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freightliner-em2-charge-nacv.jpg Photo: John Hitch/Fleet Owner

Tantalizing technology testimonials from NACV

Let me “T” something up for you regarding technology.

This comes after attending the biennial North American Commercial Vehicle Show in Atlanta. There were about 464 exhibitors, over 35 press conferences, and a multitude of events.

It’s not CES and it’s not the European IAA, but it is getting bigger and better. It’s clearly the place to show off transportation technology for commercial vehicles.

I’d like to see it move from focusing on the truck and servicing the truck to becoming a more holistic view of transportation technology, including traffic infrastructure, back-office automation, logistics, and government relations. That’s a tall order and many marketing people will disagree with me. However, getting decision-makers to attend shows when there are so many to choose from does not appear to be helping anyone’s bottom line.

Three words came to mind as I listened and watched so many presentations and prowled the floor for something new: tantalizing, technology and testimonials. 

At least for me, it’s tantalizing to see what is possible. Many of the presentations talked about being able to order in the future and being able to deliver even further into the future. It’s much more common now to tantalize people with what is coming at the risk of having them wait to place orders for today’s equipment.

Technology sells. It can be as simple as making some heavy piece of metal lighter by removing material using advanced modeling software, to over-the-air updates to allow a day cab to be optimized for urban deliveries in the day and reprogrammed at night to running regional applications. It ranges from new aerodynamic products to improved safety.

Testimonials continue to be the best way to convince someone that something is worthwhile. I grinned inwardly yesterday while at the golf club listening to a fellow golfer describe with excited animation how great regenerative braking is in his new car. His testimonial, two decades since the concept was first demonstrated to customers, is far more valuable to making technology tantalizing to others.

And I found this quote to be indicative of the importance: “When Guthy-Renker... started working, they had 80% product features, 20% testimonials. They switched it to 80% testimonials, 20% product features and doubled their sales. So, testimonials are another way you can remove downside in the mind of your ideal client.”

Here are some things I saw of interest and noted during the show:

Key words and phrases spoken by many exhibitors: innovation, cost of ownership, integration, telematics, cloud, electrification, hydrogen fuel cell, safety, efficiency, normal replacement market, over-the-air, penetration rates for different technologies, uptime, dynamic Lease, tracking repairs, voice recognition for service manual lookup, service shop certification, customer focus, tire pressure, disc brakes, and smart.

And a few more items of note to me:

While there was a considerable amount of talk regarding electric vehicles, the numbers of vehicles expected in the next few years were in the hundreds — maybe a couple of thousand. With a market of 240,000 Class 8 vehicles alone, that’s a very small number. It will take considerable time for the market to accept these vehicles regardless if they are powered entirely by batteries or by hydrogen fuel cells.

The vehicle OEMs have positioned themselves well as vertically integrated for diesel-powered engines, mechanical transmissions, and mechanical axles. However, there was considerable muscle being put in by Tier 1 suppliers to establish themselves as the vertical integrators for the newer technology for electric vehicles. Vertical integration for the safety features seems to now be between the two.

For decades, the Tier 1 suppliers have been in control. Daimler has decided to take on vertical integration in this area. I got the idea that other vehicle OEMs are considering a similar move. Let’s see what the next two-year cycle of innovation brings to trucks and trucking.

Horizontal integration is not dead. Vehicle OEMs want to leverage the suppliers, and the suppliers want to get more content per vehicle. This was evident to me at Bosch, Mahle, Dana, ZF, Eaton, Continental, Stoneridge, and Meritor. Larger OEMs on a global scale are more likely to pursue vertical integration in as many places as possible while the smaller OEMs, often with a smaller footprint geographically, will be receptive to the Tier-1 suppliers taking the lead.

I was surprised by some statistics given out regarding the number of vehicle OEM telematics installed. Volvo indicated over a million were installed globally—560,000 on trucks globally—200,000 in North America. Daimler indicated it had 250,000 connected trucks. I did not record numbers for Paccar and Navistar. It’s a bit smaller than I anticipated.

Great Dane and Truck-Lite continued their push for adding additional sensors and smarts to the trailers. Peterson Manufacturing, Grote, and Phillips Connect were more low key in their booths. Hyundai chose to concentrate on its  hydrogen concept vehicle rather than the smart trailer items previously shown. Someone mentioned there were eight suppliers in this category, however, I’m only able to name six right now.

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