The History of Western Star Trucksby Rob Wagner
The Oregon-based Western Star Trucks Inc. builds Class 8 tractor-trailer rigs. It is known as a "trucker's truck" for its emphasis on the comfort and safety of the driver. It can trace its roots to the White Trucks line, a builder of commercial vehicles since the dawn of the trucking industry. It went through a series of ownerships until its merger with Freightliner LLC.
Western Star began as an engineering and operations company based in Cleveland, Ohio, with its production facilities in Canada. It catered to the logging, oil and mining industries. As part of its engineering services, the company built custom Class 8 commercial vehicles. In 1970, it became a division of White Trucks to focus on marketing on the West Coast.
White had some of the best minds in the truck-making industry, but it was struggling to stay afloat. Semon Knudsen, president of the Ford Motor Company in 1969 and the son of General Motors Semon Knudsen, stepped in to guide White, but the company was purchased by Volvo AB in 1980. Under Volvo, Western Star remained independent operating in Canada. In 1987, White merged with General Motors to become WhiteGMC. Three years later, Western Star was sold as a separate entity to Australian businessman Terry Peabody.
Peabody sold Western Star in 2000 to Daimler-Chrysler AG, which was a partnership between Chrysler LLC and Daimler but has since dissolved. Western Star merged with Daimler-Chrysler's Freightliner truck subsidiary. At this time, Western Star had assembly plants in Ladson, S.C., and Kelowna, British Columbia.
In 2007, Daimler-Chrysler ended its partnership and the company became Daimler AG with Freightliner LLC, now a division of Daimler Trucks North America LLC. Western Star was now a subsidiary of Freightliner. Its manufacturing operations moved to Freightliner's Portland, Ore., headquarters in 2002.
During these tumultuous decades, Western Star introduced the Supertilt sloped hood on its trucks, beginning in 1986. It was a remarkable transformation for the otherwise conservative company because it marked the styling departure from traditional box-shaped front ends into a more luxury automotive-style design. In 1987, it also debuted its lighter weight Cornerstone chassis that helped reduce the cost of its trucks.
By the late 1990s, Western Star developed its Constellation cab and sleeper that featured near luxury accommodations for the driver, as well as the Star Light Sleeper built with a lightweight polypropylene honeycomb core.
Western Star's relationship with Freightliner proved to be a beneficial move. By 2002, with its move to Portland, it had access to Freightliner's technology in building custom trucks and the parent company's development and testing plants. One result was the LowMax trucks that feature a lower-profile truck equipped with an abundance of stainless steel and chrome accessories.
Rob Wagner is a journalist with over 35 years experience reporting and editing for newspapers and magazines. His experience ranges from legal affairs reporting to covering the Middle East. He served stints as a newspaper and magazine editor in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Wagner attended California State University, Los Angeles, and has a degree in journalism.