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Maybe I’m easily wowed, but Hino’s announcement last October – that it would discontinue selling its bread-and-butter, low-cab-forward (LCF) vehicles in North America, and would instead offer a line of conventionals here – caught me completely off-guard. No less surprising, at least to me, is the recent confirmation from International, which currently produces conventional products only, that it will offer a line of Class 4-5 LCFs starting early next year.

According to Dave Johanneson, group vice president and general manager for International’s Medium Vehicle Center, the business case for the line addition is easy to make, considering traditional LCF virtues, chief among which is high maneuverability in congested environments. Moreover, he adds, “We’re already well represented in the medium-duty conventional market, and we expect the market for these new trucks to grow to pre-recession levels.”

User interviews, adds Johanneson, indicate that LCFs are still desirable in many urban applications, including P&D, beverage, utility, recovery leasing and construction. “But customers say they’d prefer a North American product, supported by more dealers, and with easier access to parts and service at competitive prices,” he says.

The first two trucks in the new line will be the Class 4 CF 500, with a maximum GVWR of 16,000 pounds, and the Class 5 CF 600, which maxes out at 19,500 pounds. They’ll sit on 34-inch-wide, low-alloy-steel frame rails, and accommodate bodies from 12 to 22 feet. A taper-leaf front suspension and shocks all around will be standard.

Both models will be powered by the new Huntsville, Ala.-built, International VT 275, 4.5-liter V6 diesel, producing 200 hp @ 3000 rpm and 440 lb-ft of torque @ 1850 rpm. The new engine will benefit from technology found on the company’s recently introduced in-line 6-cylinder diesels (see “Equipment,” CCJ, January 2004), except it will use two turbochargers, rather than International’s electronically controlled, variable-rate, single turbo. It’ll be mated to a Ford-built, 5-speed automatic overdrive transmission. A power take-off (PTO) for operating specialized body equipment, will be optional.

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Key vehicle design and build goals, says Johanneson, include: superior ride and handling; enhanced visibility and maneuverability; responsive power; smooth shifts; a quiet, comfortable and ergonomically correct cab environment; easy entry and egress; ease of maintenance and repair; and the ability to perform routine fluid checks and fills without tilting the cab.

Will International meet its goals? We’ll have a better idea in a year or so, as production of the CF Series is scheduled to begin in January 2005 at the company’s Escobedo, Mexico, plant. Meanwhile, the company’s nearly 1,000 North American dealers will start accepting orders late this year.