Test Drive: Western Star 5700XE

Western Star’s 5700XE might just be everything to everyone. It’s a big classic-styled truck with second-to-one aerodynamics.

November 2014, - Test Drives

by Jim Park, Equipment Editor - Also by this author

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Western Star's 5700XE is a Classic-style truck in aerodynamic wrap.
Western Star's 5700XE is a Classic-style truck in aerodynamic wrap.

Not long ago it would have been a stretch of the imagination to use the words Western Star and aerodynamic in the same sentence. Today, they might be considered synonymous. The company claims its new flagship, the 5700XE, is 14% more aerodynamic than its predecessor, the 4900, and the second most aerodynamic truck in the Daimler Trucks North America portfolio, next to the Cascadia. Company officials did not elaborate on the spread between the two, but it’s probably closer than many would suspect.

In 2012, Western Star rolled out a first stab at an aerodynamic truck, the 4900 FE. It featured a set-back front axle and a rounded hood profile, a swept-back bumper and few other cosmetic changes. While it did cut the air a little more smoothly than the standard 4900, it fell short of the industry’s current definition of a true aero truck.

But the market was different in 2012. In fact, a year before the 4900FE hit the streets, Western Star conducted a customer survey that suggested 40% of its customer base was still on the aerodynamic fence, but were beginning to lean in that direction.

“Our customers told us they wanted distinct styling, and not something they associated with a fleet truck,” Western Star general manager Mike Jackson said when the 5700XE was launched in Las Vegas in September. “But that has changed in 2014. They tell us now that while the badge and the image are still important, they realize they have to make money too.”

Jackson noted that the current Class 8 tractor market is running at 65% full aero, compared to the traditional or partial-aero designs, like the 4900FE. That left Western Star without a truck to fill a growing market demand.

“Without a full-aero offering, we were clearly self-imposing some limitations on our growth opportunities,” Jackson says. “We realized we couldn’t play well in the aero market with what we offered. The 5700XE is the answer.”

Jackson says he expects this truck to push Western Star into the 5%-plus range for market share in the on-highway segment by opening the doors to that 65% of the on-highway market they couldn’t previously touch.

Western Star’s director of marketing, Ann Demitruk, says the 5700XE is not being aimed at large truckload fleets, leasing companies or customers that want the absolute lowest up-front pricing. Rather, she sees owner-operators, small- to medium-sized fleets, and fleets looking for a unique look and brand, along with fleets looking for a premium reward truck for their drivers as the target market for the 5700XE.

“We won’t sell a lot of these trucks to fleets looking for a low-cost, cookie-cutter truck,” she says. “We’re positioning this as a truck that will set the customer off from the competition while delivering top fuel efficiency and outstanding total cost of ownership.”

The design phase was an interesting exercise. Designers had an iconic brand and distinctive style to work with, which generally demands a light touch with the brush. The 5700XE’s chief designer, Don Vena, held many design clinics with top customers to ensure they’d be satisfied with the result, but he certainly left a bold stroke of his own on the truck.

“Western Star has always been unique, so I never wanted to deviate from that,” he says. “With the push for aerodynamics there comes the thought that it needs to look like a jelly bean. I just don’t see Western Star ever having that kind of vehicle.”

He says the design priority was maintaining the traditional Western Star proportions; the cycle fenders, the rectangular headlights, the raised center section on the hood, and, of course, the vertical grille bars and the sun visor. Vena incorporated all those elements in the 5700XE, but pulled them forward with more contemporary styling.

The rectangular headlights are still there, but now they are projector-beam lamps with LED brows and a three-piece modular design for lower replacement costs.

Two particular design elements contribute further to the styling, but also the aero performance, Vena says. The bumper end caps, he says, are absolutely necessary to the aero performance, routing the air around the front wheel well and over the top of the fender.

“Without the end caps, the aerodynamics just fall apart,” he says.

The sun visor, an essential part of the classic look, is also highly functional. It was designed to help channel air flow up and over the cab roof. It’s also aero neutral, which means the air doesn’t see it. “It contributes no drag at all,” Vena says.

And the truck is loaded with bright work and stainless steel trim, including the grille surround and the grille bars. Vena says that was non-negotiable in the design process.

“It’s a pride of ownership for these folks,” he says. “They love to have the bright work on the vehicle. While we were designing the side fairings and body molding we made provisions to be able to dress it up.”

I suppose if aerodynamics was the 100% prime focus of this design — or any truck design for that matter — you’d have a truck that looked like a jelly bean or an egg. That may be the optimum aero shape, but who’d really want to own a truck that looked like an egg? If the aero work on this truck is effective as its designers say it is, it’ll earn its keep. But when it comes to fuel efficiency, the aero package gets a lot of help from the proven Detroit powertrain.


  1. 1. Regis B BREEN [ December 02, 2014 @ 08:27AM ]

    What about a double sleeper model


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