Neil Abt/ Fleet Owner Magazine
Vocational truck users tend to own trucks longer typically 10 years or more compared to three to five years for longhaul fleets making parts and service even more important to them noted Western Star39s Kelley Platt left and Peter Arrigoni

Vocational truck market reviving

April 28, 2017
Western Star sees vocational and prestige heavy-duty truck sales outpacing a relatively flat market in 2017.

PHOENIX.  As part of the Daimler Trucks North America family, Western Star fills two important and “very specific” product needs, according to Kelley Platt, the brand’s president. First is the heavy-duty Class 8 vocational market, which accounts for approximately one-third of the overall U.S./Canadian Class 8 retail market and roughly 75% of Western Star’s sales. The second is the premium or image-building Class 8 on-highway tractor segment which Western Star addresses with its 5700 model.

And for a variety of reasons, both segments look to be gathering strength ahead of the overall Class 8 market where little or very modest growth is forecast for 2017.

Construction fleets will drive a significant portion of those better HD vocational truck sales this year, as housing starts have picked up and infrastructure funds from Federal stimulus efforts are finally resulting in public projects, according to Peter Arrigoni, VP of sales. “With oil steady around $50 a barrel, oil field activity is also reviving, and we see some recovery in the commodities markets as well,” he told Fleet Owner.

Western Star’s conventional 4900 model has always been strong in the oil field market, and its new 6900 XD for severe applications is well positioned for both oil-field and construction applications, Arrigoni said.

Municipal fleets also represent pent up demand for new vocational trucks as local and regional governments emerge from austerity budgets. As a simpler and lighter model than the 4900, Western Star’s new 4700 is proving attractive to those fleets looking for Class 8 durability in a more cost-effective package, Platt said.

The key to succeeding in all vocational truck markets is having solid, but versatile platforms that can be adapted to the many applications served by vocational fleets. “Western Star started out 50 years ago as a custom builder of heavy-duty logging trucks, so we understand how to take a core truck and make it exactly the truck you need it to be,” said Platt.

Both dealers and truck builders also need to recognize that service support for vocational fleets is quite different than support of over-the-road carriers. 

“Vocational truck users tend to own trucks longer, typically 10 years or more, compared to three to five years for long-haul fleets,” said Arrigoni. “That makes parts and service even more important to them.”

And dealers have to build facilities and create programs that meet their very different operational needs, Platt points out. That means building shops that can accommodate heavy trucks with large bodies, providing on-site and field service, and training technicians to maintain complex systems. “We even have a dealer who will fly mechanics and parts to oil fields a 1,000 miles away,” says Platt.

Even the sales process is different, she explains. “It’s a highly technical sale. You have to help customers spec the truck they really need.”

On the over-the-road side of trucking driver recruitment and retention is again a major concern for long-haul carriers. Larger fleets turn to offering special “reward” trucks to their best drivers as a retention tool, and smaller ones are using premium tractors to build and maintain brand image as they recruit.

“Our 5700XE is old school cool,” noted Platt. “It has lots of character, which appeals to drivers, but also has really good fuel economy that appeals to the profit perspective.  That makes it a great reward or image-building truck.”

For Platt and Arrigoni, growth in the prestige niche for such a premium Class 8 tractor, combined  Western Star’s vocational truck history and strength has them predicting that the small specialty truck maker is ready to more than double its market share by 2020.

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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