Navistar Inc. spent $1 billion in the past 10 years revamping its line of commercial trucks, so when the time came to update its top-of-the-line Lonestar tractor trailer, the company wanted to offer its best.
That meant a new face on the outside, based on an updated styling of Navistar's International-brand trucks from the 1930s and 1940s, but the Fort Wayne, Ind.-based truck maker wanted to improve life on the road for its drivers inside as well.
And, said David Allendorph, chief engineer for global body engineering, the Lonestar uses plastics throughout the inside and out to give the truck both its stylish exterior and functional living quarters.
``We've got a lot of plastics in here, a lot of injection molding,'' Allendorph said while standing inside a Lonestar parked outside the Industrial Designers Society of America's annual conference in Phoenix. ``These [trucks] get a lot of hard use and a lot of miles, so it was important to us to create an interior that would eliminate problems with [squeaks and rattles].''
In laying out the cockpit and living quarters, Navistar and students from Carnegie Mellon University, who consulted on the project, relied on robust moldings that would stand up to 100,000 miles or more each year, tight closures and a design that set back some overhead compartments and speakers to avoid placing parts too closely together, where they could rub and squeak during long days on rough roads.
They put those materials to use in an interior that is intended to provide a more comfortable and usable space for drivers.
``These are usually very spartan interiors, especially in the sleeping area,'' said Jonathan Cagan, the George Tallmann and Florence Barrett Ladd Professor in Engineering with Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon's design school. ``You look at them, and they're just basic, but some drivers spend most of their lives on the road. Some of them don't have a permanent home. We found a need for storage for every living environment they might want.''
Space also is at a premium inside a truck, which meant that the truck builder and designers had to find ways to tuck storage into small spaces.
They borrowed the layout of overhead compartments from the airline industry, covering them with twin-sheet thermoformed panels. Cabinets built into each side of the cab can house televisions, a microwave, refrigerator and shelves for clothing and food.
A pull-out table clears space for a driver to make a sandwich or do paperwork.
``Our design brief was very simple,'' Cagan said. ``We were told to make the truck more like a home.''
The interior layout is not just about the comfort, though, he said. Some trucking firms report employee turnover of 100 percent per year, forcing them to constantly recruit new drivers. If drivers like their ``home away from home,'' he said, companies hope they will stay put.
And while plastics play a key part inside the Lonestar, they also are featured on the exterior, with both thermoplastics and thermoset composites used for their aesthetic and structural properties, Allendorph said.
Navistar intentionally combined chromed plastics, aluminum and steel close together to give slightly different looks to parts like the front grille, made of a polycarbonate/ABS blend and air cooler with an aluminum housing, which allows for subtle differences between the materials rather than trying to force them into uniform palette.
Full production of the Lonestar begins in October in Chatham, Ontario.
``People used to say that if you want a truck that's sexy and cool, you go and buy a Peterbuilt,'' Allendorph said. ``Not anymore. We wanted to change the idea of what International was about.''