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Shining light on new work trucks

Dec. 1, 2016
November 2016 editorial

It’s unusual for NTEA staff members to greet people as they arrive at the National Truck Equipment’s annual Truck Product Conference in Dearborn, Michigan. What was going on?

We found out quickly from an NTEA staffer who approached our taxi as it rolled in from the airport.

“You might want to hold your cab,” the staffer said, “because the Truck Product Conference has been cancelled.”

The second-most important event for the truck equipment industry would not be held this year because the hotel did not have electricity. Circuit breakers inside the hotel had been tripping throughout the day before the conference was to start, and repair personnel could not promise that they could locate the problem and fix it in time for the event to be held.

NTEA quickly secured a block of hotel rooms near the airport for those who could not fly home that night. But we had business there in Dearborn the next day. The night was young, and we decided to take our chances that the power would be restored before the night grew old.

Good choice. The ensuing 90 minutes or so of almost total darkness provided an opportunity to reflect on what we have seen happen (with the help of electricity) at this hotel during the 30-plus years that it has been the home of the Truck Product Conference.

You get to know a place when you go there every year. Somewhere in the darkness of the hotel was the meeting room, now dark and empty, where years ago Ford announced that it was getting out of the heavy truck business in order to build a new type of truck called the Super Duty.

It’s also where Dodge representatives announced in the early 90s that they were going to breathe life back into a rather thin line of pickup trucks and get back into the commercial truck business. There truck equipment distributors pressured truck OEMs face-to-face to offer today’s commonplace features such as PTO openings in automatic transmissions.

Down that same darkened hallway was where Freightliner and International first explained the benefits of their multiplexed electrical systems to truck upfitters.

In that room, multiple manufacturers first explained upcoming regulations that would ban or restrict the common industry practice modifying truck exhaust systems. And it was where Mitsubishi Fuso lightened up their annual presentations with a series of photographs depicting really bad truck equipment installations. The title of the segment: “What Were They Thinking?”

On the other end of the darkened hotel was the exhibit hall. Had the conference been held, Truck Product Conference attendees would have leaned over or gotten under this year’s new trucks, checking out fuel tank locations, measuring frames, and seeing for themselves the things truck engineers had told them about during a presentation just a few minutes earlier.

Decades ago, Truck Product Conference attendees lined up in this display room to pick up free copies of new bodybuilders’ books. Bodybuilders’ books are now available electronically, but you need electricity to read them.

This event normally is the foundation of our annual report on what is new for the upcoming model year. With no Truck Product Conference this year, we found it much more difficult to present the truck and chassis information that we normally deliver. We flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association’s annual conference. There many of the major chassis manufacturers were presenting updates—including technical data. NTEA developed a next-best-thing-to-being-there with its “Virtual Truck Product Conference.” We gathered general information from various truck OEMs that is readily available and, where possible, blended it with the technical information we got from multiple sources. Not quite one-stop learning that the Truck Product Conference provides.

“The Truck Product Conference provides a unique level of insights into the technical aspects of commercial vehicle upfitting,” says Steve Carey, NTEA’s executive director. “The fact that the event had to be canceled this year was unfortunate for everyone scheduled to participate. Plans are underway for the fall of 2017, and the NTEA will be making an announcement on the dates very shortly.”

In the meantime, check out the news in this year’s new truck round-up.