Until contractors are back on jobsites in full force, commercial vehicle makers are in a holding pattern—waiting for contractors to buy new gear instead of repairing their old kit.
Manufacturers at this year’s Work Truck Show didn’t need to be reminded that 2009 was a bad year. Total truck sales plummeted 24% in 2009, reports IHS Global Insight. “It was one huge hit to take,” said Stephen Latin-Kasper, research director with the National Truck Equipment Association, organizer of the annual exhibition held on March 9-12 in St. Louis that brings in truck-equipment suppliers from across the country.
Construction is forecast to improve this year, followed by contractors returning to dealers, Latin-Kasper said. But truck sales are expected to rise by only 6.5%. Not until 2011 are sales expected to return to somewhat normal levels, increasing by 25.8%.
Now is the time to start preparing for 2011, Latin-Kasper told the group. Manufacturers may have the capacity they need right now, but labor might become an issue if hiring is put off. “Try to stay ahead of the curve,” said Latin-Kasper. “Do not wait until 2011 to start hiring.”
Commercial vehicle makers are not waiting around. Reveals of new products, such as the medium-duty International TerraStar Class 4/5 commercial truck, drew large crowds. General Motors also introduced its new GMC 2011 Sierra Denali HD as well as its 2500HD and 3500HD pickup trucks, expected to be in showrooms this summer.
GM’s heavy-duty pickups will have a small-block, V-8 gas engine attached to a six-speed automatic transmission. GMC also unveiled its new, 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel, which will be available for the luxury-class Denali as well as commercial chassis cab and other truck models.
Duramax is now the most powerful in the heavy-duty-pickup segment, with the LML engine model leading the pack with 397 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 765 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. A lower-output model, the LGH, is designed to pair up with chassis-cab and box-off trucks, with 335 hp at 3,100 rpm and 685 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm.
As Chrysler continues to integrate with Italian automaker Fiat, the manufacturer expects to provide even more commercial vehicles to the North American market, said Joe Veltri, vice president of product planning. “We see this as an opportunity to expand,” he says.
The show wasn’t all about trucks, though. Nissan unwrapped its all-new “NV” work van, which it says drives like a pickup and is good for anyone in the trades. The manufacturer’s first commercial vehicles for North America—the NV1500, NV2500HD and NV3500HD—are in production and scheduled to go on sale late this year.
While manufacturers plan for a time when contractors return to buying new equipment, they also are thinking about going “green” with alternative fuels. Commercial trucks could help drive demand for alternative energy, said U.S. Under Secretary for Energy Kristina Johnson. “Commercial trucks could provide that tipping point.”
Such manufacturers as Smith Electric and Baker Equipment exhibited their latest vehicles and allowed attendees to test-drive their newest rigs on the streets of St. Louis. Baker installs a compressed-natural-gas tank on GMC’s 4.8L and Ford’s Transit Connect commercial vans. The Baker Model XLR-CNG provides up to 500 mi between refuelings. Smith’s Newton electric delivery truck also has a range of 100 mi on a single charge and hauls up to 16,060 lb of cargo.
Enterprising attendees received an extra vote of confidence from Captain Kirk: Although manufacturers have gone through some tough times recently and are still waiting for contractors to return to the market, actor and keynote speaker William Shatner provided leaders of the industry with some words of encouragement. “Where would we be without the trucks you build?” asked Shatner, who has gone through a number of transitions in his own career and professes to have a lifelong love of machines. “This is a good time to revitalize. I urge you all to challenge yourself.”