ON THE ROAD... AGAIN!

The re­birth of the In­ter­na­tional brand with the long-awaited Pros­tar cer­tainly hasn’t taken the truck­ing world – or at least, our small slice of it – by storm. Even so, af­ter a B-dou­ble run from Mel­bourne to Syd­ney, Pros­tar has the fun­da­men­tals to carve f

Australian Transport News - - Truck Reviews - WORDS STEVE BROOKS

The day was al­most done. Af­ter a few wran­gles park­ing the B-dou­ble in the crowded con­fines of Syd­ney Iveco at East­ern Creek, the only things left to do were fin­ish off the log book and jot down a few fi­nal trip fig­ures. But it’s funny how the mind works some­times. Sud­denly, spear­ing out of the cere­bral swamp, came this odd thought: maybe, just maybe, ProS­tar’s pas­sage into the truck­ing main­stream might evolve along much the same lines as the day just done. Bear with me! It all started early that morn­ing, dark and damp and crowded, with trucks and trail­ers parked wall-to-wall at the big BP op­po­site Mel­bourne Mar­ket.

It wasn’t much bet­ter as we headed up the Hume to Syd­ney – a mis­er­able, murky morn­ing of gloomy grey clouds drib­bling that daggy, an­noy­ing driz­zle that Mel­bourne likes to make.

Fur­ther up, the sop stopped, only to give way to a fog that sat like a soggy sheet, barely lift­ing for a hun­dred kays or more. But then, an hour or so over the bor­der, the grey grad­u­ally gave way to shafts of sun, and the sun­glasses went on some­where be­tween Gunda­gai and Ju­giong.

They stayed there un­til the big orange blob dropped over the edge, re­placed by a star-speck­led sky as the B-dou­ble poked its way through the evening peak be­fore fi­nally get­ting to where it needed to be.

Job done – and, for the most part, done well. Like I said, funny how the mind works some­times. But se­ri­ously, if things go to plan, or at least the way Iveco and In­ter­na­tional hope they’ll go, per­haps this strange anal­ogy isn’t too far be­yond the realms of pos­si­bil­ity?

Af­ter all, like that dark start in Mel­bourne, ProS­tar cur­rently finds it­self strug­gling for space in a tough and busy mar­ket with more grey than glim­mer so far. Time and per­sis­tence may see it ul­ti­mately push through the com­pet­i­tive haze be­fore, fi­nally, with the hard yards slowly dwin­dling in the dis­tance as more op­tions cre­ate greater ap­peal, the light breaks through to a warmer, more wel­com­ing world. As al­ways, time will tell.

What­ever, it’s early days for Iveco and its In­ter­na­tional part­ner, and for now – and prob­a­bly quite some time to come – as prod­uct de­vel­op­ment crawls at snail’s pace, each will have to be con­tent with ProS­tar’s place near the bot­tom of the heavy-duty heap.

To the end of May, for in­stance, a piti­ful 22 In­ter­na­tion­als had been delivered to the heavy-duty mar­ket. In­ci­den­tally, and some­what de­servedly, the only name­plate be­low In­ter­na­tional was Cat, with just 12 units en­ter­ing the mar­ket as the last rem­nants of the failed Cat Truck ex­er­cise fi­nally find a home.

On the pos­i­tive side, though, the Cat truck was based on ProS­tar and, over the course of its troubled ten­ure, the yel­low ver­sion at least demon­strated the over­all en­gi­neer­ing sound­ness of the In­ter­na­tional cab and chas­sis struc­tures.

Right now, how­ever, the big­gest is­sue for the In­ter­na­tional brand is re­build­ing the bridges burned with cus­tomers and deal­ers al­most a decade ago when par­ent com­pany Nav­is­tar opted for the ques­tion­able Cat ven­ture over a con­tin­u­a­tion of its suc­cess­ful as­so­ci­a­tion with Iveco. No doubt, it’ll be a slow road back for In­ter­na­tional and, apart from re­gen­er­at­ing re­spect for the brand, a huge amount of hope hangs on the ap­peal of a strong yet lim­ited spec­i­fi­ca­tion in this first ProS­tar model.

That’s not to say ProS­tar won’t evolve to be­come more things to more peo­ple as cor­po­rate com­mit­ment and en­gi­neer­ing in­vest­ment broaden the op­tions to cover a wider range of roles. But it does pro­pose that rea­son­able early sales will be the eco­nomic mo­ti­va­tion for more op­tions to broaden ProS­tar’s po­ten­tial. In ef­fect, a clas­sic chicken and egg sce­nario.

