FOR DECADES, truck body and trailer manufacturers in North America have been developing ways to make transportation equipment more productive, more reliable, more economical, and safer to operate.
So have our counterparts in other countries. Globally, transportation and vocational equipment manufacturers often share similar objectives as those of us in North America, but we sometimes take different routes to get there.
That's why Trailer/Body Builders dedicates its February issue each year to international trailer and truck body designs. We want to provide you with a detailed look at how companies in other countries are advancing the state of the art in commercial trucks, bodies, and trailers.
This month we deliver extensive coverage of the most recent IAA (International Automobil-Ausstellung Nutzfahrzeuge) exposition in Frankfurt, Germany. Once again, the event was a vast showplace of new ideas. The show attracted 1,314 exhibiting companies from 42 nations - including 44 exhibitors from the U S. The place was packed - drawing 240,000 visitors for the weeklong event.
Attendance got a boost from last year's strong commercial vehicle sales in Western Europe. The market for truck bodies and trailers in Europe - including $6 billion in Germany alone - should come close to matching last year's performance, according to Bernd Gottschalk, president of VDA, the German automotive industry trade association. Speaking at a press conference in Frankfurt am Main, January 31, Gottschalk reported commercial sales of 2.3 million units last year, up 5% from 1999. He also said German manufacturers increased exports of commercial vehicles by 13%. He predicts a slight decline in both of those numbers, primarily as a result of increased fuel costs.
Half a world away, the Japanese were preparing a commercial truck show of their own. Unlike Germany, where such exhibitions are routine, it was the first time in the 34-year history of the Tokyo Motor Show that the focus was on commercial trucks and trailers. The response surprised even the show sponsors. In spite of a slow economy in Japan, the new venture drew almost 180,000 visitors and featured more than one-quarter million square feet of exhibit space.
Most of the products we include in our IAA coverage were designed to enhance productivity for shippers. By contrast, the picture we get from the Tokyo Motor Show is a commercial truck industry coming to grips with limitations of the market - from the geometrical confines that commercial trucks face when traveling the crowded streets of Japan's major cities, to major environmental regulations.
One of the key issues with which Japanese truck manufacturers are addressing is alternative fuels - a subject that seemed s-o-o-o Seventies until the lights started going out in California and soaring diesel prices became a drag on our high-flying truck and trailer market.
Hybrids - trucks that run off batteries powered by internal combustion engines - were everywhere. The show vehicles won't become the industry standard next week, but Japanese truck manufacturers are betting major R&D yen that these types of propulsion systems will be able to address market and governmental demand for quieter, cleaner, more fuel-efficient trucks. And those governmental proposals can be powerful - including metropolitan Tokyo's proposed ban of diesel trucks unless they are equipped with filters that trap emissions.
Despite local differences, truck body and trailer manufacturers globally share many of the same issues. We burn the same basic fuel. We breathe the same air. We serve customers who demand more productive, cost-effective equipment. And when we go halfway around the world to attend a truck show, we see a number of the same exhibitors that we do back home.
The world increasingly is developing common ground - and common ways to talk about it - particularly with the growth of the Internet. It's only fitting that at the same time Trailer/Body Builders is publishing this International Issue, we also are increasing our presence on the World Wide Web. Our computer wizards promise us that by the time this copy reaches your desk, a supercharged Trailer/Body Builders Web site will be available to you and anyone else in the world who has a computer and an ISP.
The new site actually will be part of a "global" site (www.IndustryClick.com) that our parent company has developed. It will be a major portal through which you can find information on a wide range of industries - including utilities, construction, and others. Look for us and our sister publications in the Transportation section, and you will find more truck-related news and features than we ever had before, or type in our same domain name (www.trailer-bodybuilders.com) and go directly to us.
We crossed two oceans to put together February Trailer/Body Builders. Our new site will take the information around the world - or straight to you. It's one additional way of increasing our global vision.