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Badass Rig! New Western Star 49X Unveiled


While Ford may claim to “own work,” Western Star is like, “here, hold my beer.” With new innovations, the Western Star 49X is built to meet the most demanding job needs on the planet.

This truck is a clean-sheet design with a stronger, lighter chassis and an X-series cab. Powering the rig is an all-new Detroit DT12 Vocational series transmission along with “industry-leading” Detroit Assurance suite of safety systems for safety, better productivity and maximum uptime. In other words, it’s more advanced than your shiny new Toyota.

“A vocational truck is a tool for a job,” said David Carson, senior vice president, Vocational segment, Daimler Trucks North America. “We’ve completely rethought the foundation of the 49X to make it easier to upfit, deliver greater durability, return greater payload and improve productivity at the job site.”

Indeed they have. Let’s dig in.

Western Star 49X frame

The new frame for the 49X is meant to safe weight while keeping its strength. (Photo courtesy of Western Star)

New Western Star 49X Frame 

Vocational trucks are known for having a robust frame with a large C-channel design to handle the stresses of the job. However, Western Star has a new plan.

As part of seeing total weight savings of more than 350 pounds, a new single channel frame rail comes in a variety of thicknesses and features “best-in-class Resisting Bending Movement (RMB) strength rating for single channel up to 3.7 million inch-pounds.”

This frame is made out of high strength steel that is shot peened and powder coated with thicker cross sections than have been used in the past.

Western Star says you can add C-channel frame reinforcements to raise the RBM rating to 5.4 million inch-lbs if needed. Plus, you can add multiple parent rail front frame extensions for applications requiring front-mounted equipment like a snow plow.

This new design for the 49X also allows for easier upfit with features including: “forward mounted DEF tanks; standard in-cab battery box; multiple air tank mounting locations; air dryer mounted under hood (SBA) or under cab (SFA), optimized fuel tank sizes; a compact Detroit after treatment system; and functional dual vertical exhaust stacks.”

Plus, there is better routing for wires in order to upfit the truck.

Western Star 49X cab crush

Cab crash and shaker testing were big parts of the 49X development. (Photo courtesy Western Star via video screenshot)

Safer-than-ever cab

These work truck cabs sit higher and can roll over causing injuries and even death. Thus, an important aspect to every worksite driver is surviving in a crash. So, Western Star says it literally beat the hell out of its cab.

For starters, the development work on the 49X was the “most extensive in Western Star history.” They not only crashed tested many different cabs, they also did a full-vehicle shaker test replicating 800,000 miles of use. Yep, shaking the hell out of a cab trying to see what will break.

This led them to test an innovative cab-mount system using “vocational cab isolators mounted outboard for optimal stability and reduced fatigue to both the operator and the cab.” Speaking of the cab, it is largest in the segment with 10-13% more space.

Western Star 49X cabin

A work focused cabin with an optional premium package await drivers. (Photo courtesy Western Star)

Inside cabin comforts, features improved

Western Star also improved visibility inside the cabin, used a new mirror design and looked at every aspect of driver’s use including offering an optional premium trim package.

This premium package includes woodgrain on the dash and diamond-stitched seating. Yeah, you can get woodgrain inside a dump truck!

Plus, the aluminum cabin with steel supports has a new hood using a high-strength, lightweight molded composite material for impact resistance and durability. That’s not all. There is also a new innovative and patented ISO “Tech Hood Suspension” system allowing the hood to behave like a typical coil-over shock suspension with spring and damper. In other words, you won’t worry about your hood jiggling around or cracking when going over uneven terrain.

Finally, the doors are triple sealed meaning it is quieter and warmer/cooler for the driver.

Western Star 49X

Two different choices of engines plus an all-new Detroit DT12 manual automatic transmission power the 49X. (Photo courtesy of Western Star)

Under the hood

Powering these trucks are either a Detroit DD15 Gen 5 engine or a Detroit DD16 engine which is the largest and most powerful diesel engine on the market delivering up to 2,050 pound-feet of torque and 600 horsepower.

