Thursday, April 18, 2024

NC trend: Coolest Things 2021 winners

The verdict is in: The Western Star Trucks 49X Vocational Truck is the “Coolest Thing Made in North Carolina” after nearly 42,000 votes were cast in a contest sponsored by the N.C. Chamber and Old Dominion Freight Line.

The competition was aimed at highlighting the critical role of manufacturing in North Carolina. Nearly 7,800 companies make up more than 10% of the state’s total employment base and 18% of economic output. Total annual N.C. manufacturing output topped $104 billion in 2018.

The heavy-duty truck is assembled by Daimler Trucks North America in Cleveland in Rowan County and includes parts made at Daimler’s plants in Gastonia and Mount Holly. The three operations employ more than 5,000 people in the state. Corporate parent Daimler of Germany is arguably best-known for its Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

“Thanks to the NC Chamber and Old Dominion for their support of the Coolest Thing Made in NC,” Erik Johnson, plant manager of the Daimler plant in Cleveland, said in prepared remarks. “We’re incredibly proud of the products we build, including the Western Star 49X, and we’re prouder still of our workforce in the state helping to build those trucks with precision, with quality and with dedication.”

Other finalists in the contest were the Caterpillar 938M Wheel Loader made in Clayton in Johnston County; Seqirus Flucelvax Influenza Vaccine made in Holly Springs in Wake County; Honda Aircraft’s HondaJet Elite S made in Greensboro; and George’s BBQ Sauce, a vinegar-based condiment made in Nashville in Nash County.

With Internet websites showing pricing for new models ranging from $165,000 to $225,000, the Western Star truck isn’t for weekend warriors. Its broad range of uses include “hauling timber from deep in the woods, accessing remote mining operations far off-road or hauling heavy equipment to construction sites,” according to a Daimler press release.

Daimler also owns High Point-based Thomas Built Buses, a leading school-bus manufacturer that was last year’s winner in the inaugural Coolest Things Made in North Carolina for its Saf-T- Liner® C2 JouleyTM Electric School Bus. The Daimler truck outlasted better-known food entries including Cheerwine from Salisbury, Bright Leaf hot dogs from Smithfield, dill pickles from Mount Olive, and Texas Pete hot sauce, which is made in Winston-Salem.

The winner was chosen by popular vote, through the chamber’s website, with the Western Star 49X receiving 2,725 votes in the final round. Altogether, more than 41,700 votes were cast as the field was narrowed down in three rounds of voting.

The Daimler plant in Cleveland, about 45 miles north of Charlotte, is the largest Freightliner truck factory in the U.S., with about 2,200 employees. The plant opened in 1989 and makes the Western Star and Freightliner’s Cascadia trucks.

The back-to-back wins by Daimler Trucks subsidiaries was pure coincidence, says chamber spokesperson Jennifer Dart. Each company has its own employee base and a different location. To be sure, some encouragement from company leadership helped boost voting participation by staffers, Daimler Trucks North America spokesman Fred Ligouri adds. 

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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