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All-new Western Star 49X vocational truck breaks cover

Lighter, tougher model joins venerable 4900 in Daimler Trucks brand lineup

Western Star spent six years developing the 49X vocation truck and will sell it alongside the venerable 4900 model. (Photo: Daimler Trucks North America)

LED lights that can burn through 3 millimeters of ice in 10 minutes. Outside mirrors stable enough to support pull-ups by a 300-pound man. Staircase-designed steps to reach the cab.

These are a few of the features of the all-new Western Star 49X, a vocational truck six years in development. 

The 49X is billed as an alternative rather than a replacement for the Western Star 4900 model used in extreme service like mining, logging and hauling asphalt. The Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) division is the sibling of Freightliner, the market leader in Class 8 tractor sales.

Homage to 4900 model heritage

The 49X name pays homage to the heritage of the 4900, introduced in 1967. Western Star revealed the 49X on Tuesday and will take orders this winter, with deliveries in early 2021.

DTNA’s goal is to keep growing its share of the vocational truck market, which the company said moved higher in each of the last four years. Freightliner and Western Star combined account for nearly 40% of Class 8 sales.

“We know we’re a great on-highway business and developer,” said David Carson, DTNA senior vice president of the vocational segment. “We look to bring that success with the expertise and knowledge into the vocational part of the business.”

The 4900 will be around as long as there is demand. Some customers “want the simplicity of a truck that is older in its design and features,” Carson said. “But we’re increasingly hearing from customers about the need for up-fit, ease of integration of bodies and the need for safety features.”

If a stalled national infrastructure program clears Congress next year, more vocational trucks could be needed to support the work. Vocational trucks represent about 27% of the overall Class 8 market, according to ACT Research.

“There is still a significant focus for things that are going on for infrastructure,” Carson said. “We believe that investment will not only continue but potentially increase.” 

Building a beast

DTNA engineers took a clean sheet design approach to the 49X, talking with truck-body builders and consulting with loggers in British Columbia, snowplow operators in New Hampshire and oil patch truckers in West Texas. They were guided by three imperatives: durability, lightweighting and safety. 

Spec to spec with a Western Star 4900 model, the 49X is 350 pounds lighter. A high-strength, high-impact resistant composite hood accounts for 100 of those lost pounds.

A patented ISO Tech Hood Suspension system absorbs and dissipates vibrations from the chassis on uneven terrain to protect the hood from damage and cracking.

Full vehicle shaker tests replicated 800,000 miles of use to the all-new X-series cab, which   Daimler claims offers 10-13% more space than competitors.

Under the hood

The 49X offers the all-new Detroit DT 12 Vocational series of automated manual transmissions, a technology practically unheard of in vocational trucks 15 years ago.

“What we’ve seen over the last 15 years is that as they’ve proved themselves, people have adopted them,” said Samantha Parlier, DTNA vice president of vocational market development.

DTNA invested more than $100 million in the transmissions, available as either the DT 12-V or the DT 12 V-X rated up to a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of up to 330,000 pounds. Transmission validation covered more than 35 million miles. 

The transmissions can be mated to the Gen 5 Detroit DD 15 or DD 16 engine, the largest and most powerful diesel power plant in the North American heavy truck market. Daimler also offers Cummins’ engines and Eaton and Allison transmissions.

Three work application drive modes are offered. Rock-Free Mode allows the 49X to free itself from situations in which the wheels are stuck. Off-Road Mode enables smooth driving on extreme terrain like logging roads and rock quarries. Paver Mode allows the truck to shift from neutral to drive without depressing the brake pedal when pulling away.

Stepping up safety

For the first time, a Western Star model features Detroit Assurance safety systems from DTNA’s safety and connectivity unit. Features include advanced collision mitigation and optional Side Guard Assist. That lets the driver see objects otherwise obscured in passenger-side blind spots. The driver also gets audible and visual alerts.

Active Brake Assist 5 operates at speeds as low as 5 miles per hour, common on work sites, Tailgate and Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control that works to 0 mph are also available along with video capture, intelligent high-beam and automatic wipers and headlamps.

Physical safety for occupants comes in the form of steps constructed as a staircase instead of a ladder. They start closer to the ground. They measure a half-inch wider than steps on the 4900 and have volcano tread to improve footholds. Added toe clearance allows mud, dirt and debris to pass through. 

Getting in and out of the truck is easier because of 70-degree door opening angles and five handholds to reduce slip-and-fall injuries. Slips and falls are the second most common workplace injury, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor.

“Safety is as simple as making sure we’re protecting the operator in a comfortable environment and that they feel better at the end of the day when they go home,” said Tracy Mack-Askew, DTNA general manager of heavy-duty vocational platforms.

Now you see

A sloped hood, lower engine position, underhood air filtration and a 28% larger single-piece windshield all contribute to improved visibility. An optional three-piece rear window is 77% larger than the 4900. 

A dual-stage LED headlight system with a 45-degree angle light pattern features an internally printed heat grid that can melt 3 millimeters of ice in less than 10 minutes at 40 degrees below zero or burn through condensation in warmer, humid environments,

Door-mounted exterior mirrors cut down on the effects of chassis and engine vibration to keep the mirrors stable. They are strong enough to bear the weight of a 300-pound man doing a pull up — “if you can find a 300-pound man who can do one,” Parlier said.

“If that mirror is vibrating, not only is it unsafe, you can’t effectively do the job,” Mack-Askew said.

First product in a reorganized structure

The 49X is the first new product since DTNA earlier this year reorganized its business around on-highway and vocational models. It is an attempt to focus customers on products over branding.

So a customer looking at a Freightliner EconicSD waste-hauler connects with the same people who would know the ins and outs of Western Star models.

“In the past we would have said, ‘Look at just this brand’s lineup,’ and then they might go talk to somebody else about another brand’s lineup,” Carson said. “We now do that in an integrated, coordinated way with a sales and marketing team, an aftermarket team and engineering, representing all of our products.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.