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08 Nov 04. The FT reported that International Truck and Engine, the operating arm of Navistar International, has teamed up with the US Army to examine the feasibility of a dual-purpose truck whose civilian version would compete against large pick-up trucks and General Motors’ gargantuan Hummer sport utility vehicle.

The army has been seeking a partner for some time to develop an armoured “Smart Truck” with the versatility to detect illegal immigrants, control crowds, protect strategic installations and knock out enemy missiles, among other uses. It sees a civilian version as a way of holding down costs and accelerating production.

“The key is to get a high production base on the commercial side”, said Dennis Wend, executive director of the army’s National Automotive Center. Previous Smart Truck ventures with Ford Motor and General Motors have foundered. “Our biggest problem was finding a commercial manufacturer who would stick with us,” Mr Wend said. According to promotional literature, the civilian vehicle would be aimed at “service industries, long-haulers and individuals who just like the look and feel of a “big truck”.”

Roy Wiley, an International Truck spokesman, said: “We see a definite need for a vehicle of this type.” But the Chicago-based company has yet to decide whether to go ahead with the civilian version.

“We don’t have a name, we don’t have a marketing plan and we don’t have a firm plan to put it into production”, Mr Wiley said. Prototypes of both the military and civilian versions of the Smart Truck III were unveiled at last week’s Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association show in Las Vegas.The 8,000lb vehicles, which share the same chassis design, are about 4 feet longer and 3 inches higher than the Hummer and the Humvee, the military vehicle on which the Hummer is based.

However, Mr Wend said that the Smart Truck’s fuel consumption would be 30 per cent lower than that of the Hummer. The Hummer’s size and hefty fuel consumption have recently dented its image. Environmentalists have criticised the vehicle for creating air pollution, while the rising price of petrol has made its less attractive to some potential buyers. Sales in the first 10 months of this year, totalling 22,800
vehicles, were a fifth lower than in the same period in 2003. General Motors announced plans last month for a smaller, five-cylinder version, called the H3.

Comment: We saw the truck exhibited at AUSA and hope to see it exhibited at DVD next year, watch this space.

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