Reality bites: More from Navistar vocational boot camp

I drug in late last night from a whirlwind visit to International’s monthlong vocational Boot Camp in Tooele, Utah. It was a lot to take in in a short amount of time. Because in spite of all the craziness surrounding Navistar these days, the company has never slacked up on developing new products and refining existing ones. There was, of course, some news, too. You can catch up on the latest in the story I filed from Utah here.

The overall message from the event was that International and its employees have taken the gloves off, rolled up their sleeves and decided to fight to save the embattled truck and engine manufacturer.

The underlying message wasn’t spoon-fed to the media, but there just the same: In spite of its recent setbacks and messaging miscues on the emissions front, this is a company with employees and dealers who are fiercely proud of the work they’ve done and the products they have out on the market today. It pains International product managers and engineers greatly to see their market share eroded and confidence in the trucks and engines they’re so proud of shaken by decisions and events they had no control over.

But it seems apparent that the company and employees have taken a hard shot to the jaw, gotten back up, dusted themselves off and said, “This sucks. But it’s reality. And no one can fix it but us.”

And that seems exactly what they intend to do. They freely acknowledge they have a long way to go. And the company’s fighting spirit, which once seemed reserved exclusively for bashing competitors, the federal government and the EPA has been redirected toward rebuilding the company’s reputation and getting back to where it was a few years ago.

Natural Gas First?
Arguably, the star of the Boot Camp was a pre-production low-cab-forward International LoadStar with a refuse body. We were given a chance to drive the new truck and a briefing outlining many of its features.

The LoadStar won’t appear on International dealers’ lots until July of next year. But, interestingly, when it does, it will debut with a compressed natural gas Cummins engine under the hood.

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This may be the first time in decades that a Class 8 truck will appear on the North American market without a diesel powerplant under the hood.

I asked Steve Gilligan, vice president of product and vocational marketing at Navistar about this. He told me it was a bit of a perfect-storm situation. For one thing, the refuse industry — the primary market for the LoadStar, at first anyway — is far, far ahead of the rest of the trucking industry in terms of natural gas engine adoption. In fact, Gilligan cited estimates that more than half of all new refuse trucks sold will be outfitted with natural gas engines as early as five years from now.

More to the point, Navistar didn’t want its current diesel engine dilemma to delay the planned LoadStar launch next summer. As already noted, International will phase Cummins ISX15 engines into its product platform with the initial emphasis on the ProStar+.

Given those two considerations, launching the LoadStar with a natural gas engine makes perfect sense and will probably create a bit more of a buzz than one already gets with a major new product launch like this, while giving refuse fleets an interesting and highly capable new vehicle to consider.

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