Expanded Exhibits Drive Show's Growth

Article December 28, 2000
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Huge, new-model construction trucks and powerful diesel engines
were in the spotlight as the Mid-America Trucking Show in
Louisville, Ky.--the largest truck show in the nation--became
even larger this spring.

The show expanded into another wing
of the Kentucky state fairgrounds, pushing exhibit space from
750,000 sq ft up close to the one-million mark, as the number of
exhibitors grew from 751 to 1,078. Once the show opened, the
aisles filled with attendees.

While the show's growth may
indicate that the truck industry can look forward to strong
sales in 1997, many manufacturers were predicting little change
in industry sales from the less-than-robust level experienced in
1996. Somehow many forecasters were able to predict that their
companies will do better than the industry averages in what was
being foreseen as a flat year ahead.

Freightliner's plan to
buy the heavy truck operation of Ford Motor Co., unveiled just
before Mid-America, was the talk of the Louisville gathering.
The proposed purchaser made no secret of the fact that it covets
Ford's sales of vocational trucks, such as construction models,
to round out its volume sales of long-distance road haulers.

While the number of potential Ford truck offerings was reduced
at show time, arch rivals GMC and Chevrolet were promoting their
T and C models, just introduced for 1997 after a five-year
planning program. Those two producers were noting how the Ts and
Cs round out their truck lines.

Those weren't the only lines
with a positive approach to the market in the year ahead. Both
Navistar--International Harvester--and the Japanese Hino line,
which has made major improvements to the trucks it offers here,
are looking at this year as a comeback year.

The massive
Navistar comeback effort--built largely on customer support
plans--focuses on the production of specialized models. Along
this line, assembly of Paystar severe-service models for such
vocational assignments as construction hauling, have been moved
out of a Canadian factory that makes a variety of trucks for the
SST Truck Co., a joint venture in Texas. This is a reversal for
those who see manufacturing changes sending production out of
the U.S. to foreign factories.

Heading the list of recent
changes in Hino trucks sold here are increases in horsepower and
torque ratings and improved control of fuel consumption. Models
offered go up to 32,900 lb in gross vehicle weight ratings and
have engines that deliver up to 250 hp. All are cabover models
with top maneuverability.

Speaking of diesel engines with
high horsepower output, Caterpillar unveiled a 600-horse version
of its 3406E truck engine with a 15.8-liter displacement. The
powerplant, tailored for owner operators and heavy haulers, has
a top torque rating of 2,050 lb-ft.

This engine and other
performance items shown in Louisville were promoted as aids in
retaining drivers. In view of the high cost of recruiting and
training drivers, driver retention is emerging as a top truck
management responsibility.

Horsepower rises

So how high
is horsepower going? During Cat's presentation of the 600-horse
offering it was mentioned that the company has a 700-hp model in
the wings. Still to be developed are the accessories strong
enough to work well at that power level.

Mack Trucks' newest
diesel comes loaded with features including a saving in fuel
costs. The newest E7 is called the Mack E-Tech. The heart of the
engine is its electronic unit-fuel pump system. The new
powerplant features the producer's next generation vehicle
electronics, the V-MAC III system, and an all-new high-tech
J-Tech engine brake.

Mack said the E-Tech engine improved
fuel economy by 2% to 3% in more than 1.5 million miles and
30,000 hours of operation. The new engines are offered in 10
power ratings to 460 hp.

Eaton Corp.'s Fuller transmission
line introduced what may be an important component for driver
retention. It is the AutoShift automated mechanical
transmission. Previously available only in buses, it combines a
shift-by-wire system with a proven mechanical transmission. Use
of the clutch is required only when starting or stopping the
vehicle.

Getting the weight out remains a sound way to
improve truck components because it enables the vehicle to move
more payload. Hendrickson scored points in this area with the HN
462, its latest HN truck suspension. Rated at 46,000 lb, the HN
462 was designed for dump, refuse, mixer and kindred
applications.

Kelley is a truck writer based in Dearborn,
Mich. You may write him in care of the editor.

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