If anything, the introduction of the Western Star 5800FE is an indication of a trend across the trucking industry. Truck operators are, finally, starting to really care about fuel consumption and will buy trucks accordingly. In the past some were fuel oriented and others paid lip service to lower fuel use, without wanting to compromise on truck styling and driver acceptance.
In recent years, a series of European models introduced to the Australian truck market have made serious gains in market share by dint of their frugal fuel use. Operators have seen real savings and realised fuel economy can be a reality. These changes have taught truck buyers to ask about fuel consumption and forced truck manufacturers to offer a fuel efficient option in the range, or miss out on a sale.
The cabin is actually the same one as is fitted to the 4800 model. In fact, the model is very familiar from the driver’s seat, apart from a better view out front with the sloping bonnet and hidden air cleaners.
Although this 5800 does look substantially different on the outside from its more traditional stablemate, the 4800 FXB, the interior is exactly the same. This is the familiar square and upright dash board covered with switches and dials. Overhead is a more modern double DIN entertainment unit, but the switching, controls and instrumentation below is typical traditional Western Star.
The company may have a more 21st century interior on its books, namely that sold in the very aerodynamic Western Star 5700 exclusively in North America. However, this doesn’t look like it will reach these shores anytime soon.
Out on the highway, the test route took the truck South West out of Brisbane, onto the Cunningham Highway. This route takes in the Cunningham Gap, a long unrelenting climb up onto the continental divide, which gives the driver the opportunity to assess the torque capabilities of the engine and the quality of that torque. It is also a chance to make the Ultrashift work for its living, both climbing and descending the long grade.
On the start of the climb, the truck, which grossed over 60 tonnes, dug in and hung on. For much of the ascent, the AMT used tenth gear and it held around 25 km/h at 1600 rpm. Any decrease in the gradient saw it comfortably grab a gear or two and get the speed up to 30 km/h or more and sit comfortably around the 1600 rpm mark.
The Ultrashift would change up at 1800 rpm, knowing it was climbing, using the inclinometer in the transmission. after the up-change the rpm levels drop to 1400 rpm plus and the engine gets back to work.
As the gradient steepened towards the summit the inclinometer persuaded the Ultrashift to hang on until 1900 rpm before upshifting, keeping them at 1500 or above. In tenth this saw the truck staying up around the 30 km/h mark.
One of the surprising aspects on the climb was the small amount of time the fan was on. It would intervene every now and then just to get the temperature back down and then click off. On DD15 test drives in the past, the fan seemed to have been on more often and would stay on longer. Whether this was a reflection of the cold day or improved cooling efficiency, it is hard to tell.
This truck managed to complete a very long and arduous climb at well over 60 tonnes and managed to be running around 30 km/h most of the way. It maintained momentum all of the way up the Gap, making good progress at top weight.
The final kick in the climb at the summit saw the AMT grab seventh gear and haul the trailers up and over the top. One of the disadvantages of relying on an inclinometer in the gear box was highlighted at this point. As the prime mover crested and levelled out it changed back up to tenth, but both trailers were still hanging down the grade and it had to grind it out to get over the top.
After a coffee break, it was back down the Gap and tenth gear proved effective. To maintain the right speed on the incline it was necessary to toggle between full and medium on the three-stage engine brake. If a few more steps were available in the engine retardation system, it would have made the descent seamless.
The power may be set at 500 hp, but the progress the truck makes in normal driving seems to be more than acceptable. Being below the magic 550 mark may mean it does lose a little bit of momentum when there’s a short rise in the road, but it is barely noticeable.
If the operators of Australia are looking to really keep fuel costs down, setting the power and torque levels as Western Star have on this model may be the way to go. There may be a bit of whingeing from some drivers but the cost savings should ease the pain. The simple solution would be to put a 560 hp sticker on the door and keep the real power setting quiet.
The improved sales of models like the 5800 mean a couple of things are happening. For one, truck buyer sentiment is changing and adapting to the new reality, fuel consumption is now a big deal and operators are taking it seriously. Evidence of this comes from a series of initiatives both from European brands, but also the North Americans, to offer fuel saving options to keep costs down.
The other change is the way Western Star are being more pragmatic about the trucks it offers to the market. Perhaps the relative success of its stable mate, the MAN TGX D38, has taught the Penske organisation to look beyond supplying an uncompromising traditional North American truck, to hang some bling on, and forward to keeping operating costs down in the fuel department.