MANY of us have pulled up behind a vehicle with a “Visualize World Peace” bumper sticker, yet we are unlikely to see the world become a peaceful place anytime soon. We are more likely to see the vision of a similar bumper sticker—“Visualize Whirled Peas.”
But visualizing world trucks? That’s easy. Anyone who attended the recent Truck Product Conference sponsored by the National Truck Equipment Association saw trucks that either were built in or produced by companies with substantial ownership in Japan, China, Vietnam, Turkey, Sweden, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Canada, and right here in the U S of A.
Of all the trucks on display at this year’s Truck Product Conference, perhaps the one with the most international pedigree is the new Ford Transit. It’s the one that will replace an American icon—the Econoline van—in Ford’s product lineup.
While the Transit is new to North America, it is almost as much of an icon internationally as the Econoline has been in North America. Ford introduced the van in Europe in 1965 shortly after developing the Econoline for the North American market. According to Ford, more than seven million Transits have been sold in six continents. We are guessing that only Antarctica remains without a Transit dealer.
Also displayed prominently was the new Ram ProMaster van, an Americanized version of Fiat’s Ducato commercial van. The 2014 ProMaster is available as a cargo and window van versions, along with chassis cab and cutaways. It was designed by an Italian company and built in Mexico for sale in the American market.
Of course, Japanese truck manufacturers have been regular participants at the Truck Product Conference for decades. Ironic considering that this event originated as a joint meeting produced by Ford and General Motors. In the early years, participants at the conference viewed new Chevys at the GM facility in Warren and then drove down to Dearborn to hear what was new at Ford—and then went home.
Globalization will only become more important as chassis manufacturers seek ways to break down barriers of entry, hoping to market their products in as many nations as feasible with minimal modification to fit local markets.
One of the biggest obstacles is regulation—particularly with engines. As we reported on our website this month (www.trailer-bodybuilders.com) the world’s leading manufacturers of heavy-duty commercial trucks and engines met in Chicago this more to endorse a harmonized global approach to key issues such as energy efficiency standards and emissions regulations for commercial vehicles.
The meeting drew chief executives of commercial vehicle and engine manufacturers from Europe, Japan and the United States.
“The outcome of our meetings in Chicago was to affirm our commitment to work with governments around the world to establish a set of aligned global standards and measurement procedures related to fuel quality, energy efficiency improvements and greenhouse gas reductions,” said Cummins’ Tom Linebarger, who chaired the meeting.
Can we visualize world trucks? That’s easy. The more challenging question is what’s next? And how will that affect the commercial truck body and equipment industry? The commercial truck industry in the countries where some of these trucks originate is different from the way we do business in North America. Along with the truck will come new technologies and new ways to go to market.
• Truck manufacturers in other nations exercise more control over the manufacture of bodies and the installation of equipment. Will this have an impact on an already changing channel of distribution?
• Will global vehicles make North American customers relinquish some of the freedom they have had to spec their own commercial vehicles?
• Are we in the early phase of seeing vans replace pickups? For the past few years, British truck analyst Tim Campbell has spoken at The Work Truck Show, predicting that compact vans will begin doing more of the work currently being performed on pickup platforms. Good news for van interior manufacturers. But these vans also are being offered in chassis and cutaway configurations. Can we expect to see more second-unit bodies being mounted on these vehicles? And the Ram ProMaster is coming to North America with front-wheel drive. What opportunities might that present back of cab?
Just a few thoughts to chew on while visualizing whirled peas. ♦