The real news is the all-new Detroit DT12 Vocational series automated manual transmissions. These are available in either a DT12-V or a DT12-VX and rated up to a Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 330,000 pounds. Detroit, the company not the city, says it validated this transmission covering more than 35 million miles.

Wait, automated manual transmission?

Basically, it operates like an automatic transmission with only two pedals (gas and brake), while it operates like a manual with a computer communicating with the transmission to determine the optimal time to shift gears. These transmissions are often preferred due to always knowing the exact right time to shift, taking grade, load weight, fuel economy and reducing driver fatigue according to Detroit’s website.

The DT12 transmission also includes side power take-off capabilities as well as some pretty cool tech.

For example, there is a Rock-Free mode allowing the 49X to free itself from wheel stuck situations (probably like the crawl control for the Toyota Tacoma) and an Off-Road mode for smooth driving off the beaten track. Plus, a Power Launch mode for powerful takeoffs without damaging the clutch and driveline. Finally, a Paver Mode allowing the truck to shift from Neutral to Drive without depressing the brake pedal when pulling away.

Western Star 49X radar

A new radar system enables a variety of new safety features. (Photo Courtesy Western Star)

New 49X safety features

The Detroit Assurance suite of safety systems allows the 49X to have best-in-class safety. These systems include:

  • Side Guard Assist (SGA)
  • Active Brake Assist 5 (ABA5)
  • Tailgate Warning
  • Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) to 0mph
  • Lane Departure Warning
  • Video Capture
  • Intelligent High-Beam
  • Automatic Wipers and Headlamps

Finally, new radar technology, optional with the safety suite, can detect moving objects and pedestrians on the passenger side of the truck which would normally be in a blind spot. The driver will be alerted to this issue through auditory and visual warnings.

It can also provide warning and/or automated braking if necessary down to 5 MPH helping to keep everyone on the job site safe.

Western Star 49X windshield

Better visibility, lighting and entry/exit make this truck better for the driver. (Photo courtesy of Western Star)

Protecting the drivers

Keeping the driver’s safe was key to the development of the 49X.

“The real stars of every job site are the men and women working at it, which is why the Western Star 49X was engineered to deliver best-in-class safety with Detroit, easier entry and exit to reduce workplace injury, and best-in-class visibility to benefit not only the operator, but the entire crew,” Carson said.

First, Western Star changed up the entry/exit for the 49X to have the door open up to 70 degrees, five hand holds and step treads widened by a half an inch. The reason is simple with slips, trips and falls representing the second most common injury on a job site. A concrete mixer, for example, might enter and exit the cabin 50 times in a day. This new design should make getting in and out safer and easier with mud, dirt and debris pass throughs as well.

The visibility improvements are due to the sloped hood through using splayed frame rails, a lowered engine position and underhood engine air filtration. By itself, the windshield represents a 28% larger single-piece roped-in design and an optional three-piece rear window is 77% larger. Plus, optional Borofloat glass in the front windshield and optional polycarbonate in the rear will result in better impact resistance from debris.

Plus, the new C-bar mirror system features door-mounted mirrors reducing the amount of shake from the engine and chassis vibrations.

Finally, a new dual-stage LED headlight system with an “internally printed heat grid and ambient air temperature sensor,” can melt three millimeters of ice in less than 10 seconds in 40 degrees or below temps or burn through condensation in warm, humid environments. They also have a 45-degree light pattern allowing for better visibility and safety on the job site.

“Our bottom-line intent was to deliver a truck that benefits our customers’ bottom lines,” Carson said. “We know the conditions our customers are working in, we know the challenges of their operations, and we know that productivity at the site matters most. That’s why the all-new 49X is purpose-built for durability, safety and maximum uptime – and for our customers.”

Ordering for the new Western Star 49X starts in the winter of 2020 with first deliveries in the spring of 2021.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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