Long haul share shrinks, automation grows: Volvo

John G Smith

SHIPPENSBURG, PA – Volvo Trucks North America sees long haulers accounting for a shrinking portion of the truck market, as the industry responds to pressures including a driver shortage and recent upgrades to the Panama Canal.

Magnus Koeck, vice president – marketing and brand management, says that share has dropped to about 43% of the marketplace compared to 50% last year. In contrast, regional haulers account for about 35%  of the market as more freight is regionalized, he said during a briefing for industry media, adding the impact will be “proportionally a little larger” in the U.S. than Canada.

The recently opened $5.4-billion upgrade to the canal will also allow the passage of neo-Panamax ships, which can carry 14,000 containers at a time. Many U.S. ports along the east coast of the U.S. are already expanding to accommodate them.

It isn’t the only shift he expects. Koeck also said that manual transmissions will completely give way to automation in just five years. Volvo has certainly seen a widespread adoption of its I-Shift Automated Manual Transmission, which is now spec’d in 88.8% of its trucks.

While vehicle dynamics are changing, the North American market itself continues to struggle when compared to the near-record sales of 2015. Volvo expects 250,000 Class 8 trucks to be sold this year. Blame factors including large inventories at dealerships, created when manufacturers continued to produce high volumes of equipment even as the market began to slump.

“It will be tough to get the market going when we have so much inventory at the dealers,” he said.

Low diesel prices, meanwhile, continue to slow the acceptance of natural gas as a vehicle fuel, he added, noting how it is now powering about 2% of trucks.

Construction-related business continues to increase, though, and recent upgrades to the Volvo powertrain will be positioned to take advantage of that.

“We’re really targeting opportunities for Volvo to grow in the vocational marketplace,” said Wade Long, director – product marketing. “We’re bringing in fuel-efficiency for a market that was just focused on getting to the top of the hill first.”

New versions of the I-Shift transmissions that come with crawler gears, for example, will open the spec’ing option to heavy haulers who pull up to 220,000 pounds. The ability to move at as little as 0.6 miles per hour also allows the transmission to be used to support tasks such as pouring curbs.

Orders for the crawler gears are accepted now, while production begins in October.

Production of upgraded D11 and D16 engines begins in January, while a D13 with turbo compounding begins production in mid-2017.

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.

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