Ei­ther way, much de­pends on the pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance of In­ter­na­tional and Iveco, and their de­sire to forge a new Aus­tralian fu­ture for the brand with such a proud her­itage in this coun­try.

A strong state­ment, even a press con­fer­ence, to that ef­fect cer­tainly wouldn’t go astray, espe­cially now that it looks in­creas­ingly likely Iveco is canning its Pow­er­star model and prim­ing ProS­tar as its con­ven­tional spear­head.

SPEC­I­FI­CA­TIONS

As things stand at the mo­ment, there’s one ProS­tar with three cab op­tions: day cab with a bumper to back-of-cab (BBC) length of 2,850mm (112-inch); an ex­tended cab with a BBC of 3,510mm (138-inch); and a full sleeper ver­sion on a BBC of 3,585mm, or 141 inches.

The day cab will, of course, be a con­tender for truck and dog roles, such as John Treloar’s ProS­tar. An unashamed In­ter­na­tional ‘tragic’, Treloar was first to place an or­der for ProS­tar and there are ab­so­lutely no re­grets to date. Roundly speak­ing, the ex­tended cab, with its mod­est sleeper ‘shelf’, is prob­a­bly best suited to re­gional work.

How­ever, if you want to know how a sleeper ver­sion per­formed as a line-haul B-dou­ble at full weight from Mel­bourne to Syd­ney, keep read­ing.

At this point, it’s worth point­ing out that ProS­tar has been one of Amer­ica’s most suc­cess­ful line-haul trucks for many years, due in no small way to an en­trenched rep­u­ta­tion for aero­dy­namic ef­fi­ciency and sub­se­quently, high stan­dards of fuel econ­omy.

What in­flu­ence the droop­ing snout will have on Aus­tralian buy­ers is hard to

de­ter­mine but there’s enough feed­back from US op­er­a­tors to ac­cept that, aero­dy­nam­i­cally, ProS­tar is one of the best in the busi­ness. Much eas­ier to de­ter­mine, how­ever, is the mar­ket’s ac­cep­tance of a Cum­mins X15 en­gine with out­puts up to 600hp (447kW) and 2,050ft-lb (2,780Nm), driv­ing through an Ea­ton 18-speed over­drive trans­mis­sion in ei­ther man­ual or au­to­mated Ul­traShift-Plus form.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the au­to­mated Ea­ton comes with a num­ber of added fea­tures, not least the dis­tinct ben­e­fit of a ‘hill-hold’ func­tion. There’s also the in­clu­sion of Cum­mins’ ADEPT soft­ware that pro­vides a ‘SmartCoast’ func­tion in its cur­rent Aus­tralian form, de­signed to en­hance fuel econ­omy by tak­ing the en­gine to idle on slight down­hill grades when in cruise con­trol mode.

Like­wise, there’s ‘SmartTorque’, said by Cum­mins to “help elim­i­nate un­nec­es­sary down­shifts and keep the en­gine op­er­at­ing in the most fuel-ef­fi­cient sweet spot”.

Putting per­for­mance to the pave­ment is Mer­i­tor’s RT46-160GP drive tan­dem rid­ing on Hen­drick­son’s heavy-duty Pri­maax-EX air sus­pen­sion. Up front, Mer­i­tor also sup­plies the wide-track front axle, mounted on three-leaf par­a­bolic spring packs.

Still on the out­side, cab-mounted twin ver­ti­cal ex­haust stacks with stain­less steel shields are stan­dard is­sue. How­ever, at 720 litres, stan­dard fuel ca­pac­ity is un­likely to woo too many line-haul run­ners but, ac­cord­ing to the spec sheet, ad­di­tional fuel tank ca­pac­i­ties are avail­able on re­quest. AdBlue ca­pac­ity is 90 litres.

SIM­PLE BUT FUNC­TIONAL

On the in­side, ProS­tar won’t ex­cite lovers of glitz and glam­our, bling or baubles. It is, in ev­ery sense, a work­horse en­vi­ron­ment where prac­ti­cal­ity and pur­pose rule. That said, though, don’t for a mo­ment think the sur­round­ings are mea­gre or mis­er­able.

They’re def­i­nitely not! It is, in fact, a com­fort­able, well-ap­pointed and en­tirely func­tional cab.

Sure, a few strips of wood­grain and a touch of tai­lored trim would cer­tainly en­hance driver ap­peal but the over­rid­ing im­pres­sion is one of sim­ple func­tion and easy op­er­a­tion.

