Suppliers spin around global trucking predictions

LAS VEGAS — Will a ‘global’ truck ever catch on in North America?

Globalization, in fact a lot of ‘tions’ — everything from harmonization to vertical integration — were the hot topics at last week’s Heavy Duty Dialogue and Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas.

Despite increased talk that heavy-duty truckmakers are looking more and more towards proprietary powertrains, several engine makers and other top-tier suppliers don’t seem to be particularly worried.

While some form of vertical integration among truck OEMs is inevitable as manufacturers look for ways to reduce costs and increase productivity, several suppliers agreed that many don’t have the core competencies, enough unit volume, or the research and development capital for a completely integrated truck.

Truck and component makers try to squeeze as much
standardized technology around the world they can.

The predicted demise of independent component manufacturers (still 60 percent of heavy-duty sales) stretches back almost three decades, but the market remains ripe for “consumer choice” type of OEs, says Ed Pence of Cummins.

In fact, Cummins’ top ten customers all make their own engines in certain applications somewhere in the world, and the company keeps growing.

Speculation that North American trucks will naturally become more streamlined like European equipment is also overstated, adds Chuck Kleinhagen, senior VP of Haldex. He points out that other than engines, transmissions, and drive axles, European truckmakers have moved away from vertical integration and closer to outside specialists for many other components.

Caterpillar’s General Manger George Taylor sees the future of trucking to be more about “virtual” integration than vertical. Component suppliers will have to work closer with OEMs in co-creating technologies, building product support networks, and offering a total package, which in the case of engines companies, “goes beyond the engine block.”

In other words, adds Eaton’s James Sweetnam, “don’t give them any reason to look inward.”

Another issue with a lot of buzz around it was the development of trucking’s own Swiss Army knife, so to speak — or “global” engine standard. Engine makers have long dreamed about the day where they could produce a single engine technology and strategy that serves many different markets around the world.

Some companies are targeting a 2015 timeframe for such a reality, but Cummins’ Ed pence warns that emission regulation variances — and more importantly, inconsistencies in the willingness to enforce them — around the globe mean “a one size fits all” strategy could still be a long way off.

Furthermore, the “sticker shock” in some developing countries and the lack of quality fuel and technicians, means that engine companies probably couldn’t force the latest technology on many markets in the near future, adds Cat’s George Taylor.

Still, both engine reps say dialogue on uniform standards — both among industry and within the United Nations — continues to make sense.

“Global alignment one day could ensure consistent treatment, a competitive playing field, and cut unnecessary costs,” says Pence.

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