Dump trucks: Next big thing in luxury rides?

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Ashton Kutcher drives one. So does hoops star Jalen Rose. It costs $125,000, gets less than 10 miles to the gallon, dwarfs minivans and promises to make onlookers "gawk and gasp."

You guessed Hummer, right? Wrong.

It's the CXT, a humongous commercial pickup from International Truck and Engine Corp., a company whose core business is in selling diesel-engine dump trucks, trash haulers and school buses.

Now, International has plans to use the CXT and its new kid brother, the RXT, to build its 102-year-old brand through events, promotions, branded apparel and even toys.

The RXT, with a height of 9 feet, goes on sale this fall, a year after the CXT, which stands a stunning 12 feet tall. Both are commercial pickups, but boast luxury options that include leather seats, DVD players and drop-down TV screen, navigation systems and satellite radio.

Still, the pickups will always be niche vehicles, said Rob Swim, director of marketing strategy, who pegged annual sales of the CXT at 500 to 1,000 units. CXT buyers are primarily business owners who use the truck to promote their companies, said Al Saltiel, VP-marketing at International.

International, part of Navistar International Corp., recently tapped Bagby & Co., Chicago, as its ad agency and is looking for an interactive shop to handle database marketing, said Mr. Saltiel. Total ad spending is believed to be less than $5 million.

Publicis Groupe's Fallon, Minneapolis, had handled creative and media. A Fallon spokeswoman said the agency handled the account for about five years but resigned it over financial and strategic differences.

International's "XT Family," which includes the MXT concept pickup "has spawned a lot of merchandising," said Mr. Swim. This holiday season, Wal-Mart will sell 200,000 radio-controlled toy CXT trucks. International has also expanded its limited line of branded merchandise with XT apparel.

Mr. Swim said Irwin Industrial Tools approached International about a co-branded promotion that started April 1. The grand prize of the "Rule the Road Giveaway" is a one-year lease on the CXT and $2,500 worth of Irwin tools. The promotion includes dozens of stops at hardware stores and events through the fall.

Other commercial truck makers have tried broader marketing approaches. Volvo Trucks North America advertised during the 1998 Super Bowl. AM General Corp., which makes military vehicles, advertised in consumer print for its Hummer H1. (General Motors Corp. later bought the rights for product development and marketing for civilian Hummers.)

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