Peterbilt GM talks growing truck market, electric vehicle plans, and more

John G Smith

Peterbilt GM and Paccar vice-president Jason Skoog is clearly bullish on the state of today’s truck market and the OEM’s position within it.

North America’s Class 8 truck orders are robust, just as the manufacturer rolls out its New Model 579 tractor. The extensive upgrade to its on-highway truck model begins production in April.

Paccar believes the ultimate market in terms of 2021 retail sales will be up 15-30% over last year, representing 250-280,000 Class 8 units in the U.S. and Canada.

Jason Skoog, Peterbilt
Jason Skoog (Photo: Peterbilt)

“That’s a strong year for the truck market,” Skoog said, in a one-on-one interview with Today’s Trucking.

And the trucking industry continues to benefit from tailwinds including strong e-commerce activity, retail sales, and housing starts on both sides of the border.

Current truck demand suggests those volumes are within reach. Manufacturers recorded 134,000 Class 8 truck orders in the fourth quarter of 2020, and around 40,000 in January, he notes.

“The last time we saw order intake that high was in 2018.”

Managing robust orders

The challenge is to identify truck orders that will translate into actual sales, and separate them from orders that are placed only to secure spots on an assembly line in case they’re needed.

The answer, says Skoog, involves ongoing conversations with customers and dealers alike.

“It’s easy to let it get away from you,” Skoog says. “We want to make sure that every order we’re taking is a good, solid, buildable order.”

They’re the discussions that ensure buyers can plan on the trucks when they’ll be needed.

There are still openings on the Peterbilt assembly line during the second quarter of this year, he adds. “We’re not maxed out on build rates.”

That’s good news for those who can’t wait for some of the first New Model 579 trucks.

Battery-electric vehicles

Looking a little further into the future, Peterbilt also continues to expand on its electric vehicle program. It has more than 30 such trucks in the midst of tests, which Skoog describes as “grant” or “phase 1” vehicles.

The early feedback is promising, too. The Peterbilt GM refers to benefits such as lower maintenance and repair costs that are proving themselves in real-world applications.

Still, government grants will have a role to play in any broad adoption, to offset higher initial purchase prices and charging infrastructure needs, he says.

Skoog expects the true return on electrification investments to emerge in the middle of the decade – particularly for port drayage, regional, inner-city, and refuse haulers.

Those who are anxious to get a jump start on the technology can have early versions of the trucks delivered in August or September if they’re ordered today.

“That’s just the nature of the build process and up-fit process,” he says, noting how it’s still going to take longer to build a battery-electric vehicle than a diesel-powered truck.

But he expects the gaps in production timeframes to align by the middle of the coming decade.

Electric truck market

In the interim, Skoog is doubtful that North America’s OEMs will collectively produce more than 1,000 battery-electric Class 8 trucks this year, and maybe just over 1,000 next year as the production begins to ramp up.

“Really 2024 is the turning point where you start to have the requirements and the regulations,” he says, projecting as many as 5,000 to 10,000 units to be produced that year.

The question is whether 15 states and the District of Columbia, which have committed to aligning with California’s emissions targets, will follow the westernmost state to the letter, he adds.

The electrification won’t be limited to battery-electric models, either.

While recent Paccar demonstrations such as a run up Pike’s Peak have seen battery-electric Peterbilts alongside fuel-cell-electric Kenworths, Skoog says the underlying technologies would be shared by each brand.

“The great thing about being Paccar is, with the two divisions, you have resources that can continue to work on different things.”

Autonomous investments

The coming high-tech investments will hardly end there, as demonstrated through Paccar’s recent agreement with Aurora to further autonomous vehicle plans.

This builds on work already conducted in the famed Silicon Valley area, where Paccar has its technical center. It’s already built an autonomous test unit that follows a designated route in the area.

But for now, the immediate focus is on the redesigned New Model 579.

Longstanding Peterbilt customers were already aware that a new truck was coming, Skoog says, referring to the building demand. “We were pretty transparent.”

Now that dealers have seen the Model 579 first hand, there are orders for demo trucks and stock inventory alike. The days of the existing Model 579 are numbered, with the older design scheduled to be phased out by mid July.

The Model 579, first released in 2012, opened plenty of doors for the OEM, Skoog says, adding that the on-highway truck segment continues to play a dominant role in the North American market.

“With this new truck, I think all of our current customers will be happy.”

John G Smith

John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data

*