When it comes to discussing new truck models, a carryover year — almost by definition — should be a nonevent.
In a carryover year, next year's truck is pretty much like this year's truck. If the body and equipment fit this year, won't they fit next year? In a carryover year, there generally is not much truck news to talk about.
This year is a huge exception.
Yes, chassis manufacturers have some new things coming that will impact the installation of commercial truck bodies and equipment. You will find details as you read our coverage of the National Truck Equipment Association's annual Truck Product Conference.
For example, hybrid trucks are becoming increasingly popular, and several chassis manufacturers displayed medium-duty hybrid models. And yes, a new round of diesel emissions regulations will affect truck equipment distributors and their customers. And of course additional truck models are in the pipeline.
But more significant than product changes this year are the revolutionary changes affecting the chassis manufacturers and the key personnel who serve as a liaison between the chassis manufacturer and the commercial truck equipment industry.
This year's Truck Product Conference had three full days of chassis manufacturer presentations. Three companies provided news and product exhibits each day. That may be a high-water mark for years to come. Here's why. Before we could even get this report on the conference to you, Daimler announced that one of the participants in this year's conference (Sterling) would cease to exist as a brand. Two other participants — General Motors and Dodge — were attempting to merge. The last we heard, the merger overtures are over. Instead, GM continues to make headlines with reports about running out of cash and eventually having zero value as a company. Other major companies, including Ford and Chrysler, are facing major challenges.
Along with these challenges that chassis manufacturers are experiencing come pressures to reduce personnel — through attrition, retirement packages, and layoffs. That includes key marketing and engineering experts. Some of those jobs represent people who have worked long and hard in partnership with NTEA members and staff. Their efforts have helped their companies to understand our industry and to design features into commercial trucks that help make chassis more “upfitter friendly.”
The turnover of personnel was evident at the Truck Product Conference this year — particularly the group from Mitsubishi Fuso that consistently met with NTEA members year after year. Daimler, Mitsubishi Fuso's corporate parent, decided to close Fuso headquarters in the Philadelphia area and move them in with the Sterling Truck operation in suburban Detroit. The Fuso group chose to remain in the Philadelphia area, which is why new faces made the Mitsubishi Fuso presentation this year.
A few other veteran presenters were either missing or announcing retirement. New people have moved in to take their place — and are helping to link chassis manufacturers with the commercial truck equipment industry.
What are the implications of these changes that are taking place with our chassis manufacturers? How will they affect us? Let's answer that from a product standpoint as well as from a personnel perspective.
As chassis manufacturers face mounting financial pressures, we can expect to see dwindling options. One factor making the elimination of the Sterling brand easier was that the same models were available elsewhere. Some were variants of Mitsubishi models. Others came from Dodge.
But beyond that, we can expect manufacturers to cut back on the array of models and options they currently offer. If the model or option does not generate revenue, we can hardly expect the manufacturer to continue offering it.
At times like these, it is perhaps even more important for the OEMs and our industry to work together to provide the commercial truck customer with the most value possible. That means working more closely than ever with the OEMs, including those new faces who may have replaced the ones we knew. After all, you don't get a clean interface between chassis and truck equipment without extensive interfacing between the individuals who design trucks and the individuals who equip them.
To those chassis manufacturer representatives who have moved on, we say thank you. To those who are new, we say welcome. Let's continue to work together to make commercial trucks satisfy the customer's requirements. It's a challenging market, but we need to carry on, even in a carryover year.
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