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MATS: Talk of the Show

May 13, 2014

Once again, March found droves of heavy-duty suppliers filling every square inch of exhibit space inside and outside the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville for the industry’s annual rite of spring, the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS).

By the show management’s count, just under 80,000 people walked through the doors, traveling from all 50 states as well as 78 countries.  Inside they found over 1,000 exhibits filling 1.2 million sq. ft. of space with new products and service offerings all intended to advance the truck industry’s efficiency, reliability, safety and overall image.

As in years past, the editors of Fleet Owner were there in force to report on developments revealed at the show as well as at dozens of press conferences and during other newsworthy events.

Here, then, is our annual feature “Mid-America: Talk of the Show,” providing you with the highlights of all that activity, as well as some sense of the general mood and hot topics of discussion. 

On the product front, the 2014 show was distinguished in part by no roll-outs of entirely new truck models, engines or major components.

Instead, truck OEMs discussed various product enhancements such as fuel-efficiency packages they’ve recently made or will be introducing this year. These manufacturers also zeroed in on further improvements they’re making in the parts and service arena, particularly in terms of telematics offerings and dealer–support efforts.

Truck builders as a group along with several component manufacturers were fairly bullish on the outlook for Class 8 truck sales this year, forecasting for the most part that this year’s figure will come in somewhere around 240,000 units, with 220,000 cited as the low end and 265,000 at the high.  That represents a 10% to 20% improvement over 2013 U.S. Class 8 sales, and medium-duty truck sales numbers are expected to increase by a similar percentage.  Next year also looks good for both heavy- and medium-duty truck sales, with further gains of at least another 5% expected as fleets big and small move to replace aging equipment.

A lot of truck OEM exhibit space was devoted to showing off alternative-fueled vehicles, especially trucks powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) engines. The presence of purveyors of these fuels and related technology, particularly fueling infrastructure, were also well represented on the show floor.

That being said, it was noteworthy that in his address at the annual Heavy Duty Manufacturers Assn. breakfast at MATS, Dr. Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler’s global truck and bus business, asserted that he is “convinced that a highly efficient diesel engine will remain the most important alternative in the United States.”

“We don’t see any long-haul applications [for natural gas] so far,” Bernhard said.  “One of our suppliers put a 15L [natural gas engine] on hold because we don’t see the customers.  I see a little bit of hesitancy.  The hype is broken.  There is more realism.”

And at a news conference, Goran Nyberg, president of North American sales and marketing for Volvo Trucks, noted that when compared to the company’s 2013 engines, new Volvo heavy-duty diesels certified as meeting the 2014 federal greenhouse gas emissions standards are showing  up to a 3% improvement in fuel economy.  He said that increase is 1% higher than what was originally indicated by testing.

Certainly, there were plenty of product introductions at the show geared toward improving fuel efficiency, but arguably the biggest splash of all at MATS was the first showing to the industry at large of the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience (AVE) “demonstration concept” tractor-trailer.

Built for the retail giant by a large project team of suppliers led by Peterbilt Motors, Great Dane and Roush Engineering, the futuristic rig, per Walmart, features “leading-edge aerodynamics, an advanced turbine-powered, range-extending series hybrid powertrain, and electrified auxiliary components.”  The vehicle also includes sophisticated control systems developed to “support the company’s industry-leading sustainability program.”

If the following pages of MATS coverage whet your appetite for even more news from the show, visit our dedicated MATS page at http://fleet­owner.com/mid-america-trucking-show-1.  It not only offers a large number of photo galleries and videos from the show floor, but also has more detailed stories on truck sales forecasts, alternative fuel activity, FMCSA activities, and product introductions.

For complete show coverage, click here.

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