Trucks at Work

At the proving grounds

So I spent some time this week at Navistar Inc.’s “new” proving grounds site in New Carlisle, IN, located about an hour or so due west of its Lisle, IL, headquarters outside of Chicago.

I say “new” because Studebaker Corp. – yes, THAT Studebaker; the car maker once based in nearby South Bend, IN – originally built it back in 1926.

[You can see in this photo gallery that Navistar kept the old Studebaker “S” logo in place on the site’s main garage.]

When Studebaker shut down production in 1963, it leased the New Carlisle proving grounds to Bendix, which bought it 1966 when Studebaker officially went belly up.

Bendix in turn sold the site to Robert Bosch GmbH – a firm well known in vehicle manufacturing circles – in 1996, which provided the testing services of the grounds to a wide range of companies, Navistar included.

Yet John McKinney, senior VP of North American truck sales, noted during the ride and drive event the OEM hosted for journalists at the New Carlisle location that Navistar’s purchase of proving grounds is “another step on the road back to where we were” in his words.

“It is another building block in our focus on uptime; for school buses, for on-highway trucks, for our entire product line,” he explained. “Having the proving grounds gives us full validation capability for all our products.”

McKinney noted that in today’s truck market it is “all comes down to the product; to durability, reliability and quality.”

Dennis Mooney, Navistar’s group VP for global product development, picked up on that theme, stressing that “it’s nice to be working on something other than emissions” for a change.

“Our strategy is now focused on product integration, but not ‘vertical’ integration,” he emphasized. “Our strategy is to go with the best global suppliers – Cummins, Eaton, Allison Transmission, Wabco, Bendix, and others – to give our customers more choices. That’s a little bit of a challenge from an engineering standpoint but it’s what the customers want.”

He added an example just how “crazy” the amount of complexity in the trucking business is getting: Navistar has 70 engineers on staff dedicated to handling nothing but customization requests.

“That allows us to deliver specialized vehicles in weeks, not months, to customers,” Mooney noted. “That’s why having our own providing grounds is vital to this process; it allows us to ensure that our trucks are reliable. That in turn allows us to be faster and nimbler in the market.”

Navistar is also making its testing services at the New Carlisle site available to other companies, too; indeed, Mooney noted 19 other firms are using Navistar’s proving grounds for durability testing, such as Wilson Trailer.

“Allison Transmission has offices here as well as three to four testing garage bays of their own; there’s also a lot of RV [recreational vehicle] testing done here too,” he added. “The facility actually pays for itself with all that outside testing.”

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