ANOTHER MID-AMERICA FUNFEST

March 29 Vol. 2, No. 7

The biggest show of the year has come and gone, and if you weren’t among the 75,000 souls who braved the cold weather and occasional snow in Louisville, you missed a good one. The Mid-America Trucking Show, enjoying a newly added 170,000 sq ft of exhibit space, has never been better. And in spite of a downturn in truck sales that everyone knows will come in the first part of 2007, the mood was decidedly buoyant.

The highlight of the show was the introduction – finally – of the new ProStar truck from International Truck and
Engine. In one of the more protracted launches of the many this industry has seen over the years, we got the smoke if not the mirrors. With 200 or so people gathered around the International display last Thursday, somebody hit the dry-ice switch and the wraps were taken off after months and even years of anticipation. But the press had already seen it a few weeks earlier, dealers earlier still, and we had even road-tested a pre-production model a few days beforehand (have a look at the April issue of highwaySTAR or the May issue of Today’s Trucking for Jim Park’s road test report. We’ll post it online soon).

Built right here in Chatham, Ontario, the ProStar borrows the drooping nose look of other recent International
machinery but it looks as big and strong as it should.

The lineup includes the standard ProStar, the ProStar Premium, the ProStar Eagle, and the top-of-the-line
highway tractor, the ProStar Limited. It will replace the 9400 Series and eventually take over for the 9200 series as well. Initial production will be based on 122-in BBC tractors with a high-rise sleeper configuration. The second phase of production will include additional BBCs and sleeper configuration options.

International promises superior fuel economy – 4% better than the slipperiest competition, and 9% better than its own 9400 – plus ride and handling that will beat the rest too.

Elsewhere on the show floor there was a much revised Kenworth T600, now called the T660, plus major revisions to the venerable Peterbilt 379, now called the 389. Other Petes were substantially redesigned as well. I suspect that some of those changes were the result of the extra cooling capacity – and thus bigger grilles – demanded by some 2007 engines. From Volvo came two attractive mid-roof sleeper models, the VN730 and VT830.

And among the most interesting news was Freightliner’s announcement of rack-and-pinion steering as an option on the Century Class, Coronado, and Columbia truck models as well as Classic and Classic XL trucks later this year. Mike Ryan’s Pikes Peak Century Class racer has been fitted with a steering rack for years, and it was apparently part of the inspiration for this development. If it’s as superior in a truck as it is in a car, it’ll be a no-brainer option.

On the negative side, we learned that the Freightliner Argosy cabover will no longer be sold here in North
America, though it will still be made for foreign markets. Freightliner chief Chris Patterson said sales had dwindled to less than 500 a year. Frankly, that’s more than I might have thought.

Since we’ve already covered all of those truck introductions and much more in reports directly from the show that were presented online through NewsFIRST on todaystrucking.com, I’ll concentrate here on other things.

Like Chevron’s decision to use a two-product strategy with the launch of its new CJ-4 engine oil later this year. In fact it will offer both CJ-4 and CI-4 Plus versions of its Delo and Ursa branded oils for 2007 and beyond, even though CJ-4 is backwards-compatible.

“CJ-4 will likely be more expensive than CI-4 Plus and is not required for the off-road market or pre-2007 engines,” explains Nicole Fujishige, Chevron’s commercial marketing manager, North America. “Based on fleet composition, the majority of Chevron’s customers will have a greater need for CI-4 Plus, so we’ll keep that product on the market until conditions change.”

She told me that new CJ-4 oils will be 15-30% more expensive than the present CI-4 spec, so this should
please some shop managers. On the other hand, many fleets will not be keen on managing two different lubes.
Mistakes will happen, and ’07 engine sumps will sometimes be filled with the older oil, but this won’t mean disaster — at worst it will mean more frequent regeneration of the DPF.

Another interesting announcement came out of ArvinMeritor’s traditional Wednesday evening soiree at Mid-America, this time held in a fascinating new museum dedicated entirely to boxer Muhammed Ali. Louisville is his home town.

Dennis Kline, vice president, sales and marketing for ArvinMeritor’s Commercial Vehicle Systems business, told a large assemblage of the press that the company had begun a revitalization of the ‘Meritor’ brand. The decision to do so was based on extensive marketing research conducted by the CVS marketing team. It should come as no surprise, given the difficulty of establishing a new brand – ArvinMeritor – after decades with first Rockwell and then several years with Meritor. Despite market leadership in several component segments, the ArvinMeritor name has never seemed to resonate. Shades of Navistar reviving the International brand.

We also learned that the company has won a very large contract to package all engine aftertreatment systems
for Freightliner, Sterling, and Western Star trucks with either Detroit or Mercedes-Benz power. ArvinMeritor won’t make the diesel particulate filters required in 2007, though they have the capability. Rather they’ll design, engineer, and manufacture the ‘cans’ in which those filters are held. In countless configurations.

Some of you might be surprised to know that emission control is a fast growing part of the ArvinMeritor empire,
and you will see its ‘Thermal Regenerator’ DPF on at least one North American vocational truck come January. You may well see its ‘Plasma Fuel Reformer’ on North American trucks in 2010, and if you were in Europe now, you’d see its SCR systems being installed on the assembly lines of at least two truck OEMs.

Not a bad business to be in right now, I’d say.

Down the Interstate by a few hours sits arch competitor Eaton Corporation, and there was interesting news from them at Mid-America too. They announced the creation of the Vehicle Solutions Business Unit (VSBU). On the face of it this is just another internal re-alignment of the sort that big outfits do all the time. As they explain it, “This allows Eaton’s Truck group to realign its VORAD and MD Tools Mobile Diagnostics product lines and transform its business model from a component-based supplier to a systems-based solutions provider.

“Future VSBU offerings will include integrated diagnostics, safety and other operational management solutions to fleets.”

A key part of this is a new product development and sales agreement with @Road Inc. of Fremont, California. Despite the odd name, @Road is said to be an industry leader in on-demand mobile communications, so Eaton can now combine its on-board diagnostic and safety systems with the California company’s capabilities to offer – in theory – any number of customized fleet management tools that link truck and driver with home base. Combine GPS-based location intelligence, Eaton’s serious experience with real-time vehicle diagnostics, and @Road’s wireless communication capabilities, and you’ve got a sky’s-the-limit sort of
potential.

It will be interesting to watch where this one goes, under the hand of the new VSBU manager, Roderick Jones, by all accounts an up-and-comer in the Eaton organization. Eaton has long wanted to play a role in somehow integrating truck systems, and this development may be the opening of that door. If nothing else, it will offer a new way for fleets to monitor what’s happening with their rolling money generators.

This newsletter is published every two weeks. It’s a heads-up notice about what you can see at
www.todaystrucking.com where you’ll find in-detail coverage of nearly everything that’s new. Plus interesting
products that may not have had the ‘air play’ they deserved within the last few months. Subscribe today!

If you have comments of whatever sort, please contact me at rlockwood@newcom.ca.

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.


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