There’s a com­pre­hen­sive pack­age of neat, dash-mounted gauges, while most in­stru­ments and switchgear are well marked and sited for easy op­er­a­tion.

Sim­i­larly, there are door-mounted elec­tric con­trols for mir­rors that don’t overly in­trude on for­ward vi­sion at round­abouts and the like. The test truck was equipped with the Ul­trashift-Plus au­to­mated trans­mis­sion, con­trolled by a pad mounted on a mov­able arm that can be swung aside when mov­ing from the driver’s seat. Smart!

It’s also quick and easy to find a good driv­ing po­si­tion thanks to a tilt­ing and tele­scopic steer­ing col­umn, and what I con­sider are ex­tremely good sus­pen­sion seats for both driver and pas­sen­ger.

To my mind, you only know you’re on com­fort­able seats when, at the end of a long

“The big­gest is­sue for the In­ter­na­tional brand is re­build­ing the bridges burned.”

day, you re­alise you’re not sore in the bum or suf­fer­ing a bent back.

Yet for line-haul B-dou­ble work in par­tic­u­lar, it’s the stand-up cab and 40-inch in­te­grated sleeper that hold a great deal of ap­peal. Not only is the Aus­tralian-de­signed and made sleeper con­fig­ured to en­hance B-dou­ble car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, it of­fers a wide bunk with a good in­ner-spring mat­tress, gen­er­ous and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble stor­age space un­der­neath, and good-sized lock­ers on each side. Truly, a like­able mix of com­fort and prac­ti­cal­ity.

UP THE ROAD

Punch­ing out 600hp and 2,050ft-lb, it was no sur­prise the X15 coped com­fort­ably with a gross weight of 62 tonnes on the Mel­bourne to Syd­ney run, even with lit­tle more than 2,500km un­der its belt.

On the run up Wagga Hill, for in­stance, with the trans­mis­sion in ‘man­ual’ mode, the out­fit made easy work of the long climb, drop­ping no lower than 11th gear at 40km/h.

Later on, when a col­league rid­ing shot­gun for most of the trip asked my ex­pec­ta­tions about fuel con­sump­tion, I reck­oned a fig­ure around 1.8km/ litre would be a rea­son­able re­sult given that the truck drove through a 4.11:1 diff ra­tio and notched 100km/h at a flick over 1,500rpm.

And so it was that, af­ter 810km, the on-board trip com­puter showed ex­actly that – 1.8km/litre, or just a tad shy of 5.1 miles per gal­lon to us older folk. Given the low kilo­me­tres, rel­a­tively high gross weight, po­tent per­for­mance, and plen­ti­ful pulls on the Hume’s north­bound leg, it’d be a tough call to see it as any­thing less than a highly re­spectable re­turn.

As for the rest of it, again there weren’t too many sur­prises. In the early days of ProS­tar’s right-hand drive de­vel­op­ment, I’d man­aged to spend about 3,000km be­hind the wheel of an eval­u­a­tion unit, so to find this demo truck with much the same good man­ners wasn’t at all un­ex­pected.

For in­stance, for­ward vi­sion is sec­ond to none in the con­ven­tional class, in­te­rior noise lev­els are per­haps marginally higher than some com­peti­tors but cer­tainly not in­va­sive, over­all road man­ners and ride qual­ity are gen­er­ally top-shelf – though steer­ing qual­ity of this unit wasn’t quite as im­pres­sive as ear­lier ex­am­ples – and all con­trols and switchgear are sited for easy ac­cess. From a prac­ti­cal per­spec­tive, there’s plenty to like.

But then, there were a few foibles as well, specif­i­cally re­lated to cruise con­trol and ADEPT soft­ware. For starters, and for what­ever rea­son, en­gine fan ac­tu­a­tion was far more pro­nounced in cruise con­trol mode.

On a day when am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture strug­gled

to rise above 20 de­grees, it was reg­u­larly sur­pris­ing and some­what trou­bling when even mild un­du­la­tions were able to cause a sharp spike in en­gine tem­per­a­ture and, con­se­quently, en­gage the en­gine fan. Out of cruise con­trol, though, fan en­gage­ment was only oc­ca­sional and most times for short bursts on long drags.

As for ADEPT, it’s not only a poorly con­trived acro­nym (ad­vanced dy­namic ef­fi­cient pow­er­train tech­nol­ogy) but, in this ap­pli­ca­tion, did lit­tle more than build the be­lief that Cum­mins and Ea­ton still have quite a way to go be­fore pow­er­train integration reaches the op­er­a­tional fi­nesse of the ver­ti­cally in­te­grated Euro­peans.

