It is already clear that 2001 will go into the history books as an off year for trucks. Production of new units has been cut back, it looks like high fuel costs are here to stay and the shortage of skilled drivers is coming close to being a fixture.
That doesn?t mean nothing is going on in the truck world. Far from it. Advances in truck technology stand out the same time regulations appear headed for an updating. Meanwhile, the truck industry continues to become an increasingly global activity.
The companies surviving the year are doing so by taking such bold and unfamiliar steps as raising rates and altering the way they operate their businesses.
Take a hard look at vehicles introduced as new model trucks lately and you will see a load of technical advances.
Not content with its Century Class S/T (safety/technology) model, Freightliner Corp. unveiled a lightweight version of that specialized model just before 2001 got under way. A heavy-duty Mercedes-Benz diesel, single Michelin rear tires that weigh less than pairs of dual rears, an aluminum clad Eaton transmission and a weight-saving horizontal exhaust are among payload-boosting features of the light S/T (circle 940).
Meanwhile, International has expanded availability of its Integrated Dump Trucks nationwide after a test in 10 southeastern states last year. Those models? chassis, body and other components are engineered as a single unit.
Old rules never die
As President Clinton ended his years in office, he emerged as one of the forces behind a drive to update the hours of service (HOS) rules for truck drivers that were first enacted more than 30 years ago.
Reflecting the fact that it is always easy to find those who will object to any change in status quo, it wasn?t long until enough Congressional objections to the reform were lined up to push it into this calendar year.
HOS reform, backed by many safety activists, didn?t get off to a fast start in 2001. Then, along came a plan to update truck cargo tie-down and securement rules. July 1 is listed as the scheduled date of that change.
The high cost of meeting tighter rules assures opposition from trucking companies, and they are sure to be a hard sell as long as fuel costs remain sky high and as the future course of the total economy remains in doubt.
Rumor mill churning
Listen to truck news from around the world and it is not difficult to discover that something is happening.
The first of two recent reports has DaimlerChrysler launching a new automotive business in Asia.
There also was a report that Mitsubishi of Japan, Renault of France and Volvo of Sweden will join forces on a new medium truck which Mitsubishi will sell in Japan and Volvo in Europe.
In view of operating conditions which they must meet in their home market, Japanese vehicle makers are being sought as partners in designing trucks to succeed in congested urban settings.
A similar need has been noted in the U.S. because mid-sized trucks for urban delivery are the ones that are selling in the current slow market.
Signs of ?01 times
Some of the big are getting bigger, while some of the big are getting smaller. Movement in both directions at about the same time shows just how unusual 2001 is turning out to be in the truck world.
For getting bigger, there is the acquisition of Rollins Truck Leasing Corp. by Penske Truck Leasing Co. The purchase price was listed as $754 million.
Rollins? lease agreements were said to cover more than 53,000 vehicles, while Penske?s volume was put at more than 152,000. At more than 200,000 units on lease, the surviving company will be one of the largest truck leasing operations in the world.
"We are excited about the tremendous opportunity this purchase creates for both companies," commented Roger Penske, chairman of the company which bears his name. It already has about 750 locations in the U.S., the rest of the Western Hemisphere and Europe.
Rollins will bring about 250 locations in the U.S. and Canada to the combined company. Eaton Corp., a major supplier of truck components, has announced a $55 million charge against its investment in its truck-related business as it boosts activity in the North American Free Trade area and reduces efforts to supply certain components in Europe. There are no plans to stay smaller at Eaton, which is expecting a payback of $40 million of the charge in about 18 months.