The BIG Mid-America Trucking Show report

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Couldn’t make the Mid-America Trucking Show this year? That’s alright, we’ve got you covered. Our team of editors was on-hand, collecting information and checking out the new wares from all the OEMs and suppliers.

From industry forecasts, to what’s new in trucks, trailers, wheels, tires and axles – read on for all the highlights. And if that’s not enough MATS coverage for you, visit where you can find all the news from the show.

The outlook

In addition to serving as the venue from which to launch new and updated products, Mid-Am also provides a good place to catch up with supplier and manufacturer CEOs and to pick their brains on the general health of the industry. The mood at this year’s show was universally upbeat. Though it’s unlikely the heads of various truck and equipment manufacturers compared notes prior to the show, they were remarkably consistent when projecting Canada/US Class 8 volumes this year will total between 210,000-240,000 units. If demand comes in at the higher end of the spectrum, 2014 could equate to one of the best years for Class 8 retail sales – ever.

Gary Moore, general manager of Kenworth and Paccar vice-president, noted 2013, at 212,000 Class 8 units sold in the US and Canada, turned out to be the fifth best year on record. He said there’s potential for 2014 to represent the third largest truck market in history if early activity holds up.

Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), projected Class 8 demand to increase slightly in Canada (+2%) and more noticeably in the US (+13%).

“I’m very bullish that we should end with a higher market than in 2013,” Daum said.

The overall Class 8 NAFTA market (including Mexico) could be 11% stronger than last year, Daum predicted, and when factoring in Classes 6/7 trucks, about 8% stronger. For its part, Daimler has been “quietly” boosting production, bringing on 1,200 employees since last year, Daum reported.

Joe McAleese, president and CEO of Bendix, says data he has reviewed indicates the trucking industry is very healthy and on the brink of a “ramp-up.”

“As I sift through the facts and figures, it is clear we are on the verge of a fairly robust industry ramp-up,” he said. “Class 8 production, in 2014, will be up 15% from 2013. And expect 2015 production to be up another 5-15%. When we move on to look at the Class 8 data, we see a pretty rosy picture. Truck tonnage is relatively robust. Truck tonnage is in good shape. Most importantly, the operating margins of the fleets who publish data is pretty good. Obviously we have the factor of the driver shortage out there, but fleets have kept capacity under control, to the point where they are getting their rate increases and are making those stick, which has been good for profitability enabling them to afford new truck purchases.”

The average age of the North American Class 8 truck fleet continues to rise (we heard figures discussed at the show ranging from six-and-a-half to eight years). Many truck and engine manufacturers have improved fuel economy since just last year, meaning it’s a good time to replace aging equipment, contended Jeff Jones, vice-president, North American engine business for Cummins, who claimed an ISX15 engine today is 7% more fuel-efficient than the same engine ordered four years ago.

“If you’ve got a four-year-old truck and you’re contemplating trading it in, the new truck you’re putting into service will be at least 7% more fuel-efficient,” Jones said. “That is a big deal.”

Jones cited industry studies that estimate the cost of running a Class 8 truck in the US grossing 80,000 lbs is about $1.65 per mile. Fuel costs about 60 cents per mile, making it the biggest single expense.

“A 7% improvement on what’s more than a third of the operating cost of a vehicle goes straight to the bottom line,” Jones said, adding it could save a fleet about $4,000 per truck each year. “If you think about fleets that operate hundreds or thousands of trucks, the math is pretty easy to justify in terms of the ROI on a new truck,” he added.

The trucks

Moving on to product announcements, specifically trucks, most of what we saw at the Mid-America Trucking Show involved subtle enhancements to existing models with the aim of improving fuel economy. Several OEMs were touting fuel savings achieved since GHG14-complying measures were imposed in January.

Goran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North American Sales and Marketing, said he was surprised at how much better the GHG14 equipment is performing for fuel economy.

“I’m happy to announce today, that we have been able to exceed our expectations in fuel efficiency,” Nyberg announced at the show. “The new greenhouse gas (certified) 2014 engines are delivering up to 3% extra fuel efficiency, bringing value, bringing dollars to our customers.”

Mack Trucks president Stephen Roy echoed these findings, claiming GHG14-compliant Mack trucks are getting 2.4-2.5% better fuel economy than last year’s models.

