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The Aero Influence

Western Star steps into a completely new market segment with a new focus on aerodynamics and fuel efficiency

When a trucking giant such as Daimler Trucks North America controls all the shots amongst its corporate divisions, the competition between each different brand tends to be totally controlled.

There’s certainly a bias towards European decision making that becomes evident when dealing with executives at all levels, whether they are assigned to Mercedes-Benz, Freightliner or Fuso. But into this melting pot of bureaucracy has come a wild card in the form of Western Star, and the level playing field may just be about to get re-graded.

Western Star has a unique position in the Australian market where the brand has managed to separate its identity away from the Freightliner umbrella, with its distribution and product support handled, until recently, by division of Transpacific Industries.

The quiet achiever of the trucking fraternity, Western Star is currently undergoing a significant restructuring since the distribution rights for its products, together with those of MAN and Dennis Eagle, became part of Penske Corporation in 2013.

For those with long memories, entrepreneur Roger Penske once upon a time bought Detroit Diesel. Not just part of it, but all of it, in a deal struck during 1988 with the then General Motors Chief Executive Roger Smith.

One year earlier the American engine builder had launched what was to become one of the most significant diesel engines of our time. The Series 60 replaced the two-stroke Detroits that had established such a history in Australian trucking, notwithstanding also causing varying degrees of industrial deafness amidst many of its devotees.

The success of the Series 60 and the willingness of the Redford, Michigan, workforce to adapt and improve its work practices enabled Mr. Penske to return the company to profit, and, in so doing, put it on track to further develop electronic engine management systems (DDEC) and subsequently to develop the Detroit HDEP (Heavy Duty Engine Platform) that resulted in the DD13, DD15 and DD16 engines.

Along the way, under the control of Roger Penske, Detroit Diesel Corporation raised its on-highway market share from 3 percent to 33 percent, and by 1999 it had built its 4 millionth engine.

In October 2000, Daimler/Chrysler completed a tender offer for all the outstanding shares of Detroit Diesel Corporation, including the 48.6 percent owned by Penske Corporation. Ownership of Detroit Diesel Corporation moved firstly to Daimler/Chrysler, and then subsequently to Daimler AG as part of Daimler Trucks North America.

Having divested its share in Detroit Diesel, Penske Corporation expanded in different areas, investing in vehicle dealerships to the position today where the Penske Automotive group operates 326 retail automotive franchises representing 39 brands globally and recently commenced rental operations in the Australian market through Penske Truck leasing.

With the responsibility for marketing the Western Star brand in the Australian and New Zealand markets, Penske Automotive Group has looked more deeply into the customer service and support for the engine that powers his major truck franchise.

Unconfirmed reports currently circulating the industry suggest that the Penske Automotive Group will be taking control of the MTU Detroit Diesel Australia – the network responsible for providing support for the Detroit Diesel engine brand – and independent engine manufacturer Deutz, through 18 service locations throughout Australia.

The supposed acquisition of MTU Detroit Diesel Australia enables the Penske Automotive Group to ramp up sales and support activity for the various applications of Detroit Diesel in on-highway, off-highway, mining, rail, marine and power generation. But looking ahead to the future, the positioning of the well-equipped service support locations would provide a ready-built platform from which to expand the truck leasing business involving MAN and Western Star products.

As the dust settles on this latest acquisition, Western Star is currently launching its latest truck model the 5700XE back home in the North American market. This could be a pivotal model as it takes Western Star from what could best be described as a more workhorse oriented truck design into long distance, aerodynamic line haul trucking efficiency.

Although the manufacturer states there are no current plans to offer the 5700XE on the Australian market, the strengthening of the Western Star brand presence could well fast track expansion in its product range.

The 5700XE starts a chain of change, with the introduction of Daimler’s version of powertrain vertical integration.

Hand-built at the award-winning DTNA Cleveland (N.C.) Truck Manufacturing Plant, the 5700XE is scheduled to start full production in 2015 and can be spec’d with either the Detroit DD13, Detroit DD15 or the Detroit DD16 engine, offering up to 600 hp.

The standard gearbox is the Detroit DT12 automated manual transmission, the North American version of the Daimler/Mercedes-Benz PowerShift, and the integration principle continues with the option of using Daimler’s own axles.

The US market is currently investigating the benefits of downspeeding engines, and for North America Western Star will also offer the new integrated Detroit Powertrain. This package sees the DD15 engine rated at 400 horsepower and 1750 foot-pound torque running at lower rpm on-highway and using the DT12 transmission with Intelligent Powertrain Management and Detroit axles with specific configurations and gearing.

The 5700XE is also equipped with the proprietary Detroit Virtual Technician remote diagnostic service, which is part of the Detroit Connect suite of integrated telematics solutions. Detroit Connect also includes Visibility fleet software and the forthcoming On-Board Tablet, as options for the 5700XE. Although these options have not yet been made available in our market, it is known that Western Star is considering making the Detroit Virtual technician available. The timeframe for this could well be brought forward as a result of the improved synergy of MTUDDA and Penske Commercial Vehicles. It is also an ideal method for monitoring control of a national fleet of rental or leased vehicles.

“The 5700XE builds on proven aerodynamic technologies from parent company Daimler Trucks North America, and adds edgy styling to set it apart from other trucks,” said Ann Demitruk, director of marketing for Western Star.

All-new features such as an aerodynamic hood, roof, chassis and cab fairings reduce drag and increase efficiency. Additional performance features include a new sweptback four-piece bumper with an under-bumper valance that contributes to aerodynamic efficiency, new halogen headlights that are optimised for aerodynamic performance, and excellent visibility.

A state-of-the-art visor has been specifically engineered to work with the impressive slope in the hood’s rear air ramp to direct airflow over the cab without an aerodynamic penalty. The roof and cab fairings sweep back for tighter trailer gap and to help direct air flow over and around the trailer, and optional chassis side fairings reduce drag by up to six percent while still providing easy access to batteries and DEF/AdBlue tank.

The 5700XE features a 126-inch BBC with a set-back axle, and is available in a range of spacious and lightweight sleeper configurations. Inside the corrosion-resistant galvannealed lightweight steel cab, driver comfort has been improved with a new adjustable steering column and steering wheel, featuring integrated controls for stereo and cruise control as well as a Bluetooth connection for mobile phones. In addition, an all-new turn signal stalk includes integrated wiper and high beam controls.

A new transmission control stalk on the right side of the column allows fingertip control of the engine brake and Detroit DT12 transmission that help drivers focus on the road ahead.

Many Australian buyers have complained of not being allowed access to the typical safety features found on many European trucks when buying North American brands. That scenario changes completely with the 5700XE, which has already been engineered for the full Meritor Wabco suite of safety features.

Buyers can option up for safety to include the Meritor WABCO OnLane Lane Departure Warning System, OnGuard Adaptive Cruise Control and OnGuard Collision Mitigation System. This radar-based system provides visual and audible driver alerts through an in-cab dash display when the vehicle’s following distance could result in a rear-end collision. If the driver doesn’t take action, OnGuard’s Active Braking automatically de-throttles the engine and activates the service brakes.

The DT12 transmission has a feature called Intelligent Powertrain Management (IPM), which is standard on the 5700XE. IPM uses GPS and pre-loaded terrain maps to evaluate the road profile up to five km in advance and then determines the most fuel-efficient vehicle operation (including vehicle speed, transmission gear, and engine rpm). ABS brakes with electronic stability and roll stability control are standard fitment.

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