Now showing at a world near you

Maybe Walt Disney was right. Maybe it's a small world after all.

Here we are sitting at a National Truck Equipment Association convention session — an ole' boy from Texas listening to a business consultant from England talking about the trends that are affecting commercial trucks all over the world.

Tim Campbell, the British speaker, was very much aware of the tradition of pickup trucks in America. He also knew that pickups aren't nearly as popular as commercial vehicles elsewhere in the world.

He looked at a room full of business owners and managers, many of whom make a living selling bodies and equipment for light duty trucks. Nevertheless, he brought up this question: At what point does power become secondary to fuel economy? With fuel prices marching ever higher, at what point do commercial truck buyers say, “I need to make more money — and I can make more money if I have a more fuel efficient vehicle.”

And when plumbers, electricians, and other commercial truck customers begin to ask those questions, what type of vehicle do they look to for the answer? Continued increases in fuel prices could have a major impact on how trucks are designed, how they are fueled, and how they are equipped.

Campbell comes from a country where gasoline sells for nine dollars a gallon. He knows what high fuel prices can do to commercial truck fleets. He pointed to the compact van — the de facto standard in Europe for many commercial truck users. These are the same types of companies that, if they were in the U S, probably would be using pickups and chassis cabs. Campbell then showed photographs of those vehicles — smaller, shorter wheelbase versions of the discontinued Ford Aerostar and GM Astro vans.

Wait a minute, you may be asking. Didn't we have this same conversation a generation ago after radical Muslims overthrew the government of Iran, held Americans hostage in their own embassy, and sent world energy prices through the stratosphere? Didn't we rethink our commercial truck specs then? Didn't every service body manufacturer in the U S rush to manufacture a body for the Ford Courier and the Chevy LUV pickups?

And didn't the whole mini-truck thing literally collapse because customers wanted to load their mini-trucks with the same amount of weight that they carried on their maxi-trucks? That and the fact that fuel prices eventually moderated?

Maybe so, but Ford seems to think that the market may be ready, as the British say, for something completely different.

About the same time an English researcher was telling a North American audience about the approach of a world truck, Ford was busy in the exhibit area of The Work Truck Show, preparing to introduce a new type of commercial vehicle to the North American market. A photo of that new vehicle, along with some of its specs, and details of Campbell's presentation, can be found on Page 38. It is scheduled to be available in the U S soon.

It's one trend, just one of many, identified and discussed at the recent Work Truck Show in Atlanta. Will European trucks being introduced in North America revolutionize the way we do business here? Probably not. We still are a gigantic market, one big enough to supply its own demands and separated from the rest of the world's major truck markets by vast oceans. But the world is definitely getting closer, and the commercial truck industry within that world is changing rapidly.

What are the trends? What do we need to anticipate? How are customers being impacted, and what new products are being introduced to meet the needs of a morphing market?

That's why trade associations hold conventions, and it's why Trailer/Body Builders brings you this coverage of The Work Truck Show and the thoughts and ideas of industry leaders.

This is our annual Work Truck Show Report Issue. But our coverage will not fit in one issue of Trailer/Body Builders. Look for additional stories next month and in July. It's the only way we could do justice to the volume of information presented there.

In a sense, we feel like we are giving you news from around the world, yet we only had to go to Atlanta to get it. If current trends continue, the trip could be even shorter next year. After all.

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