The US Work-Truck Market: Open to Outside Influence?

Global commercial truck trends are coming to America's heartland, Campbell said.

“You might be saying, ‘I'm in the middle of Kansas. What do Europe and Japan have to do with me?’ My answer is, ‘A heckuva lot more now than before.’ And in the next 20 years, that will change tremendously.”

Campbell, a UK resident who also is a Florida property owner, compared the present US commercial truck industry with the way trucks are produced and sold elsewhere in the world. What he sees globally may be a preview of what might happen in the US over the course of the next decade.

One of the big differences between the US and other countries is the way commercial trucks are produced. North American customers can go to their local truck equipment distributor and get a high level of personalization. By contrast, truck customers in Japan and Southeast Asia go to their local truck dealer to buy a truck that has been produced entirely by the truck manufacturer.

Campbell also noted the in the US, ” We have cheap fuel, pressures that are internal and not external, and few serious global players.

“The ‘developed world’ centered around the US, Western Europe, and Japan,” Campbell said. “That's the way it's been for the last 20, 60, 80 years, but the world is getting a lot smaller. Three major US manufacturers are staring down the barrel of a gun. You have to change. The old adage doesn't work anymore. Globalization is an important part of that.”

Campbell listed several reasons why Americans need to know about Europe and Asia to get a glimpse of our future:

  • Some US heavy-duty truck manufacturers are owned by Europeans.

  • EPA10 emissions. SCR, the most commonly adopted technology for meeting the new EPA diesel emissions regulation is proven technology in Europe. Major technological mandates such as this force truck manufacturers to seek ways to spread their R & D costs over multiple markets. “The recession has made people reassess manufacturing,” Campbell said. “Manufacturers are asking themselves, ‘What do I produce around the world? I can't have three separate monarchies spending all of the R&D and all of my time. I'm finding out I can't get economies of scale. The market has collapsed.”

  • China has entered the global market and leapfrogged the US to become the world's largest auto market.

  • Toyota has overtaken General Motors as the world's largest supplier of cars, ending GM's 77 years at the top.

  • We are all interconnected. Campbell believes there are opportunities for US companies to sell internationally. “Now is the time to start talking to people,” he said.

  • Nissan will enter the commercial truck market in the US. “Nissan is committed to make three trucks in the US using technology that's available globally.”

  • The fastest growth is occurring elsewhere. The contrast can be seen in new registrations of Class 3?8 vehicles. They were down 36.8% in 2009, with just 312,000 units, and down 61.1% from 2006's 803,000 units. Meanwhile, India was down just 6.5% and China has European and global aspirations. For example, FAW accounted for 164,110 medium and heavy trucks in 2009 (up 6.8%) and 84,101 light trucks (up 41.7%).

The way it could go:

  • Freightliner, Western, Mack, Kenworth, Peterbilt, and Navistar use European-based engines.

  • Increased use of badge/joint engineering. “Without a doubt, there are opportunities for global manufacturing. Standards will go more together.”

  • More seeking to enter the US market through JV/mergers.

  • Increased use of technology. “We're going to see a lot more telematics.”

  • Greater demand for fuel efficiency thru hybrids and diesels.

  • Change in market segments.

  • Reduced customization. “That's the thing that worries me on the work-truck side,” Campbell said.

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  • Vans will increasingly be used for applications now being performed by pickups and chassis cabs. He said the US van market is forecast to increase from 180,000 to 465,000 in the next three years because they are smaller and more efficient, load-protected, and fit into the urbanization of the nation.

    “We are becoming a crowded planet — certainly down the eastern seaboard,” Campbell said. “There are areas not conducive to vans, but there are areas that are just as dense as in the UK, where 65 million people are living in a place the size of Florida. There are horses for courses. There are certainly areas where vans will make sense.”

  • US companies use existing worldwide technologies to save money and time. “The rest of the world wants the technology if you show it in the nicest possible way. Go out there. It's important that you look outside the US. You can sit there and moan about the US market or say, ‘I can look at other key areas.’ It's not what it used to be. You're very well-respected no matter where you go in the world.”

  • For truck body manufacturers, there is an opportunity. “The world's in recession. If you have money, buy now or set up agency/partnerships now. People who would not consider deals globally are willing to do deals now. Look outside the border and what's going on. There are some great opportunities. The important thing is not to stay still.”

“There is growth in online shopping, which means a lot of small packages shipped. The recession means that manufacturers are looking outside and asking, ‘What will reduce my R&D, reduce my cost, and make it cheaper to buy in the end?’

“Everybody wants to go electric. So small vans allow you to get into a market where, if you are diesel only, might not be possible.

“The next 15 years are going to represent opportunities for upfitters and manufacturers alike. The important thing is to be informed. I talked to manufacturers no matter which country I'm in. They say, ‘We want to make sure we can maximize profit and make everything.’ The days of producing a vehicle for US and a vehicle for Europe and a vehicle for Asia and a vehicle for Japan … forget it. All that R&D is just gone. They don't have the money.”

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