Booming sales, hardware advances, notably in the safety area, and a huge expansion in the industry’s international trade made 1999 a great year for truck news.
The only thing missing was a report on what could have been the year’s biggest development—news of the resolution of what some have come to call the "Diesel Debacle."
What has amounted to a moratorium on changes in regulation of exhausts of diesel engines that power the bulk of big work trucks can be traced back to early 1998. In a rapid-fire series of events, federal smog regulators charged that diesel engine makers cheated to get emissions approved.
Six diesel manufactuers were hit with record fines in the millions. A further tightening of big truck exhaust rules, scheduled for 2004, was moved back to early 2002.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the California Air Resources Board and the courts agonized over what was to come next.
Revised diesels still must be engineered into 2002 model trucks. As 1999 moved to a close, there was no word on what exhaust regulations will take truck engines into the 21st century.
Visible dollar signs
Truck makers were piling up sales at record rates through much of 1999. Two points deserve a mention.
For some time, sales of the heaviest of trucks (Class 8 models) have been forecast at 300,000 a year in the most optimistic of estimates. Noting that more trucks are needed in an expanding economy, forecasts for 315,000 Class 8 sales are now being made for some time in the mid-2000s.
The year also was a great one for truck safety hardware.
Brake systems with electronic anti-lock controls were required on a fourth group of trucks during the year, making 1999 the first year in which ABS brakes were required on all four groups of trucks with gross weight ratings above 8,000 lb.
The use of Eaton-Vorad collision warning systems, sometimes called radar-braking setups by sources other than the producers, continued to expand. The newest version of the systems, EVT-300, called SmartCruise, keep a truck a safe distance behind another vehicle traveling ahead of it in the same traffic lane.
World trade in trucks and their U.S. parts has multiplied in recent months. There are clear signs that American truck producers will further boost their activity with contacts overseas and that offshore operations also will increase their activities here.
In the most notable of recent changes, Meritor Automotive, the new name of Rockwell Automotive’s truck components business, has moved into a joint transmission effort here with ZF, the dominant European gear box producer.
Meritor people apparently felt their truck components future was going up in flames when one trade publication reported the ZF-Meritor move as the latter’s departure from the gear box business, rather than entry into a joint venture with a European partner in a North Carolina-based operation.
Proving it is alive and growing in the truck parts business, Meritor pointed out that it has just purchased the (CQ) LucasVarity brake business, making it the supplier of the industry’s largest brake parts line.
In addition, Meritor noted it added a non-driving front axle to its product line after boosting its international activity by purchasing a components factory from Volvo in Sweden.
Fresh, strong starts
The two newest truck lines in the U.S. market are looking forward to making a big impact in the first year of the new century.
First comes Sterling Truck, which is selling what had been the heavy-duty top of the Ford truck line.
The global angles include the fact that Sterling is a Freightliner subsidiary which, in turn, is a subsidiary of the German Mercedes-Benz line. There are a number of M-B parts in Sterling trucks.
The second new line is that of Bering Truck Corp. It started in Korea and now has its headquarters in Front Royal, Va.
Unlike most lines of imported models, it relies on popular products of U.S. manufacturers for many of its major components.
The current global flavor of the truck market is hardly anything new. After all, Renault of France now owns the American Mack line and Volvo of has bought out the GM interest in what was once Volvo-GM in North Carolina.
Truck brakes with the anti-lock feature (ABS brakes) did something of a Rip Van Winkle from 1975, when the first such systems failed until federal regulators brought them back about 20 years later.
Meanwhile, ABS business and use flourished in Europe because the systems were required there. Result: European participation in U.S. action soared when the ABS comeback started here in the mid-’90s.
The Rockwell of that time participated in a joint venture with WABCO of Germany. Knorr Bremse worked with Bendix in the U.S., and the German Bosch and Grau lines became active. There has been one hint that European trucks could have another growing impact on the U.S. market before too long.
One recent presentation indicated that more could be expected from the Leyland (Britain) and DAF (Holland) lines which are owned by PACCAR, the parent of the Amercan Kenworth and Peterbilt truck lines.