Perhaps the biggest thing that didn't happen in the last year was the proposed alliance of Freightliner Corp., the nation's largest producer of heavy-duty trucks, and Oshkosh Truck, a leading maker of front-discharge ready-mix trucks, as well as a number of other specialized vehicles.
At about the time cooperation between Freightliner and Oshkosh was to begin, the plan was dropped. Oshkosh is said to be continuing to buy some chassis from Freightliner.
In the same general time frame, Ford Motor Co. made some of the biggest truck news of the year by selling its heavy-duty trucks to Freightliner. Freightliner renamed the Ford's former AeroMax tractors and Louisville vocational models Sterling trucks, and moved production to factories in Canada and North Carolina.
Neither Oshkosh nor Ford were finished making truck news.
Oshkosh acquires McNeilus
Oshkosh, for its part, spent a reported $250 million to acquire the McNeilus Cos. Those companies produce refuse and recycling truck bodies and rear-discharge concrete mixers.
"The McNeilus brand is considered a benchmark for quality in the refuse and construction industries," said Robert G. Bohn, president of Oshkosh. "Their products are an ideal complement to Oshkosh's commercial product line."
Ford's new midrange
Over the years, Ford has earned a reputation as a solid supplier of vocational trucks, such as those used in ready-mix delivery. With the dollar volume of heavy truck sales gone, the company had to come up with a new approach to the vocational market.
The emerging new approach has the company introducing a new series of midrange trucks with gross vehicle weight (GVW) ratings to 33,000 lb. They will be produced in a Ford plant in Mexico.
Output of the plant will serve the markets of the U.S., Mexico, the rest of Latin America and Canada. The thinking is that the midrange trucks need that much of a market to get the volume needed for profitable production.
That top weight rating of the midrange trucks is important. The Ford deal with Freightliner says that Ford won't offer heavy trucks in competition with Freightliner. GVW ratings of heavy-duty trucks start at 33,001 lb.
With GVW ratings up through 33,000 lb and no higher, the new Ford trucks will be classified as light-heavyweight models in weight Class 7. That means they do not have to meet the hefty federal excise tax on Class 8 heavy-duty trucks.
The Ford people are not the only ones who have seen a market opportunity in Class 7 trucks.
Peterbilt, long-time West Coast producer which now has all of its production in Texas and Tennessee, has Class 7 trucks at the bottom of its model lineup.
Most of the import lines which offer anything in the way of sturdy work trucks have models with Class 7 GVW ratings like 32,500 lb at the top of their lines.
Mack Trucks, a big player in the rear-discharge ready-mix truck business, has recently added a front-discharge producer in Utah. After spending last year getting organized, a spokesman for the operation said big things are expected in1998, a year which started with the operation enjoying a "healthy backlog," according to spokesman David Velho.
Navistar is another truck maker which has done something about its ready-mix truck business in the last year. Production of the company's Severe Service trucks, which include ready-mix units and other construction vehicles, was moved from a crowded plant in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, to what had been the home of Marmon trucks in Garland, Texas.
It was a good thing, to hear Dominick Culotta, a spokesman for the Texas operation, tell it. He said the Garland facility was turning out more trucks at the start of this year than its maximum share of past Chatham production. An output boost was scheduled for early1998, he added.
A cab redesign to ease entry and egress and larger rear windows in cabs top recent product refinements, Culotta said.