TORONTO, Ont. — There’s a storm of controversy brewing over the declaration that the long-nose traditional-styled truck has reached the end of its usefulness and will soon be put out to pasture.
The notion was first declared by outspoken Navistar exec Jim Hebe at the Technology and Maintenance Council meetings in February.
“We’re in a whole new world today,” he said during a keynote address. Noting that classic-styled long-nose Class 8 tractors have decreased in market share from 25% in 2000 to just 5.8% today, Hebe said it’s a trend that won’t be reversed.
“It ain’t coming back. That truck is going to be rather unique on the highway,” he said, suggesting that traditional buyers of the equipment will have trouble getting financing.
The theme was revived at this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show. In an interview with Truck News, Mark Lampert, senior vice-president of sales and marketing with Daimler Trucks North America said he agrees the owner/operator is going through a transitional phase and will shy away from traditional-styled trucks.
“I think a lot of people are calling the owner/operator dead. We fundamentally do not believe that. What we do believe is the owner/operator is going through a transition,” Lampert explained. “We would formerly describe him very generically as a guy who bought a set-forward axle with a big sleeper – that’s not an owner/operator today. An O/O today is buying a much more aerodynamic truck, he’s much more business-oriented, much more fuel-economy sensitized – he may be running day cabs in heavy haul applications. I totally believe you’ll see a heckuva lot fewer set-forward axle, 600 hp, raised roof sleeper configurations than you ever have in the past, but I’d say the owner/operator is going through a change, buying different equipment than he would buy five years ago.”
Interesting comments coming from a truck maker whose stable includes Western Star – a brand that builds this type of truck exclusively.
Also participating in that interview was Elmar Boeckenhoff, DTNA’s senior vice-president, engineering and technology and he too had opinions on the future of long-nose conventional tractors. Responding to Hebe’s remarks at TMC, Boeckenhoff said “He will probably not dare to say that again over there in the parking lot where all these long and tall guys meet.”
Boeckenhoff went on to say: “There’s some tradition, some heritage that we have to take seriously, because there’s some soul in a truck that’s not only a machine for operating, but there’s a driver who has to identify himself with that truck.”
He continued: “Long and tall, from my perspective, will stay in this market, although it will change. It will not be a dinosaur that’s extinct by 2015. There’s no reason long and tall can’t be intelligent and fuel-efficient as well. And long and tall can also be predictive, can also be innovative. Long and tall is an answer to a market need and nothing an OEM imposes on a customer base. The answer is not with us, it’s with the customers who will or will not buy these trucks.”
To explore the issue further, our WebTV show Transportation Matters caught up with Hebe and with the camera rolling and in the midst of an owner/operator-packed crowd, he stood by his TMC position without so much as casting a glance over his shoulder. When asked why long-nose traditional-styled trucks have reached the end of their usefulness, he said: “Firstly, they’re pretty expensive, the days of going out and spending $20,000-$30,000 more just to have a long hood is just not in the cards. Secondly, the fuel economy difference between a traditional square-nosed conventional and what you can do with a ProStar or an aerodynamic product from one of our competitors is so substantially different from a cost-per-mile, that there’s just not the revenue there (to justify it). At the end of the day, if it makes good sense for a major fleet to be running an aerodynamic product then (it makes sense for an) owner/operator too.”
Hebe also pointed out the International LoneStar offers the best of both world, a classic-styled appearance that’s fuel-efficient too. Lou Smyrlis, in his April editorial in Truck News, sided with Hebe in the great debate and also declared that long and tall was nearing the end of its rein.
“To be honest, the only thing I find shocking about Hebe’s comments is that it has taken this long to come to this conclusion,” Smyrlis wrote. He pointed out long-nose conventional tractors are diesel-guzzlers and that using them to attract and retain drivers does little more than attract the wrong type of driver – those who prefer chrome over fuel-efficiency.
“The long-nose conventional has been an icon in our industry for decades. But its time has come and gone. It may have taken the outspoken Hebe to say it; but I think most people in this industry can agree with it.”
Well, that prompted some rather passionate responses from readers who argued it’s too early to be writing the death certificate for long-nose traditional tractors.
“So now you’re onto hating long-nose conventionals?” blasted reader Jeff Long of Ingersoll, Ont. “Why don’t you just admit you hate trucking period? Just when our industry and professional drivers have been kicked down from a recession and more government interference than ever before, we pick up the Truck News and have to read about another possible setback.”
And another reader weighed in with a defense of his own. “Only a truck driver could tell you the pride he feels he gets when he’s behind the wheel of a beautifully-polished long-nose Pete, Kenworth or Freightliner,” wrote Dave Neubuhr. “You are more than willing to put in the extra effort to keep that truck looking that way when you hear the responses of the other drivers telling you how nice that truck is, or the adoration of your boss for keeping his equipment looking top notch. There will always be a market, and yes I agree its’s shrinking, for drivers who want to drive long-nose trucks.”
So with the lines clearly drawn in the sand, Truck News decided to take to the street, er, truck stop to get some more driver opinions. You can read them in Adam Ledlow’s Truck Stop Question in the May issue of Truck News, but perhaps the strongest comment came from Pete 379 owner Kevin Wilkins.
“I have no intentions of running a slippery truck ever,” he said. “I will rebuild my Peterbilt 100 times before I’ll buy a truck like that.”
So there you have it. As long as there are drivers like that out there, the long-nose conventional still has a pulse.
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