically, we just kept convincing each other that this was the right thing to do.”
Those efforts paid off, say Vance Hanna and Keith Nagara, co-directors at the design school at Lawrence Tech University in Southfield, Mich.
“I think it’s a stellar design,” Hanna says. “It’s a radical departure from market norms. I like the way they’ve incorporated the bumper and grille to look like 1930s vintage trucks. The front also has sort of nautical presence. I can envision the bow of a ship or speedboat. I think it’s gorgeous and, apparently, aerodynamic, offering both form and functionality.”
Nagara agrees, comparing the grille to that used on Lincoln concept cars.
LoneStar’s exterior, although innovative, is just part of the story. The interior is equally revolutionary. In developing it, engineers completely rethought the work space/living space relationship. International built two fully dressed mockups and showed them to truckers at various trade shows. One of these was constructed on a diagonal theme; the other was curvilinear. After many customer meetings, the latter design was approved for production. It’s now part of the Suite package and features a fold-down Murphy bed and couch combination, along with new interior materials and cabinetry that are said to be the highest quality International has offered.
The event in Chicago followed a whirlwind development process that spanned just 26 months from concept approval to first build, reportedly a full year less time than normal for such a project.
Mark Wohlford, senior program manager for LoneStar, says that engineers were able to employ some of the groundwork that had already been done on ProStar, introduced in 2006. “In large measure, this enabled designers to skip the prototype step,” he says.
They also used something called “virtual build.” Wohlford says, “We basically built the entire truck, part by part, on a computer then transferred what we’d learned directly to the production line, saving time and costly mistakes.”
International executives say they believe their latest truck will find favor across a large swath of potential customers, but they clearly stated that it will be positioned — and priced — on par with the leading, square-nose conventional products built in Texas and Washington.
They expressed confidence in this strategy, saying LoneStar’s level of quality, styling and increased operating efficiency made it a good comparative value.
LoneStar models are scheduled to start rolling off the line in October. They will be available with two trim packages: Limited and Suite. Company officials expect buyers to start customizing their trucks soon after delivery for even greater individuality. There are 40 options at the moment and many more in the pipeline, from both International and aftermarket vendors.