TRUCK TRACKS

Century’s final year in full swing

Article December 28, 2000
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The truck market is going through a period of intense globalization. There is early hope that increased worldwide trade in trucks and components will give operators a growing selection of products that work better on the job.

Consider the 1998 experience of Western Star Trucks. Billed as “a world leader in the design and manufacture of highly customized heavy-duty trucks,” the company, based in Canada’s Pacific Coast province of British Columbia and to a large extent Australian-owned, had a great 1998 on the international truck market.

Steve Ackroyd, promotions coordinator in the Western Star marketing department, supplied this information:

Total business for the firm was good in 1998, allowing production in the home plant in Kelowna, B.C., to move up from 27 units a day to 29. The order board also was strong as 1999 began and there was no thought of reducing the rate of production.

Sales in the U.S., one of the company’s biggest markets, totaled 2,384 units in the first 10 months of 1998, up more than 27% from the 1,867 trucks delivered in the U.S. in the comparable period of 1997.
“This is just the beginning of our production increase program,” said Robert Enright, president of Western Star Trucks when the move to 29 units a day rate was announced. “We’re planning to shift into a production rate of 32 units a day by mid-1999.”

In the product area, the company unveiled a new Constellation model in late 1998. It has a twin-steer front axle assembly for better distribution of heavy loads.

The world report

Mack and its parent, Renault of France, both of whom produce truck engines, announced that the Mack truck line will start offering Cummins diesel engines this year.

Mack said the arrangement makes Cummins its “exclusive supplier of vendor engines.” It’s a part of the Mack plan to expand its participation in the OTR truck business.

The engines allow Mack to better meet the needs of customers in every heavy-duty truck segment, said Michael Gigou, Mack president.

Meritor, formerly known as Rockwell Automotive, has purchased a components factory in Sweden from the Swedish manufacturer Volvo.

To prove that not everything done in the international truck market is aimed initially at the U. S., Volvo and Deutz, a German manufacturer noted for its air-cooled diesel engines, have signed an agreement to expand cooperation on diesel projects.

Anton Schneider, chairman of the Deutz board of management, could see output of the Cologne-Proz engine factory going from last year’s 90,000 units to 100,000 this year with the aid of the cooperative effort.

U. S. news

The Daimler-Benz merger with Chrysler was clearly the top global news in the automotive business in late 1998 although that move can’t be expected to have much direct effect on the heavy truck market here.

While Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz line is the world’s leader in heavy truck sales, its heavy truck action here is handled by subsidiary Freightliner Corp. based in Portland, Ore.

Additionally, big truck components produced by Daimler-Benz are now available in vehicles carrying the Freightliner and Sterling nameplates.

Also on the heavy truck scene in the U.S., Freightliner is the volume leader, having acquired the Ford heavy truck business in 1997. It was later turned over to a subsidiary, Sterling Truck, headquartered in Willoughby, Ohio.

Concluding the U.S. news, the Bering truck line from Korea is finalizing its efforts from its American headquarters in Virginia and reports persist that PACCAR will be importing medium trucks made by an operation in the United Kingdom.

All aboard for ABS

A rolling change in trucks comes to a close in March when the final group of vehicles with gross weight ratings above 10,000 lb, largely units with hydraulic brakes, must be fitted with anti-lock brakes with electronic controls.

In this development, those so-called ABS brakes started being required on some new vehicles as early as March 1996 and have spread steadily through the industry.

There is an overseas angle to this story, as well. From 1975 through the early ’90s, not much was done about hydraulic ABS systems here because they were either not required in the U.S. or future use was far in the future.

Meanwhile, that type of anti-lock system was required in Europe. When the 1999 deadline approached, American anti-lock suppliers typically turned to European allies for help with the development assignment.

Details of foreign connections aren’t always announced formally although it is known that hydraulic ABS work for the Bendix line out of Elyria, Ohio, was done in cooperation with Knorr Bremse, a German brake producer.

Sitting on top of the world?

A case could be made for the opinion that truck people, both operators and manufacturers, are now living in the best of times.

Diesel fuel has been selling at a four-year low price, under $1 a gallon, and the economy is booming—part of the “best of times” scenario in which both truck manufacturers and operators are doing well.

But how long is it going to last? Anything which depends, more or less, on peaceful conditions in the Middle East is on shaky ground.

This year’s cold winter could be pushing up sales of home heating oil and a robust economy could lead to a lot of vacation driving by the public this summer. Both developments may cause fuel prices to rise, leading to trouble for truck makers, manufacturers, owners and users.

Truck and component manufacturers already are having trouble keeping up with the sales boom. Both Chevrolet and GMC ran out of months in 1998 more quickly than they could produce 1998 trucks. Freightliner had similar trouble but was able to call on its factory in Mexico for help.

Additionally, production of Class 8 trucks for export to the U.S. was doubled. This came after production in Oregon and North Carolina was increased by enlarging the work forces and adding Saturday production.

To date, this has been a truck sales boom with few complaints about manufacturers’ inability to meet demand because the problem had been met by such moves as the Freightliner increase in output.

In other news, it was said that Detroit Diesel has increased production of its Series 60 engines, the first of the industry’s popular electronically controlled powerplants, to meet strong demand.

Other positive developments

As Daimler-Benz, the world’s largest truck maker, moves to supply more of its components to vehicle makers outside Germany, Meritor (see Rockwell Automotive) of the U. S., buys a Volvo axle factory in Sweden.

Also, there have been developments that should please truck operators, such as the introduction of economy Day Cab models in the U.S. by Kenworth.

Additionally, there is an all-out effort to supply driver-pleasing vehicle features. Booming sales of air suspension systems, which give cargo, truck and driver a smooth ride, and the increasingly popular transmissions that are built to handle some of the shifting job themselves are examples.

The truck makers have been adding programs which make the work of trucking businesses easier. Peterbilt, for instance, reports growing acceptance of its Fleet Service Cards.

“The Fleet Service Card protects me,” said Mike Rifenberg, head of a refrigerated carrier headquartered on the East Coast. “It eliminates the risk of sending cash out with my drivers for fuel and repairs and allows me to monitor operating expenses through customized reports. Plus, it is convenient, very convenient.”

Radar-aided braking

Braking assisted by radar is a World War II marvel that sees through darkness and bad weather. The most advanced development program aimed at aiding truck braking is being carried forward by a combination of Eaton Corp. and Vorad, a San Diego-based technology company that Eaton acquired earlier its the radar effort.

Don Purtill, vice president of sales, marketing and service for Eaton Vorad Technologies, announced the following advances.

Penske Logistics has said Eaton-Vorad EVT-300 Collision Warning System with SmartCruise control will be a standard specification on all new truck orders in 1999. In a few words, SmartCruise enables a truck to properly react to traffic conditions on the road on which it is operating.

Western Star Constellation Series trucks can now be ordered with the EVT-300 system. Mack, Freightliner and Volvo reported earlier that they can take orders for installation of EVT-300 systems on their assembly lines.

Navistar trucks can obtain the systems after assembly while Peterbilt and Kenworth are expected to add the Eaton-Vorad system options soon.

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