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.
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.