Separating the temporary from the permanent

Oct. 1, 2008
Here's a challenge for you: as you read this issue of Trailer/Body Builders, see if you can distinguish between the fixed and the fleeting, especially

Here's a challenge for you: as you read this issue of Trailer/Body Builders, see if you can distinguish between the fixed and the fleeting, especially in the economic stories included in this month's issue. Notice timeless principles amid the news about an industry that is changing faster than it can be documented.

There's nothing like the events of the past few weeks to make us appreciate how fleeting time is and how temporal wealth can be.

One day the Dow plunges 800 points. One day it's up almost 1,000. Worse yet, the market can be up or down hundreds of points in the morning only to finish the day with the same magnitude of change — but in the opposite direction.

Economic data, including facts affecting commercial trucks and trailers, have had a very short shelf life lately. When conditions change instantly, even a quickly posted story that goes on a news Web site is a snapshot. It simply captures a moment in time.

If it's your job to put out a monthly magazine that is both timely and an accurate reflection of what is happening in your industry, times like these drive home how challenging that can be.

But it's not just those of us who put out magazines who fight a battle against time. When the stock market took its cataclysmic plunge September 29, the panel of economists who spoke at the NTEA Business and Market Planning Summit three days later already had completed their presentations. And while Microsoft PowerPoint makes it possible to update presentations quickly, events changed so fast that the economists might as well have had presentations based around a stack of 35-mm slides and a Kodak Carousel projector.

So when it came time to assemble this month's issue, we had some decisions to make. While this is our annual Aftermarket Parts & Accessories Issue, we also had some excellent economic material that was presented just before we were going to press. It needed to get to you ASAP. Nothing is at the forefront of business owners more than the economy right now.

But even if we got the material to you quickly, where would the economy be by the time this issue got to your desk? How much of the material presented under these unusual circumstances would still be helpful? We decided to get the material to you as quickly as we could and let you be the judge.

In the few days that it took to prepare our coverage of the Business & Market Planning Summit (see Page 69) and the Global Insight report on opportunities in the global truck market (see Page 97), the changes kept coming. Daimler announced that it is moving Freightliner production out of Portland and is discontinuing the Sterling brand. Not to be outdone, General Motors reportedly is close to merging with Chrysler after conducting similar conversations with Ford. Clearly this is not your father's Oldsmobile.

The day this page was written, the Dow gained 413 points. The day this page was written, the Conference Board announced that the economy improved in September for the first time in five months. But on the day this page was written, were we seeing the economy beginning to bottom out, or was it simply one of the peaks on this roller coaster ride we have been on?

We try to publish credible market forecasts in Trailer/Body Builders. But it strikes us that the real value in forecasting is long term, not what will make headlines on the Web in a few minutes or in your local newspaper tomorrow. The important thing is to identify long-range trends in a short-term world.

Not to give away the challenge that you were issued earlier on this page, but one of the steady factors is the need for commercial trucks and trailers. Not customer demand — that fluctuates frequently as freight volumes change, when interest rates change, when rules and regulations change. Not demand — need. At the risk of being overly simple, the need grows as our population grows.

We have heard it said repeatedly, at the Global Insight presentation in Germany, in presentations here in the U S:

  1. The population will continue to grow.

  2. As the population grows, the need for trucks and trailers increases.

  3. Trucks and trailers increasingly will supply that increased need — not railroads or waterways. In the future, a greater percentage of stuff will move by truck.

That's why we can't help but be optimistic about what the future holds. In a world that changes rapidly, commercial trucks and trailers are a constant. As we look beyond today's market, we see a nation that will have more people with more needs. Logistics. Food. Housing. Energy. Infrastructure. None of which can be met without commercial trucks and trailers.

It's a matter of making it through this rough stretch. When you offer a product that meets a long-term need, difficult markets are temporary.