WINDSOR, Ont., Canada – International Truck and Engine Corp. prepares to launch its second-generation Class 8 heavy-duty trucks with the help of a new research and development center here.

Officials gathered Oct. 17 to open the Center for Innovation, a collaboration of International Truck and Engine Corp. (the operating subsidiary of Navistar International Corp.) and the University of Windsor. (See related story: Canada Home to Big Truck R&D Center)

The C$35 million ($28 million) center for advanced truck manufacturing and clean diesel technology is part of a C$270 million ($191 million) investment by International and the Canadian and Ontario governments that staved off closure of a Navistar assembly plant in nearby Chatham, Ont., Canada, in 2003.

Plans to transfer assembly of Class 8 trucks from Chatham to International’s plant in Escobedo, Mexico, were cancelled with the decision to invest in the Chatham plant over 10 years.

That includes retooling for an all-new line of LH trucks, the first complete redesign of the Class 8 tractor-trailer since it was introduced about 20 years ago.

Changes to date have been limited to upgrades and tweaks to the line that currently has four models.

In its third-quarter financial report, released Sept. 9, Navistar says $25 million in increased expenses are related to development of the LH program, as well as work in the engine group for the diesels to meet new U.S. emissions standards in 2007.

The new LH line also will have four variants, says John P. McKinney, vice president-manufacturing and purchasing for International’s Truck Group.

The first will bow early in 2007, with subsequent models roughly every six months, he tells Ward’s following a ceremony to open the R&D center here that houses mock assembly lines in a converted parts plant to refine the manufacturing processes needed.

The design of the new trucks follows the cues of the new medium-duties International introduced in 2001, McKinney says. The medium-duties are built in Springfield, OH, for North America, and Escobedo, Mexico, for South America and other export destinations.

While the current Class 8 rigs use a Cummins Inc. diesel, the future lineup will tap 11L and 13L diesels from a strategic agreement with MAN Nutzfahrzeuge AG of Germany, signed in December. It provides for the two truck makers to collaborate on design, development, sourcing and manufacturing of components, systems and diesel engines for commercial trucks. (See related story: Navistar, MAN, Sign Pact)

McKinney says International’s market share in Class 8 is up to 18%-19% from the 13% range a few years ago, and he expects sales to remain strong this year and in 2006.

In September, International controlled 16.7% of the U.S. Class 8 market, down from 19.6% year-ago. To date, International’s share stands at 18.8% for 2005, even with like-2004. (See related data: Ward’s U.S. Truck Sales by Weight Class)

International manufactures a full line of Class 6-8 diesel-powered trucks and school buses, and this year added a Class 5 Low Cab Forward (LCF) truck.

Ford Motor Co. introduced LCF models earlier this year, a product of its Blue Diamond joint venture with International in Escobedo. (See related story: Ford LCF Looks to Invade Established Segment)

In the third quarter, Navistar says improved performance in 2005 is due to increased sales volume, pricing and cost reduction working to offset higher material costs and engineering expenses for the LH program.

The forecast is for Class 8 demand in the U.S. and Canada in fiscal 2005 to be 273,000 units, up 24% from 2004, with Class 6 and 7 up 9% and school bus demand to remain flat.