‘SmartCoast’, for in­stance, was more a hin­drance than a help, reg­u­larly pulling the en­gine into idle for just a few sec­onds be­fore re-en­gag­ing the trans­mis­sion as down­hill speed in­creased above the set cruise con­trol limit.

When you con­sider that many ex­perts cite each gearshift as a cost on fuel ef­fi­ciency, con­stant swap­ping in and out of idle mode surely does lit­tle to en­dorse ADEPT’s fuel-sav­ing cre­den­tials.

Mean­time, given that Aero­plane and Wagga Hill are sim­i­lar grades on the north­bound Hume, the plan was to tackle Aero­plane in cruise con­trol and climb Wagga in man­ual mode, just to judge the dif­fer­ence. That plan went through the floor when cruise con­trol sud­denly dropped out near the top of Aero­plane with the Cum­mins at full noise and, gen­er­ally, do­ing the job ex­tremely well.

As it turned out, and for what­ever rea­son, cruise con­trol had been pro­grammed to au­to­mat­i­cally drop out at 40.5km/h. Un­aware of this cal­i­bra­tion, it cer­tainly came as a shock to the sys­tem – the truck’s and mine – and a quick move to man­ual mode and a heavy right foot at least al­lowed the ProS­tar to am­ble over with­out com­ing to an ugly stop on the sharpest pinch.

Since then, I’m told, cruise con­trol cal­i­bra­tion has been changed to an au­to­matic ‘drop out’ point of 20.5km/h; a fact worth keep­ing in the back of the brain. Any­way, as much as au­to­mated boxes are in­creas­ingly preva­lent and pre­ferred in nu­mer­ous ap­pli­ca­tions, and for good rea­son, it showed yet again that there are times and places where a well-man­aged man­ual box is hard to beat. Mean­while, back on the pos­i­tives, the close ra­tio spread of the 18-speed trans­mis­sion at least maintains en­gine speed in a rel­a­tively tight, fuel-ef­fi­cient band while in gen­eral op­er­a­tion, the speed and smooth­ness of Ea­ton’s au­to­mated shifts are as slick as any.

In time, Cum­mins and Ea­ton will get the finer de­tails of their pow­er­train pack­age right. Af­ter all, Cum­mins didn’t spend US$600 mil­lion buy­ing into Ea­ton’s tech­no­log­i­cal fu­ture with­out the prospect of a sig­nif­i­cant re­turn some­where down the track. It could, how­ever, be a long track given that the Euro­peans have now marched so far ahead.

Still, there’s no ques­tion ProS­tar is a truck with un­de­ni­able po­ten­tial in its first Aus­tralian form. It is a prac­ti­cal, com­fort­able and will­ing work­horse, pure and sim­ple, with a spec­i­fi­ca­tion able to cover a lot of bases and en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate for gross com­bi­na­tion weights of 90 tonnes and be­yond.

In most re­spects, it’s the ideal spec­i­fi­ca­tion to kick off In­ter­na­tional’s re­turn to the mar­ket.

BACK ON THE MAP

For now, the brand’s fu­ture de­pends on a num­ber of crit­i­cal fac­tors. Top of the heap is a de­ter­mined ef­fort by Iveco and all its sales and ser­vice peo­ple to put ProS­tar on the map, sup­ported by In­ter­na­tional’s on­go­ing com­mit­ment to the brand’s Aus­tralian fu­ture.

Close be­hind is recog­ni­tion of where ProS­tar sits in the mar­ket. It is not a pre­mium player, at least not yet, and to ask a price that tar­gets the likes of Ken­worth or even Western Star would be fool­ishly rem­i­nis­cent of Cat’s ini­tial naivety. Ar­ro­gance even!

Fi­nally, as sales mo­men­tum grad­u­ally builds, it will be vi­tal to add more op­tions to the ProS­tar pack­age. The first to come to mind would be a lighter fleet spec with, say, a Cum­mins X12 un­der the snout.

Light and lively, the X12 is yet to find a home in the Aus­tralian mar­ket and it cer­tainly wouldn’t hurt ProS­tar’s chances to be first with an en­gine which con­tin­ues to at­tract the at­ten­tion of Cum­mins cus­tomers far and wide.

It cer­tainly took a long time for In­ter­na­tional and Iveco to put ProS­tar into play. The big ques­tion now, I guess, is how hard they’re pre­pared to play.

ProS­tar may lack the glitz and glam of oth­ers, but it is an en­tirely prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able driv­ing lay­out

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