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Going mainstream

July 14, 2015
In a way, it felt a little weird reading about TL carrier C.R. England and its deal to buy upwards of 200 or so 2016 model Western Star 5700 XE tractors over the next several months.

In a way, it felt a little weird reading about TL carrier C.R. England and its deal to buy upwards of 200 or so 2016 model Western Star 5700 XE tractors over the next several months.

I mean, back in the day, the words “Western Star” and “owner-operator truck” were almost interchangeable – at least from the highway tractor perspective – known for their squared-off nose, big sleeper berths, and big engines.

Definitely not a fuel-sipping fleet-spec tractor, by any stretch of the imagination.

Indeed, Western Star boasts quite the winding historical past largely as it started out building predominantly big and burly vocational trucks for the mining industry, logging operations, and other harsh occupations.

And it didn’t start out standing on its own two-legs, either. In fact, back in 1967, White Motor Company started what it dubbed its “Western Star division” as White Western Star with a new plant at Kelowna, British Columbia, while sharing headquarters space at White’s corporate offices in Cleveland, Ohio.

By 1980, though, White went belly up and Sweden’s Volvo AB acquired the U.S. assets of the company, while two energy-related firms based in Calgary, Alberta – Bow Valley Resource Services and Nova – divvied up White’s Canadian assets, including the Kelowna plant plus the Western Star nameplate and product range.

In 1990, though, change came knocking again in the form of Australian businessman Terry Peabody, who bought Western Star Trucks and guided it back to profitability over the course of a decade before selling it at the turn of the century to what became Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), parent company to one of Western Star’s then-arch rivals, Freightliner Trucks.

But Freightliner literally became Western Star’s bosom buddy when, in

2002, DTNA shut down the Kelowna plant and shifted Western Star production to its main facility in Portland, OR.

Today, while Western Star model 4700, 4800, 4900 and 6900 trucks continue to be built in Portland, DTNA is shifting production of its new 5700 XE models as well as some 4700 and 4900 models to its Cleveland, NC plant, which is where C.R. England will be getting its Western Star units from.

But that’s not to say C.R. England planning to use its new Western Star 5700 XE models as plain old fleet units, though.

First dibs on the new trucks go to its tenured solo and team drivers, plus the carrier’s select “million-mile” drivers.

Next up are tenured “independent contractors with lease availability to pick up a new Western Star set of wheels – they will be offered the option on new units as well, noted Zach England, the company’s COO.

And these are some top-drawer trucks, too, featuring interiors trimmed with wood grain finishes and leather trim.

Yet they are also decidedly modern as well, with no need to wrestle with 18-speed manual like in the olden days.

That’s because C.R. England’s 2016 model Western Star 5700 XEs will be equipped with a “Detroit Powertrain” that combines a DD15 with the direct-drive DT12 automated manual transmission (AMT), along with a host of safety features such as forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and hill-start technologies.

Sure doesn’t sound like a rough-handling rig, does it? In fact, Zach England noted that the company’s new Western Star units are designed specifically to “boost efficiency” while reducing the total cost of ownership.

That sort of dials up and ideal “have your cake and eat it too” type of situation where “traditional” styled trucks are concerned; one where you don’t have to give up fuel economy to get the brawn and big rig style of a classic tractor.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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