NTEA Work Truck Show 2017: Manufacturers demonstrate technology improvements and alternative propulsion

The National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA)'s annual Work Truck Show is the major showcase for the sector in North America. This month's event demonstrated future technologies and new engine types, highlighting electrification, hybrid vehicles, growth of telematics, and diesel products.

IHS Markit Perspective:

  • Significance:The National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) held its annual Work Truck Show at the Indiana Convention Center, in downtown Indianapolis, from 14 to 17 March.
  • Implications:The event represents the major showcase for the work truck industry in North America, including all the major vehicle manufacturers active in the commercial vehicle market classes 3-8.
  • Outlook:The 2017 Truck Work Show highlighted future technologies and new engine types as key elements in the sector becoming more profitable through the use of technology and data. The global trends of electrification, hybrid vehicles, growth of telematics, and new products in the diesel engine field are as present in the North American work truck market as they are globally.

This year's National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) Work Truck Show, held in Indianapolis, Indiana, United States, on 14-17 March, included a strong presence of hybrid and electric technologies for powering work trucks, in keeping with the modern trends of higher environmental consciousness and improved fuel efficiency. IHS Markit automotive medium and heavy commercial vehicle analyst Antti Lidstrom attended the show and reports on the event.

The annual exhibition represents the major showcase of the work truck industry in North America. The event includes all the major vehicle manufacturers in the commercial vehicle market classes 3-8, although the focus is traditionally on the medium-duty vehicles (classes 3-7), while from the heavy-duty sector, the examples are usually straight trucks with dump bodies or other non-highway applications.

As is customary, this year's show included the Green Truck Summit, with sessions dealing with the environmental aspects of the work truck industry. There were also general sessions, an open show floor, and a Ride-and-Drive event where guests could test drive trucks around the city centre.

On display at the event were three hybrid technology converters enlisted by Ford to work with its commercial products, certifying them as "eQVMs" (environmentally qualified vehicle modifiers), a status usually granted to companies allowed to work on Ford's products while retaining the vehicle's original warranty. Those three (Lightning Hybrids, Motive Power, and XL Hybrids) each has areas of expertise in hybrid power technology and the Ford platform is an excellent opportunity for them to bring forward their solutions in a high-visibility distribution environment, providing them with a tremendous amount of credibility, steady business and - presumably - larger volumes, which should translate into lower per-unit costs. For Ford, it provides a quick entry ticket to the hybrid world on the commercial vehicle side and something to continue building on.

An all-electric battery-operated medium-duty truck has been under development for a few years now at Daimler's Mitsubishi-Fuso subsidiary. Last year, we saw the previous iteration of the Mitsubishi-Fuso Canter battery model at the Work Truck Show, having completed a year-long test run in Portugal shortly before that time. This year's event saw an evolved, new version of the Fuso electric truck as well, and it is expected to go on sale in the US later in 2017. For next year, though, another generation of the electric Fuso is planned, according to company representatives, who also stated that the versions imported into the US are the same generation as those developed in Japan. This means that Fuso is taking the battery-electric technology very seriously and is launching it in multiple regions more or less at the same time, to gain a stronger foothold but also to register users' feedback and product development ideas quickly and efficiently, from the widest possible exposure.

In the step-van sector, Workhorse showcased an electric delivery truck in UPS colours, as a reminder that Workhorse recently won a contract with the parcel service to supply it with these quiet, emission-free trucks especially for rural area deliveries, with or without the drone system that takes off and lands from the truck's roof. In the demonstration video of that development, the drones were used by the delivery truck as an extra delivery 'arm' that took packages along the route to customers' doorsteps while the van continued to drive with deliveries to other customers and then later reunited with the drone.

In the package delivery realm of medium-duty trucks, the drones are mentioned almost as frequently as autonomous trucks in heavy-duty on-highway trucking, both branches of technology seen as natural extensions of the expected electrification and more data-driven operations of the business. Telematics, for instance, was a new buzzword only a couple of years ago, especially in this business. Now, telematics systems seem to have evolved from mere route planning and driver monitoring/assistance to also providing functions such as spare part replacement, service arrangements on the road, preventative maintenance and, in general, improving the 'uptime' of the vehicle in any way possible. This trend was evident at the Work Truck Show 2017 as well, with Telogis, in particular, proclaiming itself "telematics system provider of choice" for many OEMs, including Ford and Hino.

In short, the value of the telematics data of the vehicle is being recognised as an element in boosting productivity and using existing resources in the smartest way.

The 2017 Work Truck Show was used as a launch pad for General Motors (GM) to introduce its latest product in its medium-duty market re-entry, the class 6 low cab-forward model, the LCF 6500. GM was active in the medium-duty market up to 2008 with the Kodiak truck, but the automaker's current return to this market now involves both low cab-over engine (LCOE) and conventional-style products. The LCOE products are built originally by Isuzu and are now being built for the US by Spartan Motors under a proprietary subcontract for GM in Charlotte, Michigan. Meanwhile, GM is pursuing the joint development of a class 4-5 conventional-style medium-duty truck together with Navistar. It was stated at the Work Truck Show that the project is proceeding "according to the schedule" and will result in a joint product due to come out in mid-2018. The powertrain and major undercarriage components will come from GM, while Navistar will provide the frame for the truck, along with some other parts as well. At the show, GM had several of its LCF line on hand and on display, supporting the message that it has returned to the medium truck sector.

The engine introductions at the show included the launch of Daimler's Detroit DD8 diesel engine, which is a sister engine to the earlier DD5. The DD5 is a new engine sourced for North America first from Mannheim, Germany, but is now produced at the Detroit facility in Redford, Michigan. The DD8 will be built from the start at Redford, beginning later in 2017. The engine will be intended mostly for heavy trucks but also for the heavier end of the medium-duty sector, i.e., class 7 and maybe even class 6, so serving Daimler's Freightliner M2s and SDs.

Outlook and implications

The 2017 Work Show highlighted future technologies and new engine types as key elements in the work truck sector being able to become more profitable through the use of technology and data. The global trends of electrification, hybrid vehicles, growth of telematics, and new products in the diesel engine field are as present in the North American work truck market as they are globally.

The US medium- and heavy-duty commercial truck market saw a decline in sales in 2016, largely on weakness in the class 8 market. Class 8 US sales volumes declined from 248,804 units in 2015 to 193,890 units in 2016. In 2017, we forecast sales similar to 2016's volume, although with the class 8 sector continuing to be soft and there being some growth in classes 4-7. By 2020, we forecast the market will return to a volume of about 452,000 units, exceeding the sales level of 2015.

According to IHS Markit automotive data, the best-seller of the medium and heavy commercial vehicle brands in the US is Freightliner, which captured nearly 32% of the market in 2016, followed by Ford and International.

About this article

The above article is from IHS Automotive Same-Day Analysis of automotive news, events and trends, and is a deliverable of the World Markets Automotive Service. The service averages thirty stories per day and also provides competitor and country intelligence. Get a free trial.


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