Fuel economy was the theme of this year’s show, with OEMs announcing new packages to improve upon the performance of their existing models. For example, Roy said Mack offers an aerodynamic fairing package that can improve fuel economy by 2-7%.

Kenworth introduced a fuel economy package for its T680, which the company says makes the truck 5% more fuel-efficient than the same model ordered last year. The savings came in the form of: powertrain optimization; the mating of the Paccar MX engine to the new Eaton Advantage Series automated transmission; improved aerodynamics and more efficient drive axles.

Even Western Star, which is known for its long-and-tall, classic-styled truck designs, announced at Mid-America that it will be introducing a fully aerodynamic new model, the 5700, later this year. Those looking for a sneak peek of what a slippery Western Star might look like were treated to an appearance by Optimus Prime, a Western Star-built truck that’ll play the lead role in the upcoming Transformers movie.

Uptime was another theme that came up throughout the Mid-America Trucking Show. Volvo and Mack executives both spoke of an Uptime Center being constructed in Greensboro, N.C., which will bring together under one roof all employees who have a role to play in reducing downtime.

“Uptime has become as important as fuel efficiency,” Volvo’s Nyberg said. “I would say it isn’t a customer meeting if we don’t talk about the importance of turnaround times and uptime and vehicle performance.”

Remote diagnostics – the ability to remotely monitor engine fault codes and advise the operator on the best course of action – is one way OEMs are looking to improve uptime. Navistar demonstrated at the show its new OnCommand Connection remote diagnostics platform and Cummins said it was getting into the game as well. Cummins – which also announced a made-for-Canada 585 hp rating for its ISX15 – launched Cummins Connected Diagnostics, which will go into full production next year. It will be integrated with the telematics programs fleets are already using, with no need for additional hardware.

Also talked about this year was the ongoing shift towards automation. Daimler announced its Detroit DT12 automated mechanical transmission has sold 17,000 units since its introduction only a year ago.

Eaton expanded availability of its newest, lighter-weight Fuller Advantage Series automated transmission, announcing it can now be mated to Paccar MX engines and to Cummins engines in Volvo trucks. Eaton officials at Mid-America noted 20% of the North American Class 8 build currently runs automated transmissions, and the expectation is that’ll climb to 30% within three to five years.

In-cab driver coaching systems were also introduced at the show. Both Kenworth and Peterbilt announced systems integrated into the driver display that provide real-time feedback on a driver’s coasting and braking performance.

The trailers

Great Dane attracted a crowd, showcasing a trailer designed as part of Wal-Mart’s WAVE concept tractor-trailer. The trailer was made of composite fibre materials, reducing weight by 4,000 lbs compared to trailers on the market today. The trailer also featured a unique suspension, which raises one of the axles as the load on the trailer diminishes, further reducing fuel consumption. The trailer, while futuristic in appearance, is DoT-legal, Great Dane’s Adam Hill told Truck News. However, he admitted it’s also cost-prohibitive at this time.

“One of the biggest disadvantages is just the extreme cost of it,” he acknowledged.

Another interesting trailer introduced at MATS, but not likely to haul much cargo, was Utility’s legacy trailer, a sort of rolling museum that pays tribute to its 100-year history. Utility is marking its centennial this year, which the company says makes it the industry’s longest-running trailer manufacturer. The trailer will go on the road, appearing at various events throughout the year to showcase the company’s history.

Craig Bennett, senior vice-president of sales and marketing, said the ongoing challenge for the trailer industry is to reduce weight and improve productivity for carriers who are facing productivity headwinds in the form of government regulations (ie. shorter hours-of-service for drivers and increasingly expensive and heavier power units).

“Tractors have gotten heavier and the 80,000-lb gross load has not changed,” Bennett said. “Everyone is wanting the trailer guys to get lighter so they don’t have to sacrifice cargo. That’s our challenge. It has always been our challenge, but even more so the last 10 years.”

New trailers introduced at the show included an all-aluminum centre frame step deck from Trail King, which the company says offers improved corrosion resistance. The TK80AACS will enter production later this year.

And for you tanker-yankers, Heil Trailer announced it will once again begin building stainless steel tanker trailers.

The tires and wheels

It took 10 years for Michelin to sell its first million X One wide-base tires, and just three years to repeat the feat. The Michelin Man himself took the covers off the two millionth X One tire produced by the company.

Michelin estimates it has helped customers save 150 million gallons of fuel with the introduction of the X One. It offers up to a 10% improvement in fuel efficiency and 740 lbs of weight savings per truck, according to Ted Becker, vice-president of marketing for Michelin Americas Truck Tires.

