Roadranger executive: Trucking’s "been this bad before"

WASHINGTON. With the economy still in turmoil and new, stricter emission regulations on the near horizon, it's easy for those in trucking to get stuck in "panic mode."

WASHINGTON. With the economy still in turmoil and new, stricter emission regulations on the near horizon, it's easy for those in trucking to get stuck in "panic mode."

However, Jim Sahli, director of field sales & marketing for Roadranger, believes such a mindset could be detrimental – if not fatal – to the long-term prospects for dealers, fleets, OEMs, and component suppliers alike.

"My point has to do with the absolutely dreadful year we're having right now," he explained in a speech here at the American Truck Dealer's 2009 Convention & Exposition. "When we're so busy ‘right-sizing our businesses – cutting back, making ends meet – it's difficult to step back and view one year in the proper context of the last thirty. "

Yet Sahli believes it's critical to do just that – to step back and view the current crisis in the "continuity and context" of the last 30 years – for at least three reasons.

"First, we cannot allow ourselves to get lost in the urgency or the emergency of the moment – that can cause us to make poor decisions," he said. "A historical context allows us to think and act in ways that acknowledge more than just what's looming in front of us at the moment."

Secondly, Sahli noted that the industry must remember its own history. "Yes, it has been this bad before," he stressed, pointedly referring back to 1979, when he got his start in the business.

"In 1979, we sold 212,000 Class 8 trucks – then deregulation of the trucking industry hit, followed by a recession," Sahli recalled. "As a result, Class 8 sales dropped to 81,000 units in 1981. Like I said, we've been here before."

That's why it's so important to place the current downturn in sales within the proper historical context, he explained. "Context allows us to see down the road a few miles, and realize that it will get better," Sahli noted. "In fact, it may get better with a launch angle and pace that surprises all of us. We all need to be ready for that. And when it comes, we will emerge on the other end a stronger industry, with a greater appreciation of how good this business can be when it's good."

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