If last year's Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) was a wake-- and trust me, it was... and not by any means an Irish one-- for the pre-Great Recession trucking industry, this year's MATS by happy contrast had the feel of a very lively christening... for a trucking industry in the throes of being reborn thanks to the economic recovery finally slipping into gear.
Everyone from truck OEMs to major component manufacturers were upbeat in their forecasts for how 2011 truck sales will turn out as well as looking ahead very favorably at the action expected from buyers in 2012. However, suppliers did point out universally that the higher vehicles sales expected this year over last will be driven primarily by replacement demand and that fleets won't substantially add to their fleets until at least next year.
And while all agreed the motor carriage segment is coming back from the recession with a leaner field of players, those carriers are financially healthy and will benefit from higher rates as freight levels grow due to the dropping out of weaker competitors since the recession hit. But not surprisingly, forecasts of vocational sales were less optimistic given the construction industry has not yet rebounded significantly.
Show floor was hopping this year in Louisville
Over-the-road fleets, it was emphasized again and again in interviews on the floor and during formal remarks given at press events, are already dealing with the return of a driver shortage, marching in step with rising freight demand. But this time around, the hunt for skilled and safety-conscious drivers is being heightened by the need for both carriers and their drivers to satisfy the new federal CSA safety rules.
New federal rules coming that will aim to boost truck fuel economy and cut greenhouse gas reductions-- the "green and green" regs, if you will-- were also highly topical, framing the remarks of many OEMs as well as engine builders talking up greener powertrain options, ranging from more efficient diesels to key alternative gaseous fuels-- CNG, LNG and LPG-- to hybrid and all-electric trucks.
The trend toward more common carriers running regional-haul trucks was clearly underscored by several OEMs that intrdouced Class 8 model variants directed squarely at this growing sub-segment.
But what was lacking from the show floor were any altogether-new truck models. No doubt OEMs had had their hands full just meeting the 2010 EPA emisisons standards let alone having to coast their way through a few years of diminished sales as well.
However, each OEM hosting a press event had something new to talk about-- running the gamut from aerodynamic enhancements to highway tractors to new alternative-fuel engine offerings to driver-centric navigation-plus onboard systems.
To be sure, if past history repeats itself, a solid year of rising new truck sales as well as the need to continue differentiating their offerings in a crowded marketplace-- particularly via more fuel-efficient and even less-polluting trucks and engines-- it's a safe bet that next year's MATS press calendar will be crowded with true "all new" truck model rollouts.