While announcing the milestone, Michelin also introduced a new wide-base single tire: the X One Line Energy T trailer tire and its corresponding X One Line Energy T Pre-Mold Retread. Becker said a new compound maintains a constant footprint regardless of the weight of the load, reducing irregular wear and improving removal mileage by 15%.

Goodyear had news at the show as well: the launch of a new tire program that gives small- and medium-sized fleets the same tools and treatment enjoyed by the big guys. Goodyear’s Smart Fleet program will come to Canada later this year. It offers consistent, nationwide pricing for tires, retreads and other services.

“We conducted some research with the smaller guys and they told us they want a program from Goodyear. We asked them what they would like and they answered, ‘We would like, first and foremost, that there are no surprises.’ So that became our slogan: No surprises,” Jose Martinez, digital and solutions manager for Goodyear, told Truck News at the show.

The program also eliminates for members, the $25 dispatch fee small fleets had to pay for service.

“At the end of the day, what we do is we help them control the costs of their operations with a safety net. Everything is published. There is nothing that will take them by surprise, even if it’s on the road,” Martinez said.

Smart Fleet will come to Canada when all the Canadian laws, taxes, regulations and languages have been sorted out, likely later this year.

Continental Tire introduced some new tires at the show, including a Conti-Hybrid HS3 tire that’s designed to work equally well on-highway and in urban environments.

“It is specifically engineered to allow the fleets not to have to keep switching tires just because the truck is running regional today and running long-haul tomorrow. It is a tire that suits all applications,” announced Paul Williams, Continental’s executive vice-president.

Also unveiled at the show was the HS3 steer tire, which Continental says is its most fuel-efficient tire ever produced.

Yokohama showed at its booth a selection of newly introduced tires, including: the 902L and 709L ultra wide-base drive tires.

“We’re seeing more of a demand for (wide-base tires) because of the weight savings, which is where fleets can find an immediate benefit,” said Rick Phillips, Yokohama senior director, commercial and OTR sales. “It’s something tangible – they can measure and calculate savings.”

Some of the new tires introduced at the show will undoubtedly be mounted to Alcoa’s new Ultra One wheel, which it claims to be the lightest-weight aluminum wheel ever produced. The Ultra One is 47% lighter than steel wheels and weighs five pounds less than the previously lightest-weight heavy-duty truck wheel, Alcoa announced. A new alloy was developed to generate the weight savings and as a bonus, it’s also 17% stronger, Alcoa claims.

The other stuff

For you heavy metal fans comes a new heavy-duty steer axle suspension system from Hendrickson. The Softek NXT combines Hendrickson’s Steertrek NXT axle with its Softride monoleaf spring technology, and is suited for applications rated from 12,000-12,500 lbs, the company reported.

“It captures the characteristics of a traditional mechanical suspension and significantly reduces weight and helps improve fuel economy and payload capacity,” said Matt Joy, vice-president and general manager, Hendrickson Truck Commercial Vehicle Systems.

Weight savings are achieved by eliminating the inner leaf (-72 lbs) and by using a lightweight clamp group (-46 lbs).

Hendrickson also introduced the Optimaax liftable tandem axle designed for 6×2 applications, though there are provinces in Canada that won’t want to see this here quite yet. (Ontario and Quebec are leery of 6×2 configurations for this very reason; they fear drivers will lift the axle while loaded to save fuel, potentially damaging road surfaces. Still, the concept is a good one, with the elimination of the second drive axle saving up to 5% in fuel).

Hendrickson also came out with the Vantraax Ultraa-K slider system that uses the company’s zero-maintenance damping technology to pivot mudflap brackets and for suspension-damping air springs.

Dana was busy on the steer axle front as well. New additions to its Spicer E-Series steer axle line reduce weight by about 35 lbs. They’ll be available in early 2015 and are rated from 10,000-13,200 lbs. Dana also showed off a new all-makes line of heavy-duty steer axle components, providing coverage for complete steer axle assemblies including knuckles, steer arms, crosslink assemblies and other components.

And a new Spicer D-Series steer axle introduced by Dana allows fleets to run air disc brakes without having to incur additional weight, the company announced. The new D-Series axles feature an integrated air disc brake knuckle, reducing the weight of the assembly by 76 lbs.

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