Truck buyers at the lighter end of the heavy duty market now have a bigger 6×2 choice, with the soft introduction of the Western Star 2800SS. These trucks are up against still competition from the four Japanese brands, who all offer an array of choices at 6×2. None of them have a bonnet, though. This distinguishing feature has a lot of history in Australia and is attractive to many truck buyers.
Strong growth for the Japanese manufacturers and their pragmatic-but-reliable trucks – followed by an increasing share for European trucks – has seen the traditional preference for a truly North American truck decline in some sectors of the market.
What Western Star has here is a truly North American truck with a decent pedigree and adapted to meet the needs of the trucking industry in Australia. This is a US truck through and through, and it comes from a brand that has a reputation for uncompromisingly sticking to the North American truck philosophy.
The 2800SS is a Western Star version of the Freightliner M2 Business Class, a truck sold in large numbers in the US. Built in the Freightliner plant at Mount Holly in North Carolina, the M2 Business Class sells in big numbers – around 50,000 each year. It is the staple 4×2 truck sold in the US medium-duty market by Freightliner, and sells as a 6×2 to a certain extent. Its main contender for sales is a similarly styled International, the Durastar, as well as the bonneted Hino from the US, the 600 Series.
For the long haul
Cruise control? Yes, even dedicated urban runners need to spend some time on the open highway. In fact, this truck is not too shabby in this department. With an rpm level just under 1,700rpm at 100km/h, this 2800SS would be a comfortable drive on a long shift between cities at highway speed.
For those longer journeys, the drivers’s seat has a fold-down armrest to make life a little more comfortable. The hi-vis seatbelt is attached to the B pillar, but not noticeably uncomfortable. The way the cab has been designed, the long-distance driver will probably end up pushing the seat back a little and tilting the steering wheel down towards the lap, in a car-driving-like position, rather than the more upright heavy-truck position.
The feel on the road, especially around the city of Brisbane, where this test took place, is one of stiff suspension. If the single taper-leaf spring were a little longer, it might make for a less bumpy ride. At least the Freightliner rear air suspension keeps the freight happy.
This truck design first appeared on the streets of the US back in 2002. Looking at it today, it does not look at all dated. At the time, back in the 2000s, the M2 Business Class looked like a cutting-edge truck, much like the Cascadia that followed it.
From the Driver’s Seat
Every other truck in this class in Australia is a cabover. This driver needs to remind himself this truck is a conventional with a bonnet, as the bonnet is not very noticeable from the drivers seat. The windscreen is large and low, but the bonnet design means it doesn’t obstruct the view to the front and side of the cabin.
This design does allow for a low and easy climb in and out, up and down the short staircase outside each door.
Looking at this truck, most of the constituent components are something we know and can feel comfortable with. This is not an exotic from left field, it is a new combination of familiar parts that make up the whole truck.
The most striking difference is the cabin itself. Cabovers are heading around our city streets in their thousands. There are nothing like that many small-bonneted trucks working in this sector. The duck-like cabin sticks out like a sore thumb.
At first appearance, the cabin looks like it will be small and cramped. Once inside, the driver realises this is a good use of available space, quite roomy for a small truck. Overall, the designers have created a good working environment. It is easy to use, with a simple auto gearbox, responsive steering and great visibility. The interior is quiet and the driving position comfortable.
What Western Star has here is a truck which will do the job. Its specifications are in and around the same area as most of the trucks in this segment. The big difference is this truck has a nose and a classic-US driveline.
Renting the 2800
The Western Star 2800SS is concentrated mainly in the Penske Truck Rental fleet. In the US, the Penske Rental organisation owns thousands of the M2 Business Class in its medium-duty fleet. Incidentally, it also owns a large number of the bonneted Hino 600 models.
“I didn’t want to compete with light and medium truck rental companies who have yards full of white Japanese trucks,” says Adrian Beach, from Penske Truck Rental. “We were looking for something different to fit in with our heavier trucks. We wanted something capable of carrying plenty of weight in a 14.5-pallet body.
“The 2800 has got great feedback. Most of them are in long-term rental agreements for six months or more. We keep an eye on utilisation of the trucks and if it’s up over 75 per cent, we’ll slip another two or so into the fleet.”
There are more on the way as the fleet expands. The next batch of trucks is likely to have its adaptation done here to meet our Australian Design Rules in Australia and not in the US, as has been done in the past. The change will speed up the pipeline of trucks coming through from the US.