Mid America Trucking Show

This year celebrating its 40th Anniversary, the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) took place in March at the Kentucky Expo Centre in Louisville. The show claims to be the largest annual heavy duty trucking industry event in the world, attracting over 70,000 visitors and over 1000 exhibitors from both North America and overseas.

MATS has held its position as the premier truck show in the US for some time and again demonstrated its pulling power for over 76,000 attendees from 81 countries as well as 214 representatives of the media, in a show spread over 111,000 square metres. All of the major manufacturers participating in the US truck market were on display as well as the trailer manufacturers and component suppliers.

From an Australian perspective the show is a chance to gauge how the US truck industry is travelling and get a preview of what we can expect to see on our shores in the near or distant future from North American suppliers. Yet again MATS did not disappoint, with a number of technology changes and developments appearing at the show, in the metal. A number of these can be expected to be appearing in the Australian market over time.

Times have changed since the first show back in 1972 when just 83 exhibitors and 4000 visitors turned up. By 1991 the show was attracting 650 exhibitors and more than 35,000 visitors over its three days. In the period from 1991 to 1997 the space taken up by the show more than doubled. And the last 10 years have seen the show continue to expand – it now fills the entire Louisville venue both inside and out.

The show has grown to a size where it is taken seriously by everyone involved with the trucking industry, both manufacturers and government. In her journey to visit MATS, the Chairperson of the US National Transportation Safety Board, the government agency controlling regulation of the trucking industry, Deborah Hersman, rode with five different professional truck drivers from her base in Washington DC to the MATS site in Louisville.

“I know it’s all in a day’s journey for you. I also recognise that two days on the road doesn’t a trucker make,” said Deborah after her arrival at MATS. “My trip was just a small glimpse into your world and I don’t understand everything about your lives, but I definitely have a lot more respect for the hard-working professional truck driver.”

The models on display at the Kenworth stand are very different to those we can expect to see on truck show stands in Australia. The trucks share a number of components and design elements but have been put together for a completely different market. The Paccar organisation in the US continues to emphasise its use of the Paccar MX engine in both Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks. The engines have been well received in the market and are replacing vendor engines in many cases. So far, the Paccar MX engine has not been sighted publicly here in Australia but the company’s global emphasis on this driveline component does suggest it will be appearing here in the future.

Volvo took the opportunity of a display stand at MATS to continue to emphasise its North American image, keeping well away from the more technological European image it portrays here in Australia. The stand included top of the range highway prime movers with massive sleeper cabs fitted. The Swedish company has clearly caught the ‘American disease’ as it was displaying a massive ute based on a 4×2 Volvo VNM 200 crew cab chassis.

Volvo’s stable mate, Mack, was demonstrating a little bit of Australia at the show in Louisville. Included on its stand was the Australian designed and developed Mack Titan, showing technology flows both ways across the Pacific. Also on show from Mack was the M Drive AMT which is already making an impression here in Australia since its introduction earlier this year.

Another technological innovation we hope to see here in Australia sometime soon was also on show, the 16 L Mack MP 10 engine, offering a chance for Bulldog Brand engines to get back into the higher horsepower world.

New bonnet and grill designs were on show at the Freightliner stand. These new look trucks may give a hint as to the designs we can expect to see appearing over the next few months from Freightliner here in Australia. The brand has had to realign the Freightliner range to fill the gap left by the disappearance of the Sterling brand. The company now has to include some more rugged looking trucks to handle some of the vocational applications no longer served by Sterling. For the North American market the company can also use some models from Western Star to fill the void.

Evidence of this new direction for Western Star is in its release at the show of the 4700 model. This has been directly aimed at the massive US vocational market. The truck has a short BBC, a broad engine and component option list – a vital prerequisite to fit in with the specification requirements of a wide range of industries including construction, garbage etc. Although no plans have yet been announced, the Western Star organisation here in Australia is looking carefully at this new model to see if it can be adapted to suit our conditions.

Elsewhere on the stand, Western Star continued to bolster its rugged tough truck image for the US truck buying audience with a stand calling the company the ‘Department of Serious Trucks’. The brand continues to specialise in the heavy-duty applications in North America like logging, heavy haulage and mining. However, in Australia it is a separate entity from the rest.

But the Daimler Trucks organisation may see the 4700 as an opportunity to move into an area of the market it has previously made little impact upon.

Hino continues to make progress in the US market and its latest North American built 600 Series was on show in Kentucky. The medium duty conventional uses Japanese technology and design coupled with a US configuration to do battle in a medium duty market dominated by International and Freightliner.

 

The story from Cummins engines this year is all about keeping the red brand of engine clearly in the eye of the trucking customers in the US. The company now stands alone as a supplier of vendor engines to truck manufacturers, with its engines being fitted into International, Freightliner, Kenworth, Volvo and Peterbilt. However, the truck manufacturers continue to push their own proprietary engines in as much product as possible.

Cummins continues to emphasise its technology and innovation as it shows its revamped range compliant with the current US EPA 2010 exhaust emission regulations. The company is using both EGR and SCR solutions in its varied engine range. The show was also an opportunity to clarify its new naming regime. The engine’s name now includes the cubic capacity of the engine. For example, US customers can now buy the ISX 15 and the ISX 11.9.

Detroit Diesel’s stand had the company’s complete new heavy-duty engine range on show. Apart from the DD 15 and DD 13 already available here in the Australian market, the company also had its high-capacity DD 16 on display. Australian enthusiasts for the Detroit brand can expect to see examples of this new big banger at the Brisbane Truck Show.

Alternative power options were also on display with Peterbilt demonstrating its hybrid medium duty truck. Eaton had a hybrid driveline on display and an electric delivery vehicle for FedEx also made an impression at the show.

While the technology race continues to heat up in the halls of the exhibition centre between the truck manufacturers, the technique race continues amongst the custom truck enthusiasts in the outdoor section of the truck show. The annual Show ‘n’ Shine at MATS attracts the best truck customisers in the country and visitors were again not disappointed this year with a broad array of customisation and innovative colour schemes alongside some spectacular interior design.

From the ‘Stealth’ matt gunmetal style of low rider Peterbilts to the exuberant plush green interiors of other spectacular customisations, the show had something for all tastes. It was also an opportunity to demonstrate a little innovation in truck design. There were vertically opening doors on a Kenworth prime mover and a toolbox cunningly disguised as a fuel tank on another.

The Mid-America Truck Show probably demonstrates the differences between the North American trucking industry and ours here in Australia as much as it shows the similarities. We share many major components and design features with our colleagues in the US but they are specified to cope with conditions which are poles apart.

Exhibitors at the show expressed optimism and confidence after the event as they picked up on a positive attitude within the US trucking industry as the country climbs out of the deep recession it has suffered since the global financial crisis. A pickup in the US trucking industry indicates recovery in the US economy and by implication the global economy.

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