Transformation in a carryover year

Trailer/body Builders April 2015 editorial

THERE are times when the times really do seem like “they are ‘a-changin’.” This year’s Work Truck Show was one of those times.

Trailer/Body Builders has seen them all—the days when the “show” consisted of tabletop displays and displays that were not allowed to be larger than 10 feet by 10 feet. The day the first “Supershow” opened, filling the playing surface of the Superdome in New Orleans. The few years that the event was called the Commercial Truck, Trailer, and Technology Show. And now the present era—The Work Truck Show.

Regardless of what it has been called, the NTEA-sponsored exhibition has been the commercial truck industry’s gathering place for more than a generation.

It’s where some people saw their very first SuperDuty, a series of truck models that suddenly filled the void that existed between pickups and Class 6 chassis.

It’s where the global truck market reached North America as Japan introduced commercial truck customers to highly maneuverable low-cab forward chassis.

It was the venue Mitsubishi Fuso chose to unveil something called a hybrid truck, a prototype that combined a diesel engine with an electric motor. From there, the prototype had to be flown across the Atlantic so that it could arrive in time for its European debut at the IAA show in Hanover, Germany. Radical stuff at the time.

Rather than remembering this year’s show for a single groundbreaking event, we see it as an event where clear trends emerged.

Single revolutionary products are rare. Innovation seems to come in clusters. And while it was pretty much a carryover year for most truck OEMs, there still seemed to be a lot of innovation at Indy this year.

Innovation depends on what you are looking for. Conventional chassis cabs seemed to be pretty much unchanged. If you were looking for a conventional chassis cab on which to mount a truck body, the new Chevy Colorado with box delete was perhaps the biggest news.

But what if you think outside the pickup box? It’s here that we see changes coming. As mentioned on this page last month, the commercial market now has more vehicle choices than ever. Another wave of international influence—this time commercial vans and cutaway chassis—was evident across the show floor.

No one rolled out an entire new series of trucks this year. But seeing the cumulative effect of vehicles that have been introduced the past couple of years was striking. Equally impressive was the number of U S truck body and truck equipment manufacturers that have been exceptionally quick to display their new products designed to go on these new vehicles.

Another significant trend seems to be an accelerated shift from traditional steel to lighter weight materials such as composites and aluminum. While weight savings has always been important to a lot of customers, it is now being linked with fuel economy. It’s now just a matter of weeks before Phase 2 of the greenhouse gas and fuel economy regulations are to be announced, and this time work trucks will be included. Weight reduction is one of the only tools that the truck body and equipment industry has for improving fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Even though we were told that it’s a carryover year, we came away from this year’s show with a sense that the pace and scope of change in the truck equipment business is increasing—in terms of the needs of the customer, who the customer is, how truck bodies and equipment are designed and built, how these products will interface with tomorrow’s vehicles, and how truck equipment will be marketed and by whom.

Bob Dylan certainly didn’t have the truck equipment industry in mind when he wrote these words the year before NTEA was formed. But for those of us who prowl the aisles of truck shows in search of a glimpse of the future, they seem appropriate:

  • Come writers and critics
  • Who prophesize with your pen
  • And keep your eyes wide
  • The chance won’t come again
  • And don’t speak too soon
  • For the wheel’s still in spin
  • And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’
  • For the loser now will be later to win
  • For the times they are a-changin’ ♦

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