Heavies fall hard in spring

Trucks Article August 06, 2001
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Unusual things continue to pop up in the truck world as the year 2001 moves ahead

Unusual things continue to pop up in the truck world as the year 2001 moves ahead.

A sharp drop in sales of Class 8 heavy-duty trucks continues to dominate the news. While the industry sales report put April sales of heavies up by 277 units over the March total, this year’s April figure was a dramatic 37% below the total for April 2000.

Moving to specific types of trucks, there are reports that the market for construction trucks is alive and fairly well. Meanwhile, urban-delivery trucks are showing signs of life as they did in the year 2000. Kenworth is one line reporting activity with both types of truck.

But on the negative side Mack Trucks scheduled a 2% increase in the selling prices of all of its models in view of the industry’s sales dip, saying dealers need the money to be able to deliver the service and support required by their customers.

Michel Giguo, Mack president and CEO, said, "This is an extraordinary step, but one driven by extraordinary circumstances."

He noted that Mack, like several of its competitors, has cut back production in view of the current sales dip. He promised that the Bulldog line will announce "several important product enhancements and introductions in June."

Back in style

After running through a decade with no major announcements of new truck models, International has just introduced the first of its Next Generation Trucks (NGTs) with a series of heavily restyled midrange models with diesel engines.

Roy Wiley, a company spokesman, said dealers and customers "have been enthused" by the new models. The quality level has been high on the new model trucks produced so far. Specialized, heavier NGTs will be coming later this year.

Initial offerings, in what is expected to be a new and different generation of truck diesel engines, are beginning to move through a long introduction period.

Cummins Inc. said it spent $1.7 billion on new powerplants introduced in Houston recently. Engines fueled with natural gas were included in the showing.

Confused outlook

In time, all engine makers are expected to introduce new powerplants with improved suppression of exhaust emissions to meet current and future federal exhaust limits.

Mark Levett, a Cummins vice president, said the company has brought together "technologies in air handling, electronics, fuel systems and combustion processes to develop cleaner, more fuel-efficient engines."

Cummins said it produces 14 diesel engine platforms from 55 to 3,500 hp.

Forthcoming product announcements by other makers of truck engines and yet-to-be finalized federal emission limits for future years will add to a flood of emission news in the future.

If the previous paragraph sounds like there is a lot of confused activity in the truck diesel field, that’s a fair picture of what’s going on. People in the industry started calling it the "diesel debacle" soon after it broke out in 1998.

Without getting bogged down in all the details, the Environmental Protection Agency charged six diesel engine makers with cheating on getting the emission controls of their products approved. The engine makers said they didn’t cheat but were hit with a record environmental fine.

Next came proposed changes in emission control rules along with shifts in effective dates. The apparent net result is a current set of upcoming rules, uncertainty about which engine makers can meet them and claims by truck makers that they won’t be able to design the revised diesels into their vehicles on time.

For those who don’t see current events as a debacle, the engine makers’ trade association said in May it will sue the federal government to be allowed to take part in a court case which grew out of the original dispute in 1998.

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