Between COVID-19, an economic recession, and Western wildfires, Western Star was forced to do what so many of us have done this strange, unhappy year, and call a virtual Zoom meeting to introduce reporters to its new 49X Class 8 vocational truck.
When the computer screens flickered to life for a virtual press conference to introduce the 49X, David Carson, senior vice president, vocational segment, Daimler Trucks North America; Tracy Mack-Askew, general manager, heavy-duty vocational platforms; and Samantha Parlier, vice president, vocational market development, looked calm, composed, and genuinely excited to share the fruits of their labor with the world.
Carson called the 49X Western Star’s “next generation” vocational truck, which will set the bar for future vehicle designs from the OEM.
“Western Star’s reputation is one that is legendary,” Carson said. “And we are all excited today to finally speak openly about all of the pieces of this puzzle that we have been putting together. The vocational market is extremely important to Daimler, and one where we plan to extend our leadership position by brining many aspects of our on-highway products and technology to bear on new products like the 49X.”
Before the COVID-19 crisis consumed the country, Carson noted, DTNA announced a strategy to implement strategic and structural change in the products it brings to market, focusing on a “segment strategy” rather than a brand-centric one, with a refreshed emphasis on customer and driver demands.
“Our goal moving forward is to be agile and flexible when it comes to meeting those demands. And in in this current world of COVID-19, the one thing that has not changed is the investments and work required to bring a new truck to market,” Carson said. “Today, Western Star has chosen to highlight the vocational truck market as the first place where it has made a significant investment in an outstanding new product – the all-new 49X. This is a fresh start and an all-new truck. And that’s why we went with the ‘X’ as part of the new model name. We wanted to pay tribute to the 4900 – the truck that got us here – but also denote that this is a new chapter forward for Western Star vocational trucks.”
The 49X design is underpinned by a stronger, lighter chassis (350 pounds lighter than today’s 4900) and equipped with an all-new X-series cab. From the outset, Carson said, Western Star designers sought to deliver a truck with maximum versatility in a purpose-built package.
To do this, he added, Daimler engineers leveraged the company’s global commercial vehicle development efforts and product platforms to include the all-new Detroit DT12 Vocational series of transmissions and the Detroit Assurance 5.0 suite of safety systems in the new truck as well.
“Our dealers, truck equipment manufacturers and, most importantly, our customers, rely on the dependability, reliability and sheer toughness of Western Star trucks,” Carson explained. “That’s why we’ve completely rethought the foundation of the 49X to make it easier to upfit, deliver greater durability, return greater payload, and improve productivity at the job site.”
Samantha Parlier, Zooming in to the virtual press briefing from Western Star’s high desert proving grounds hear Bend, Oregon, fleshed out Carson’s comments with a walkaround of the new 49X truck. Since the front end and the cab is what most people focus on first when they see a new truck, it was there she chose to begin her presentation.
The 49X draws heavily on the Western Star’s 4900 design cues. But while the overall look of the truck will be familiar to Western Star purists, the 49X features a design that is packed with new technology and ideas, from small to large.
This approach begins with dual-stage, intelligent, LED headlights, which feature an internally printed heating grid and ambient air temperature sensor. “This new system is capable of melting up to 3 millimeters of snow or ice on the headlamp lens,” Parlier explained. “And it can also be used to defog the lens and remove moisture in warmer climates. The lamps also broadcast a larger, 45-degree illumination zone, which make it easier for drivers to see obstacles off to the side when turning and helps enhance visibility – and safety – in poor light conditions and at night.”
High-visibility sloped hoods have become standard equipment on many vocational truck designs. But Parlier said Western Star engineers improved on the 49X’s overall design by using new, high-strength, lightweight, molded composite materials to create a hood that is lighter than the 4900’s while resistant to cracking or breaking. Equally important, she noted, a new, patented hood suspension uses a coil-over-shock absorber system to better isolate the new hood design from chassis vibrations and road shocks to further enhance durability.
The new 49X cab itself features a steel-reinforced aluminum X-Series design, which Parlier said is the largest currently available in the Class 8 vocational segment. The cab is accessed by a set of aluminum steps. Western Star designers paid special attention to give drivers more of a “staircase” feel to the steps, as opposed to the conventional “ladder” arrangement on many trucks, for safer entry and egress.
Behind the wheel, Parlier added, drivers will find themselves in a cab that offers 13% more space than the previous Western Star vocational cab – yet is 8% lighter. A dedicated vocational isolation system forms the basis of a new cab mount system that works to provide optimal stability and reduced shock and vibration for the cab occupants to help reduce fatigue and keep drivers alert.
One of the highlights of the new cab is also one of the simplest, yet most effective innovations on the new 49X, Parlier said. This is the new “trench style” low roof, a configuration designed to keep the overall vehicle profile as low as possible while providing a larger door opening with enough available head room to allow workers with hardhats on to enter and exit the truck without removing their safety gear. “I’m excited about the low roof, because it shows the intentional, purpose-built nature of our engineering design,” she said. Engineers wanted drivers to be able to get in and out more easily. “But if we raised the entire roof, you might not be able to get into your batch plant. So we scooped out he middle so you can put your lights, horns, or a crane boom, down in between so we don’t push the overall height up.”
