It’s back in the 70s and you’re on a road trip through the midwest. Seems like every town of any size has an “International” dealership with kinda 50s cool windowy showroom with a vertical fin with the “IH” or “International” name on it, surrounded by trucks, tractors, even big earthmovers. It’s the end of the day and you get a well deserved cheap motel room. Nothin’ good on TV, so you see a grocery store a couple blocks down the main drag and hike over to get some chips and soda. ‘Long the way is another International dealer, so you wander into the lot.

The showroom is closed, but through all that glass you can see a very serious looking pickup and SUV, surrounded by “Cub Cadet” garden tractors and even a mower. So you walk around… line of more pickups and SUVs across the front. On one side of the lot are tractors and implements, everything from a little “Cub” up to big monsters with dual wheels. Round back is an impressive row of construction equipment, everything from little wheel loaders to dozers and scrapers. Further round on the other side of the building are the trucks- everything from good sized straight trucks through Transtar cabovers and conventionals, Paystar dump trucks, etc.

You notice noise coming from the back side of the building, and walking closer you note a super-sized truck with a “Pacific” name badge on it’s stratospheric hood. You’ve never seen a truck this big, and walk inside to inquire. So you wander through the open garage doors to inquire of the only person in the place that ain’t totally absorbed in their work, the parts man/service writer. He tells you ’bout the Pacific, “special order for the quarry, built in western Canada, gonna have to get permits just to deliver it”. The partsman offers you some coffee… “Officially, we’re open ’til midnight, but usually somebody’s here workin’ to get the trucks out ’til dawn at least”. He moves his gaze back to a parts book, one of a collection that covers the wall behind the counter from floor to ceiling… “sorry, got to get this parts order together, the showrooms through that door, you’re welcome to look around”.

Even in late june it’s dark before you leave the spell of the showroom, having drooled over a diesel powered 4 by 4 and a Cub Cadet that could make your suburban chores a lot easier. You leave with an armful of brochures that now rest in your collection, and the partsman offers another cup of coffee on your way out…

Yup, in those magical times one company could supply the tractors, trucks, and dirt movers to plow the field, seed and harvest the wheat, construct the bakery, deliver the bread, and even mow the lawn  of the bakery. ‘Twas not to last, as International came out of a long and ugly strike in 1980 smack into the middle of inflation then recession. When the corporate bleeding ceased the company had sold off the tractor biz to Case, the construction equipment stuff to Dresser, and the axle biz to Dana Spicer, and tried to redo their image with a name change to “Navistar” that didn’t fool nobody. They’ve since wasted a couple decades in a price war with Daimler trucks.

Seems like it takes only a generation or so for the lessons of the last corporate near death experience to be forgotten, and so it has been with Navistar of late. Navistar played the odd man out in trying to comply with the 2010 U.S. emission requirements without resorting to a Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) “Bluetec” strategy to reduce emissions. The most excellent Big Lorry Blog out of the UK has chronicled the whole sorry debacle, noting that Navistar’s sorry strategy resulted in a not insignificant 8% fuel economy loss compared to their competitors. Navistar’s latest corporate communications even hint that they might not be able to meet the EPA’s upcoming fuel economy/greenhouse gas standards with their emissions “solution” either. That’s academic now, as EPA is slapping Navistar with a $1900 fine on each engine built because try as they might, they still don’t quite meet the 2010 standard. Thus Navistar just sold their soul and cut a deal to buy DEF exhaust aftertreatment from Cummins and even whole Cummins engines. But Cummins will need ’til 2013 to up production to meet Navistar’s needs… In the meantime Navistar is stuck with trucks that are hard to sell ’cause they get lousy fuel mileage. While every maker endured the pain of the 2007-2009 trucks with their crude non DEF emmissions controls, Navistar has chosen to extend the pain clear through the 2012 model year, with a vengance due to the tighter standards the 2010 and later trucks have to meet.

And did I mention the increased warranty claims and SEC investigation? Might want to drop by what’s left of the Navistar dealer network and pick up some more brochures for the collection…

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