PROS­TAR IN PRO­FILE

Australian Transport News - - Truck Reviews - WORDS STEVE BROOKS

In this com­pre­hen­sive re­port, we take a look at the long-winded ar­rival of In­ter­na­tional ProS­tar on the Aus­tralian mar­ket, talk­ing ex­clu­sively with the first ProS­tar owner in Aus­tralia, then steer­ing a B-dou­ble up the Hume to find a truck with plenty of pos­i­tives. But first, here’s a bit of back­ground

I t’s fi­nally here and, have no doubt, it’s a truck with the po­ten­tial to even­tu­ally carve a re­spectable pres­ence in a field full of fierce com­peti­tors. Sure, ProS­tar’s pas­sage to promi­nence won’t be easy, but it’s cer­tainly not be­yond the bounds of pos­si­bil­ity. That said, there has never been a more pro­tracted, con­vo­luted en­try to the Aus­tralian mar­ket than In­ter­na­tional ProS­tar.

It was, for in­stance, back in Fe­bru­ary 2015 when it was first an­nounced that ProS­tar would make its lo­cal de­but at the Bris­bane Truck Show in May that year and, with it, of course, the re-en­try of the In­ter­na­tional brand to the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

Six months ear­lier in the US, a senior Nav­is­tar ex­ec­u­tive, speak­ing to a small group of Aus­tralian truck me­dia at the com­pany’s gran­diose cor­po­rate head­quar­ters in Chicago, in­di­cated Nav­is­tar’s in­ten­tion to re­main part of the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

“Nav­is­tar is in Aus­tralia to stay,” said Eric Tech, for­mer head of Nav­is­tar’s global op­er­a­tions. What he should have added, per­haps, was “in one form or an­other”.

Even so, it was a bold state­ment, though seem­ingly based more on cor­po­rate cor­rect­ness than firm in­ten­tion. Af­ter all, In­ter­na­tional par­ent com­pany Nav­is­tar was still sup­ply­ing Cat-badged trucks to the Aus­tralian mar­ket at that time and, de­spite con­sid­er­able bad­ger­ing, Tech would not be drawn on whether In­ter­na­tional’s in­volve­ment in Aus­tralia would be as a

fully fac­tory-backed op­er­a­tion or through a distri­bu­tion agree­ment with a cor­po­rate part­ner. A part­ner such as Iveco.

Even­tu­ally, af­ter much spec­u­la­tion that Nav­is­tar and Iveco were about to re­gen­er­ate their pre­vi­ous as­so­ci­a­tions – this lat­est en­ter­prise is, in fact, the third time the two en­ti­ties have forged an as­so­ci­a­tion – both com­pa­nies is­sued a press re­lease in Oc­to­ber 2015, stat­ing: “It’s a done deal. Iveco ap­pointed Aus­tralian distrib­u­tor of In­ter­na­tional trucks.”

Then si­lence. Other than oc­ca­sional snip­pets from cau­tious sources and in­creas­ingly shal­low no­tions about In­ter­na­tional’s ‘en­trenched psy­che’ and ‘in­cred­i­ble her­itage’ in Aus­tralia, there was barely a whis­per from ei­ther out­fit for more than two years. To be blunt, it was all a bit weird. Was this re­ally the re­turn of an iconic brand, or was it just an­other ex­am­ple of cor­po­rate com­plex­ity and con­fu­sion on a grand scale? From the out­side look­ing in, those two years did lit­tle more than spawn spec­u­la­tion that ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Iveco and Nav­is­tar weren’t quite as smooth as ini­tially hoped.

From all ap­pear­ances, it seemed the in­evitable dis­so­lu­tion of the Cat con­nec­tion was pro­vid­ing Nav­is­tar with the op­tion of ei­ther pack­ing up and go­ing home, or again join­ing with Iveco in a bid to put In­ter­na­tional back on the Aus­tralian map – this time with a fully im­ported ProS­tar.

Ob­vi­ously, Nav­is­tar chose the lat­ter, while at Iveco, with its Pow­er­star model strug­gling for sales, there was more long-term po­ten­tial in hav­ing a Cum­mins-pow­ered ProS­tar as the com­pany’s spear­head con­ven­tional.

