TRUCK TRACKS

Tough to tell what year it is

Trucks Article January 01, 2001
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A footnote is in order when conducting a season review: a lot depends on what year it is

A footnote is in order when conducting a season review: a lot depends on what year it is.


We saw one review based on events in 1999. Final figures for that year are just now available. That review called 1999 the "Year of the Internet."


It also drew attention again to the emergence of urban delivery work as the prime action area in the truck field, noting that UPS and FedEx are the nation’s largest trucking companies. Those who weren’t impatient to get their yearly reviews into print could have called 2000 the "Year the Internet Crashed" because that’s what a lot of those cyber companies did when it became apparent their trees wouldn’t grow up to heaven.


People who received positive attention in the many reports of truck fuel troubles were those who did something to reduce sky-high prices. Foreign petroleum suppliers talked of increased production, but it appeared to be more talk than extra fuel.


Meanwhile, 2000 was another year in which it was uncertain what federal exhaust emission controls would do to fuel prices. While the doubts continued to wear on, clarification was always said to be just around the corner.


Introductions of vocational trucks have increased steadily. "Vocational" is the buzz word for robust work trucks, such as those used by readers of this magazine, as opposed to long-distance-hauling rigs.


In one such recent change, Volvo added a selection of heavy-duty VHD trucks, which led to the death of the venerable Autocar name.


Once an independent make produced in the Philadelphia area, Autocar had a big reputation for handling hard work. They were among the treasures of the truck industry’s past that came into the Volvo family along with what had been parts of the White truck line of Cleveland, Ohio.


In a flurry of activity that peaked in the middle of this year, International replaced Navistar as the name of the major truck company headquartered in Chicago.


International became the name of the Chicago truck producer in 1914, but it was replaced with Navistar in 1986.


The nation was much more agricultural when the International name was first adopted. The company’s early leaders were pioneers in developing reapers, binders and other machines which were widely used on farms.


When this was pointed out by the competition it didn’t help truck sales, as the nation became more urbanized after the Great Depression.


By the time the Navistar name was adopted, the company’s farm implement and construction machinery businesses had declined. School buses and engine design work and production, with some of the machines sold to other truck makers, had moved to center stage.


In late July, Freightliner Corp., the nation’s largest producer of heavy-duty trucks, announced an agreement to buy Western Star Trucks of Canada. The next day, DaimlerChrysler said it was buying engine maker Detroit Diesel. (DaimlerChrysler is the current name for the merged Daimler-Benz AG of Germany and Chrysler Corp. of the U.S. D-B is the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks and the parent of Freightliner Corp.)


Shortly after the July flurry of acquisition announcements, a group said to represent owners of about 30% of International’s stock asked the firm’s directors to sell the company lest it suffer a setback due to the pending changes in the industry.


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