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6 Trends Moving the Truck Market

Storylines that emerged at the 2016 Work Truck Show included the move to small diesel engines, “lightweighting,” the next step for telematics, alt-fuels versus cheap oil, and delivery drones — yes, drones.

The annual trek to NTEA’s Work Truck Show in Indianapolis in March provided its usual glimpse into the trends shaping the future of trucks, vans, and vocational vehicles.

Patrolling the 500,000-square-foot show floor, along with 11,000 vehicle and equipment manufacturers, fleet managers and product vendors yielded these six storylines for this year.

-    Lightweighting dominates Class 2 truck bodies.

In the vocational truck body and upfitting arena, “lightweighting” with materials such as aluminum and composites is as prevalent as ever, especially to serve the market of Class 2 Euro-style vans. Today’s truck bodies and upfits are 30% to 40% lighter than previous generations’ all-steel manufacturing.

For Class 2 pickups and cutaways, those materials keep bodies within a manufacturer’s weight specifications — and helps keep those vehicles under the 10,000-lbs. threshold to avoid Department of Transportation compliance.

-    Diesel engines go small.

Srikanth Padmanabhan, vice president of Cummins’ engine business, said the big growth area for diesel is emerging markets, particularly for Cummins’ 2.8L engine.

The all-new Class 6 Isuzu FTR is powered by a 4-cylinder diesel powerplant. Isuzu says the FTR meets the growing demand for urban delivery.
The all-new Class 6 Isuzu FTR is powered by a 4-cylinder diesel powerplant. Isuzu says the FTR meets the growing demand for urban delivery.

Isuzu unveiled its all-new 2018 Isuzu FTR cabover, a true Class 6 (25,900 lbs. GVWR) powered by a 4-cylinder diesel engine. Shaun Skinner, executive vice president and general manager of Isuzu Truck of America, answered the question before it was asked: “We believe this truck will work well for its intended market, urban delivery,” he said. “We believe others will follow.”

Skinner said fleets will need trucks particularly for urban environments, where the country’s growth is concentrated. 
-    Propane is surviving cheap oil.

With diesel hovering around $2 a gallon, making the switch to compressed natural gas (CNG), propane autogas, or electrification becomes harder to justify from a pure financial standpoint.

CNG still faces a fueling infrastructure problem, while electric trucks’ initial cost and range issues are only exacerbated by cheap oil. But propane still makes sense for fleets for a few reasons, said Tucker Perkins, chief business development officer for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). In some places, propane’s bulk price is 40 cents gas-gallon equivalent, and suppliers will fully subsidize the cost of a fueling tank on-site for the propane contract.

Sales actually increased last year: In 2015, 12,500 vehicles were sold with certified propane systems, compared to 12,000 in 2014 and 10,000 in 2013.

-    Maintenance data goes big.

In the last few years, truck and engine manufacturers have rolled out telematics-based diagnostics tools to collect engine data and process it through proprietary customer service centers.

The data is used in two ways: Engine fault codes are processed on the fly and sent to fleet managers for action based on severity of the problem — from sending trucks straight to emergency servicing to making sure a part is ordered for replacement during routine preventive maintenance.

Programs such as Mack’s GuardDog Connect and Freightliner’s Virtual Technician are using this big data to pinpoint parts failures and thus control warranty claims expenses. Going further, fault codes can be combined with location data to understand how an engine performs with loads on various grades. Fleets could then change over the air engine parameters, such as idling or gearing, based on loads or weather conditions.

-    Delivery drones aren’t a fantasy.

Only three companies are approved by the FAA to test drone deliveries — Amazon, Google, and Workhorse Custom Chassis (WCC). The chassis maker has built its own drone, HorseFly, which can fly for 30 minutes on a charge and carry a 10-lbs. package.
In FAA testing today, the HorseFly drone from Workhorse Custom Chassis delivers 10-lb. packages for 2 cents a mile.
In FAA testing today, the HorseFly drone from Workhorse Custom Chassis delivers 10-lb. packages for 2 cents a mile.

For WCC, delivery drones are a natural extension of its relationship with UPS, its biggest contract. Drones could be deployed from a UPS truck for “last mile” delivery of several packages, at the attractive price of 2 cents a mile.
-    Telematics is taboo.

OK, the word “telematics” itself isn’t taboo, but for Telogis, it became a misnomer the same way the concept of “tracking” was merely displaying “dots on a map.” Today’s term is “mobile enterprise management,” an off-shoot of mobile resource management, though the word enterprise signifies the scale of the initiative.

“It’s the optimization of everything,” said Mark Wallin, vice president of product management at Telogis. It takes telematics to its logical next step of connecting vehicles, databases, workers, and clients together to automate work flow and provide meaningful data.  

For the vendor of pool cleaning supplies, it’s measuring the exact level of chemicals in a tank to understand the amount of product used per job site. For other service routes, it’s about knowing when to fill vending machines or empty dumpsters to avoid needless trips.

“What’s happening now is only the tip of the iceberg,” Wallin said.

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. He covers all aspects of the fleet world.

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