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December 31, 2008 Vol. 4, No. 27

So here we are at the end of a year that won’t be remembered fondly. Good riddance, you might say. Trouble is, the new year promises to be worse, though it’s a mug’s game to try guessing where we’re headed.

Who can tell?

In fact, unlikely as it seems from this New Year’s Eve vantage point, I wouldn’t be utterly flabbergasted to see things start to turn around toward the end of 2009. Surprised, yes, but I figure our world is that unpredictable right now.

That’s not to say we’ll ever be the same again, so the idea of doing things the way we used to do them, of getting back to the lush markets of the last decade, seems just plain silly. But we’ll grow again and we’ll do it smarter.

Among the things I wonder about in ’09 is the rate at which product development will slow down. R & D money won’t be flowing freely, that’s for sure, and I expect that engineering teams will be both fewer and smaller. But the engineering won’t stop, can’t stop, because there’s still freight to be hauled and the machinery of trucking will wear out and need replacing. Because ever increasing efficiency will be a key goal. Because the competitive nature of the truck- and component-making game creates the need to lead and to win. And because of the fundamental notion that the ideas will just keep on coming. So no, the wheels of innovation won’t stop, though they might take a little longer to hit the road.

I do fear, however, that we’ll see a setback in the commercialization of hybrid-powered trucks. They made much progress in the last year or two, huge progress, but we’re still a long way from critical mass. Even though several manufacturers are now in regular production, the price tag is still high enough that public underpinning by way of grants and tax breaks is required. And that money won’t be flowing so freely either.

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

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