Big trucks dominate Mid-America

Article December 28, 2000
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The 1998 Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, Ky., the nation’s largest truck show to date, was not only bigger and better but also included something not seen at such exhibitions in some time - a new line of big trucks.
Sterling Truck Corp. was the new starter. The Ohio-based company will be offering what had been Ford Motor Co.’s heavy-duty truck and cargo models. Freightliner Corp. introduced the Sterling subsidiary after acquiring the Ford models last year.

For some years, the moves associated with the manufacturers of big trucks had been dominated by such actions as the withdrawal of Scania of Sweden from the U.S. market and Dodge’s decision to drop heavy and medium trucks. With the introduction of its new line of trucks, Sterling plans to reverse that trend.

Mid-America increased the number of exhibitors, growing from 950 last year to over 1,050 this year. Attendees who packed the Kentucky State Fairgrounds for the show wondered where display space could be found for one more exhibitor. The 1998 show also featured a long list of attractive new truck models, advanced components and driver-friendly truck features that make driving more of a pleasure than a job.

When the show opened, visitors found that Sterling is following the lead of Freightliner in rapidly changing its truck offerings. Designated as L7500 models, Sterling is offering Class 6 through 8 models of former Fords in two groups, the A and L lines. The A line consists of on-highway tractors with premium diesel power and the L line consists of vocational trucks and tractors which include the former Ford Cargo cabover models for vocational and distribution work.

Meanwhile, Freightliner proved it had not given up its penchant for adding models by Mid-America time. It unveiled its Argosy cabover claiming it is, “so advanced that it will change what you think about this type of truck - and trucking.” An advanced version of the top-of-the-line Classic XL cabover tractor and cargo models for its business class were other Freightliner additions.

SmartShift, smart stuff

The Freightliner/Sterling (F/S) combination also had some advances in major components to discuss, including TufTrac heavy-duty suspensions with capacities to 52,000 lb. With an assist from Germany’s Daimler-Benz, parent of both Freightliner and Sterling, the two truck lines had something to say about one of the industry’s fastest growing big truck components - automated mechanical transmissions. SmartShift, their new shifting system, is billed as “ a safer, more convenient driver interface” with the transmission. It calls for mounting the shift control on the steering column. With the system, the clutch is used only for staring and stopping. The F/S group said additional testing will be conducted this fall with SmartShift so that it may be offered in trucks of both lines in 1999.

Eaton, Meritor (formerly Rockwell) and Dana have been leaders in offering various forms of driver-friendly “easy shifting” transmissions. The devices are seen as an aid in overcoming the growing shortage of skilled drivers and the participation of Eaton and Meritor in the SmartShift project was noted. Both made their easy shifter efforts features of the Mid-America programs.

Other Mid-America news

Kenworth unveiled a model to mark its 75th anniversary in the truck business at Mid-America, which offered an extra roomy Studio AeroCab and an economy daycab.

Despite the fact that the General Motors big truck lines, Chevrolet and GMC, haven’t been able to keep up to demand this year, they are adding a midrange W series of low cab forward models in the 11,000 to 16,000 lb range.

Additionally, diesel models from Isuzu, GM’s Japanese partner, will be available in the W series.

Even before Mid-America, Ford rearranged its truck offerings reflecting the departure of the heavy models sold to Freightliner, redid its midrange models and moved their production to Mexico.

Peterbilt’s feature at Mid-America was “the Canadian American platinum premium level interior,” in addition to an insulation upgrade.

Volvo was showing its newest model, the VN series of medium-hood conventional with a compact design for top maneuverability.

Western Star of Canada said it had reduced the weight of its Star Light Sleeper shown in Louisville by more than 400 lb. Body panels of aluminum skins bonded to a polyprolyene honeycomb core got much of the credit.
Both Mack and Navistar told Mid-America press conferences how they are alternating their approaches to the market. Mack said it will be putting more effort on winning sales in the West and in the over-the-road market in 1998 while continuing to be active in the East and in vocational truck markets. More aid to buyers on specks also is planned.

While Navistar said it will be putting more emphasis on its International brand truck name, advocating when the vehicles were called International Harvesters. Navistar also is going through a refocusing on its six main businesses and like Ford, the company is moving a major share of its truck production to Mexico.

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