The heavy, heavy monster sound

It's big, brash and it's coming this way - it's enough to give a 'Chelsea tractor' nightmares, says Catherine Townsend
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A new breed of monster truck that makes the Hummer look like a Smart car is taking America by storm, and rumbling ominously toward Britain. At a towering nine feet high and eight feet wide, the 7300 International CXT - short for commercial extreme truck - weighs about seven tonnes unloaded. That's equal to about five Mini Coopers.

A new breed of monster truck that makes the Hummer look like a Smart car is taking America by storm, and rumbling ominously toward Britain. At a towering nine feet high and eight feet wide, the 7300 International CXT - short for commercial extreme truck - weighs about seven tonnes unloaded. That's equal to about five Mini Coopers.

While celebrities like Stella McCartney extol the virtues of riding her bike around town to save the environment, the CXT and other pick-ups from International Truck and Engine company in Illinois appeal to drivers at the other end of the energy spectrum by being big, bad, and thirsty.

Actor Ashton Kutcher and MTV boy band star Nick Lachey are already driving theirs. Now a spokesman for CXT says he would not be surprised if British SUV enthusiasts like David Beckham, Kate Moss, Richard Branson and Wayne Rooney followed suit.

"We have had lots of people interested in placing orders from the United Kingdom," he says. "The truck appeals to Hollywood types and sports icons because they want something that makes a big, bold statement". But who would really need a truck the size of Godzilla? "We mainly market them for commercial use and sell to entrepreneurs and professionals who want to use them to brand their business because they can haul anything - boats, cars, and horse trailers."

He adds, "Celebrities are business people too". The company says that the truck is perfect for construction, lawn care and commercial boating businesses - or, presumably, movie stars and footballers with egos to match the truck's gargantuan size.

Born out of a 20-tonne hauler and built on the same platform as dump trucks and snowploughs, the CXT is the creation of International and its parent company Navistar. International's estimate for sales in 2005 was 150, but because of the truck's massive success, they had an excess of 200 orders for January alone.

The company now plans to crank out up to 1,000 more this year. There are not yet any dealers in Britain. So for now, UK customers will have their trucks built in Garland, Texas, where the mayor of the city Bob Day has proudly said that the CXT "brings new meaning to 'everything big in Texas'."

But the gargantuan truck has a price tag to match: A standard model with cab space for five people starts at around $90,000 (£48,000), but fully-loaded models equipped with as much leather as a dominatrix's den can cost as much as $120,000 (£64,000). Other options for the 'ultimate ride' include an automatically tiltable truck-bed, drop-down DVD, satellite-radio players, flat-screen TV and walnut trim. Because the CXT is powered by a 220-horsepower diesel engine, it can tow a boat AND carry another six tonnes of cargo in the truck-bed. The truck hauls three times the payload of standard pick-up trucks, is all-wheel drive, uses air brakes - and can tow and dump almost anything.

Despite its mammoth size, the company's director of marketing Rob Swim says that the CXT is a smooth ride. He also says the truck gets "great visibility" - no surprise since the driver is riding at the height of an 18-wheeler.

And the CXT is certainly not environmentally friendly, at a time when urban protests mean that driving an SUV can carry the same social stigma as wearing a floor-length mink in the mid-1990s. Despite the truck's diesel engine that requires less fuel than a regular gas engine, the CXT is thirstier than George Best at his local, consuming an awesome seven-to 10-miles to the gallon.

With demonstrators calling for increased congestion charges for 4x4s in cities, higher road tax for SUVs causing the most pollution and a ban on 4x4 advertising, one wonders what London Mayor Ken Livingstone would make of it.

Despite the controversy, International insists that the CXT is only the beginning - because the appetite for customised, fuel-swilling big trucks shows no sign of abating. General Motors sells a pick-up truck version of its Cadillac Escalade, and the Ford Motor Company's F-Series trucks have luxury versions featuring stitched leather on heated seats.

Riding high after the truck's smashing debut, International plans to show another smaller and less expensive MXT model later this month at the Chicago Auto Show. With commercial buyers snapping them up, can Chelsea mums on the school run be far behind?

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