“We’ve also designed the doors with a generous 70-degree opening arc,” Parlier added. “This, combined with the increased head room, makes it much easier for drivers and workers to safely get in and out of the truck. And that’s important, because research shows that slips when climbing on trucks and equipment are the second most common accidents on jobsites.”
An optional premium trim package introduces richly crafted materials, including woodgrain and diamond stitched seating. This effect is enhanced by a wrap-around dash that puts the driver command center and B-panel in easy line of sight of the operator. On the B-panel, a flex panel can be prepped for a tablet or configured for an additional 12 switches or 10 gauges. A QuickFit Dash Access is designed for seamless integration of telematics or other device integration.
And, in a weird demonstration that only a year as bizarre as 2020 could provide, Parlier was able to tout the efficiency of the 49X’s improved HVAC system while driving through the smoke created by the massive Western wildfires in Oregon, noting that the air inside the cab was, “the cleanest I’ve breathed in days.”
Out front, drivers will find a massive, panoramic , frameless windshield that is 28% larger than the 4900’s. Visibility is further enhanced by a new set of rear-view mirrors that underwent a rigorous six-year development cycle to make sure they are completely vibration-free in almost any vocational terrain setting imaginable. “Even at idle – and regardless of engine rpm -- these mirrors don’t shake,” Parlier said.
“The one thing that is really a shining star is the safety,” said Mack-Askew, citing not only the first time Detroit Assurance 5.0 had been brought into the Western Star family, but also the improvements in visibility and a quiet cab that allow drivers to see and hear other workers on the jobsite.
Asked about how the sensors in the Detroit Assurance will hold up to the tough vocational world, Parlier showed how the forward radar sensor is set back into the bumper and has a protective case. The Side Guard Assist, which can help a driver detect people and equipment on a jobsite, is located on the step with a protective cover designed for harsh environments. “They survived an 8,000 vocational-mile test at the proving grounds,” she said.
Making Body Upfitting Easy
The 49X cab rides on an all-new, single-channel rail frame, which Parlier said has an RBM strength rating of over 3.7 million inch-lbs. for enhanced strength, durability and weight savings. C-channel frame reinforcements with an RBM rating of up to 5.4 million inch-lbs. give the 49X frame added strength and rigidity. A new routing and clipping system for body-builder wiring requirements speeds body installation times while keeping electrical wires and air lines separated for reduced damage and easier maintenance diagnosis and repair.
“We know a vocational truck is useless if you can’t upfit it with the body that’s needed,” Parlier said. “We developed an electrical quick fit connection system that provides ready-to-go plug-and-play connections and work with body builders to create harnesses that plug in here.”
Other features that help with upfitting, she said, is a plug on top of the dash that allowed easy access the heart of the electrical system, instead of taking the dash apart or drilling. The center dash panel can be easily removed with four screws for easy addition of a panel of mixer controls, for instance. “No need to drill, no need to pull the dash out, it makes upfit quick and seamless.”
All-New Vocational Transmission
Pop the new composite hood open and you’ll find a familiar suite of DTNA diesel engine options under the hood. According to Carson, Western Star will offer the new 49X with everything from the heavy-haul Detroit DD16, the mid-range DD15, and the fuel-sipping DD13 diesel engines. There’s also a Cummins X15 option for folks who like to see red when they look down into an engine bay. Power ratings range from 300 to 600 hp, and torque output goes from 1,250 lb-ft all the way up to 2,050 lb-ft.
The big powertrain news, however, is that DTNA chose to top off the debut of the Western Star 49X by introducing the world premiere of the new DT12 Vocational automated transmission.
Carson noted that Daimler has invested more than $100 million and pulled in engineering experts from around the globe to adopt its DT12 on-highway AMT for tougher vocational applications, with a host of all-new features designed to get hard work done in tough terrain.
“We are very excited about the DT12 Vocational AMT,” Carson told journalists. “It features three new driving modes, shift-map optimization, and other features designed with the understanding that these trucks work hard off-road – but they also spend a great deal of time on the highway getting to and from the tough places where jobsites are commonly found.”
Parlier expanded on these points, saying “the transmission was purpose-built around this truck.” The DT12 Vocational will include side PTO capabilities that allow for added flexibility, and unique work application modes:
- Rock-Free Mode allows the 49X to free itself from wheel-stuck situations.
- Off-Road Mode enables smooth driving on extreme terrain, like logging roads and rock quarries.
- Power Launch provides powerful takeoffs while protecting the clutch and driveline.
- Paver Mode allows the truck to shift from Neutral to Drive without depressing the brake pedal when pulling away.
The truck is available with set-forward or set-back axle configurations, in day cab as well as a range of sleeper options.
For the time being, Carson said, Western Star will continue to sell both the 4900 Series as well as the new 49X, in order to give customers time to assess the new truck’s capabilities for themselves. The pricing for the 49X will be similar to the 4900.
A test drive for journalists is tentatively scheduled for mid-October, depending on the wildfire situation in the West – and HDT will be on on-hand when that occurs with more first-person details on Western Star’s new, modern, work truck.