ImageI’ll confess- I didn’t even attend. Heck, the North Florida Airheads Tech Days next weekend sounds like a more enjoyable stopover on my migration north, and there’s a blizzard watch out for my place in Minnesota monday night, so no rush to get home. And the pictured Walmart greenwashing PR exercise not so cleverly disguised as a truck? ‘Twas at Louisville, and just from the PR it’s clearly fluff. Fluff, as in being powered by a gas turbine driving a generator and charging batteries that power this fluff, series hybrid style. And remember the gas turbine cars and trucks, that were abandoned back in the 70s because they were such gas hogs? In other words, a supersized Prius with the most inefficient engine possible. But heck, Walmart got to look kool…

Otherwise, there was little new… IIRC, not a single new model introduction. Navistar reminded us they’re still alive if not kicking, Volvo and their Mack brand showed the same old stuff with some new PR pitches (free tattoos of the new Mack logo, no waiting!), Daimler announced adding Western Star production at an east coast plant, and Paccar showed off the DAF cabovers wearing KW and Peterbuilt badges that replace the 80s “truck of the year” Leyland T45. Even the powertrain and trailer suppliers didn’t have much new, just a few revised axles and such.

But in a heavy truck industry that’s depleted to four manufacturers with seven brands, there’s no need to develop much new in this near monopoly. Especially when the North American market is almost the last refuge of the conventional cab truck, the rest of the world preferring cabovers. In fact, there are only five manufacturers of conventional cab heavy trucks left, and a couple of them are just pasting a hood on their world market cabover to muddle through the ‘merican market. And while Mack loyalists lament Mack’s morphing into a Volvo with a bulldog hood ornament, with Mack sales being but a tenth of Volvo’s total, it’s hard to keep the old dog alive. Two thirds of the worlds heavy trucks are sold in Asia today, and those are all cabover markets… Mack’s opportunity there was a couple decades ago, and they missed it.

And it’s a shrinking little conventional cab market we have here in North America too. Time was when trucking companies ran trucks 24 hours a day, putting 750,000 miles on in 5 years and trading for new. With the railroads taking over the long hauls, it takes twice as long to put on that many miles so they buy half as many new trucks. Even the industry’s most reliable customers in the “vocational” markets like utilities and such are less reliable buyers, as a lot of them have taken a hard look at what there trucks really need to carry and downsized to smaller trucks from Ford, Fiat/Ram, and even GM. So no surprise that while U.S. big truck sales used to run around 300,000 a year, they’ll be lucky to top 200,000 a year these days. 200,000 vehicles a year is about what the car/light truck manufacturers demand to justify a single model, and the big truck building biz here splits that volume among 4 manufacturers and a bakers dozen or so models… So no surprise we’re not seeing a lot of new models!

Enough lament… Looks like I’m suddenly popular with the PR departments and I’ve got a bunch of invites to April 1st new product announcements. Let’s see… UPS, Chicago-Milwaukee Corporation, Electric Boat Company, Walmart, Harley, Twin City Lines, and the Everglades State University Experimental Farm?