TO­GETHER AGAIN

In­ter­na­tional and Iveco have plenty of shared his­tory, not least the clever ini­tia­tive or­ches­trated around the turn of the cen­tury by for­mer Iveco Trucks Aus­tralia man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Alain Ga­jnik, which saw the in­tro­duc­tion and, ul­ti­mately, lo­cal pro­duc­tion at Iveco’s Dan­de­nong (Vic) plant of In­ter­na­tional 9200, 9900 and, later, 7600 con­ven­tional mod­els. For the bet­ter part of a decade, ev­ery­thing ap­peared to be rock­ing along rea­son­ably well un­til Nav­is­tar pulled the plug on the as­so­ci­a­tion with Iveco in 2009 and jumped into the cor­po­rate cot with Cat.

It was a sad and un­for­tu­nate end to what, from all ap­pear­ances, had been a rea­son­ably pro­duc­tive ar­range­ment for both en­ti­ties. What’s more, it saw the steady dis­in­te­gra­tion of the crit­i­cal sup­port struc­tures es­sen­tial to the sur­vival of any truck brand. In fact, sev­eral sources say the re­build­ing of sales and ser­vice struc­tures was a ma­jor rea­son for the long de­lays in ProS­tar’s ar­rival on the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

Still, while the Cat ex­er­cise un­did all the good work, the Cat-badged truck was based on ProS­tar and at least con­firmed the struc­tural and me­chan­i­cal merit of the In­ter­na­tional cab and chas­sis. Con­se­quently, ProS­tar is not al­to­gether new to Aus­tralia, with many facets of the truck op­er­at­ing since 2010 in the guise of the Cat-branded CT630 model.

What’s more, with an ex­pe­ri­enced and ded­i­cated team of lo­cal en­gi­neers, the Cat range steadily grad­u­ated from trucks with few op­tions and lim­ited ap­pli­ca­tion po­ten­tial to mod­els suit­able for a far wider range of roles, ul­ti­mately right up to road train triples. For­tu­nately, those same en­gi­neers now guide the lo­cal de­vel­op­ment of ProS­tar. So, in a nut­shell, the en­gi­neer­ing and dura­bil­ity ad­vances made with the Cat-badged prod­uct should be, and ul­ti­mately may be, eas­ily ap­plied to Pros­tar. Pro­vid­ing, of course, mar­ket ac­cep­tance and sub­se­quent sales growth de­liver suf­fi­cient in­cen­tive to in­vest in ex­panded mod­els and op­tions.

And that’s where the crunch comes in res­ur­rect­ing the mar­ket’s faith in the fu­ture of the In­ter­na­tional brand be­cause, no mat­ter how you look at it, that faith took a ter­ri­ble pound­ing when Nav­is­tar flicked Iveco in favour of a Cat com­pany that had al­ready scur­ried out of the truck en­gine busi­ness and would exit the truck busi­ness al­to­gether soon af­ter. In ef­fect, Nav­is­tar was left hold­ing the Cat can.

How­ever, res­ur­rect­ing that faith will take a con­certed and con­sis­tent ef­fort at all lev­els of the Iveco and In­ter­na­tional net­works, from senior ex­ec­u­tives on both sides, deal­ers and, vi­tally, sales and ser­vice per­son­nel. In­deed, in­ter­nal faith in the fu­ture of the prod­uct will be as in­stru­men­tal to the brand’s suc­cess as its ac­cep­tance by cus­tomers.

Pa­tience, per­se­ver­ance and a rea­son­able price re­flect­ing ProS­tar’s mod­est stand­ing in a highly com­bat­ive mar­ket will be para­mount. How­ever, ProS­tar has some­thing the Cat truck never had: a Cum­mins en­gine, and more to the point, the se­cu­rity of a power provider that won’t walk away from the truck busi­ness.

Whether you’re a Cum­mins fan or not, the world’s lead­ing in­de­pen­dent diesel en­gine maker has many at­tributes in this coun­try, not least a re­mark­ably strong and highly re­garded ser­vice net­work, and a heavy-duty prod­uct range that, in its lat­est 15-litre X15 form, has ma­tured far be­yond the mal­adies plagu­ing its EGR pre­de­ces­sor.

All up, ProS­tar has the abil­ity to make a mark in this fiercely com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. If it doesn’t, it won’t be the truck’s fault.

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