It's relatively easy to find instances of perception and reality bearing little or no resemblance to one another: Notre Dame is the all-time greatest collegiate football program, Bill Murray is capable of playing only comic roles, and the premium traditionally styled owner-operator on-highway tractor is by far the most valuable used truck.
For many people, those perceptions are truths. But in reality, Notre Dame hasn't won a national football championship since 1988, Bill Murray received an Academy Award nomination for a dramatic role in 2004, and aerodynamic truck models have closed the used-truck valuation gap.
Manufacturers are often masters at creating and controlling the public's perception of their brands. Was Microsoft the best computer operating system — or did they become the dominant player in the software market by out-marketing their competitors? An analogy in trucking might be the commonly held belief that traditionally styled owner-operator tractors with a large-displacement engine and 15- or 18-sp. transmission will bring the most resale value.
While traditional tractors continue to be the most valuable, they don't bring the additional $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 premium they once did.
The more traditional owner-operator tractor will typically be the re-sell value leader in an OEM's lineup, but it won't sell for lots more than an aerodynamic model. This is especially true when the specs are similar. In many valuation circles, for example, the Volvo VN770 is considered to be on a par with, or just slightly behind, the Peterbilt 379 and Kenworth W900L.
A number of factors must also be taken into consideration when determining the value of a traditionally styled owner-operator tractor, including specs, whether or not it was a “reward” truck in a large fleet, component brands, and what part of the country you're trying to sell it in.
The closing valuation gap between traditionally styled and aerodynamic tractors is fairly recent. According to Blue Book market data for 2001, three-year-old traditionally styled tractors were selling for considerably more than aerodynamic counterparts. In today's market, however, this discrepancy has narrowed considerably.
It's important to note that we can really only compare values of traditionally styled and aerodynamic tractors if they have similar specs, including an 500-hp. engine that is 15L or larger, a 15-speed transmission, a sleeper that has stand-up height of at least 63 in. and a premium interior, upgraded dashes and many other options that appeal to an owner's ego as much as they add real value to the truck.
Move too far from these specs , though, and the value of the aerodynamic model will not hold up. Engine specs alone have been known to take $5,000 off the resale value of a truck. There are also regional differences in used-truck prices. A dealer on the East Coast, for example, will be able to get more for a Mack Vision than a dealer in the Intermountain West.
Changing deeply entrenched perceptions can be an uphill battle. But when environmental factors change so rapidly, people are forced to re-think some of their long-held notions.
Could today's rising fuel costs, high insurance premiums and the critical shortage of drivers lead buyers to take a closer look at aerodynamic models — with their claims of better fuel efficiency, more safety devices and heightened creature comfort?