“You tell me who will win the election this year and I will tell you what further emission rules might occur past 2010.” -Jim Kelly, president, Cummins Engine Group
One of the best things about attending the Mid America Trucking Show every year is that you get both some high-level perspective from the executives at major manufacturers and suppliers about what‘s going on, along with the view from the trenches, from fleets and drivers on the front lines of the freight business.
(A view of the show floor at Mid America.)
For example, Jim Kelly‘s quote above gets right to the heart of any and all future discussions about emission regulations at the national level. Will there be more after 2010? What will such regulations address in trucking - retrofits for older equipment? Will the stricter rules being promulgated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and various California ports be extended to the rest of the country? That all depends on who wins the Presidential election in November. Needless to say, trucking‘s got a lot at stake where emissions are concerned in this increasingly bitter race for the White House.
(The lovely Ali Hall highlighted all the new safety technologies and other features available on Freightliner's trucks.)
Fuel prices, however, proved to be topic number one at the show. Fleets, drivers, and suppliers alike all expressed tremendous frustration and concern about the high cost of diesel fuel these days - up over $4 a gallon in 17 states now.
“The price of fuel is killing me,” Sean McEndree told me; a driver I‘m very lucky to know. Invited to Mid America to show off his “Fallen Heroes 2” tractor - a one-of-a-kind truck designed to honor all the servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan - McEndree rued an opportunity to sell his truck earlier this year for a cool $175,000. “I wish I‘d done it now, but I didn‘t - I didn‘t want to go through building another one, which I would have,” he said.
(The special mosaic for "Fallen Heroes 2" was created by none other than Ryan "Ryno" Templeton, the artist-in-residence for the Chrome Shop Mafia.)
One good thing about McEndree - a severely wounded veteran of the Iraq campaign - is that he looks good and healthy and that his family is doing well. Needless to say, I hope he survives the rough patch the trucking industry finds itself in right now.
Despite the woes trucking faces from high fuel process and sluggish freight, everyone wasn‘t completely in the dumps. I visited with Dale Corum, general manager at truckload carrier Mercer Transportation, and he says they‘re starting to see capacity tighten up a bit: to the point where some shippers are willingly paying higher fuel surcharges to get their freight moved. (More on that in a posting later this week - Mercer‘s got a lot of interesting tales to tell).
(Even FleetOwner's hardy staffers needed to sit down for a spell and rest their weary feet at Mid America.)
Though there wasn‘t a lot of truly “new” stuff revealed at the show - regardless of what the various PR machines told us - two new truck models did make an appearance. Though International had already revealed its new and very unique “LoneStar” class 8 tractor model at the Chicago Auto Show in February, the truck got a full-fledged rock star roll out at Mid America, as it‘s a truck aimed squarely at the owner-operator segment.
(Drivers either loved or loathed International's new "LoneStar" tractor -- a truck that many thought resembled the famous car used in ZZ Top's 'Sharp Dressed Man' music video from the 1980s.)
Mack got into the act, too, with its new Titan class 8 tractor for the heavy-haul segment: unveiled by the dude who does all the announcing for the Ultimate Fighting Championship program on cable TV (talk about an over the top event).
And, of course, it wouldn‘t be Mid America without the “state fair” atmosphere. Western Star, for example, hired a team of ice sculptures to work in full view of the gathered public. International‘s hospitality tent out behind the show truck parking lot included a real tattoo artist‘s booth (and business proved brisk for them).
(Ice sculpture making proved a hit with the Mid America crowd.)
Mid America 2008 proved to an interesting and fast paced show as usual. Now I just need to catch up on my sleep.