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CAR CULTURE

Taking the Humble Pickup Truck to the Extreme

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 2005; Page G02

I thought Lou Ann was crazy. She's one of my best driving partners, a friend indeed -- a native Deep South comrade whose worldly wisdom is a good counter to my occasional gullibility.

I tend to put too much faith in common sense.

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So, when Lou Ann phoned recently to talk about celebrities driving the "International CXT, the world's biggest professional pickup truck," I thought she had gone nuts. After all, she'd been living in California for many years; and despite her lingering childhood-bred Southern drawl, she has sometimes displayed signs of TCS (The California Syndrome), a condition stemming from the belief that everyone else in the world is as radical, crazy and far-out as many of the minions from the West Coast.

"How big?" I asked Lou Ann.

She started with that gotcha giggle, a clear indication that she knew she had me stumped, and finished with: "Well, dahlin', let's say that Stretch has no problem fitting into it. He can even bring some of his friends."

Stretch is Lou Ann's husband, a computer geek and airplane pilot who is, well, tall.

"Get outta here!" I said. "What celebrity would be dumb enough to buy something like that?"

Lou Ann laughed and said, "Look it up." She got off the phone. I went to the Internet.

There it was at www.InternationalDelivers.com/cxt, "The International CXT, the world's biggest production pickup truck for commercial business owners and the newest truck from International Truck and Engine Corporation."

Pictured was a huge truck -- a hulking four-door beast with a rear-mounted smokestack exhaust and a cargo bed. I mean huge, like 20-ton, dump-truck huge. That figures. The CXT is built on the same platform as International's big dump trucks and snowplows, the company says.

But I thought it was no big deal. So what if a few Hollywood types such as actor Ashton Kutcher, of the movie "The Butterfly Effect," spent $100,000 or so on a grossly oversize toy? Hollywood players often do things like that, for one reason or another, mostly to get media attention.

They'll go out and buy a gas-sipping Toyota Prius Hybrid sedan because the media have declared it hip and meaningful, and then they'll park it next to a big 11-miles-per-gallon sport-utility vehicle, which was considered hip last year.

I seldom take seriously anything Hollywood says or does. It's the Capital of Dross, where hip is fashion and fashions change more quickly than talent agents. It's the Wizard of Oz thing, but. . . .

Perhaps I shouldn't be so cavalier in my dismissal of a few celebrities and their gargantuan International diesel-powered, eight-miles-per-gallon CXT monster pickup trucks. Big SUVs are being replaced by big four-door pickup trucks, as we've noted in the Car Pages previously. Super-big pickups are moving into the territory once occupied by voluptuous sport-utility models, such as the Ford Excursion.

There is a big-money marketing effort behind all of this. Take a closer look at that International Web site. CXT is shorthand for Commercial Extreme Truck. In a way, that makes sense, assuming that the truck is going to be used for construction work, heavy hauling and similar commercial activity. But take another look at the marketing tagline -- "Extreme Work. Extreme Play."

That means International is planning to do with the CXT what General Motors Corp. and its partner, AM General LLC, did with the military's Humvee -- turn it into a Hummer, but with a cargo bed. GM and AM General, probably anticipating International's move in that direction, already have come to market with their version, the Hummer SUT (sport-utility truck).

International intends to compete.

International, which is the operating company of Navistar International Corp., took the unusual step (for a commercial truck company) last week of introducing a new version of the CXT at the Chicago Auto Show. The new, somewhat smaller version is called the RXT. It's not official, but I suppose RXT means "Retail-ready Extreme Truck."

International's spokespeople say the new RXT, which will start at $70,000, will get slightly better than the CXT's eight miles per gallon. It's guaranteed to get as much attention, good and bad.

To Lou Ann: You aren't crazy after all, "dahlin'." But, obviously, something in our world is off kilter.

Maybe Kutcher got it right in "The Butterfly Effect." Ours is a world of unintended consequences. "Change one thing, change everything."


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