September 12, 2016 4:00 AM, EDT

Editorial: Future Trucks Today

This Editorial appears in the Sept. 12 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

No quiet end to summer this year. Original equipment manufacturer executives have not been lounging poolside.

In less than two weeks we have seen a glimpse of the future of trucking.

Volkswagen AG’s Truck & Bus unit bought a stake in Navistar International Corp. that will net it entry into the North American truck market and two seats on Navistar’s board of directors.

“Today’s announced alliance is a major milestone on our way to creating a global champion,” said Andreas Renschler, the head of VW Truck & Bus.

Days before, Freightliner Trucks unveiled its redesigned Cascadia, offering far greater connectivity and efficiency than its predecessor.

“We just launched something that will change the industry forever,” said Daimler Trucks North America President Martin Daum, who worked for Renschler when he ran Daimler Trucks. And well before Cascadia actually hits highways, Daum was already looking ahead. The new truck “gives me courage and enough energy to push it even further. This is not the last step,” he said.

Meanwhile, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, Mack Trucks offered reporters a chance to test the OEM’s new powertrain lineup, four in-house engines designed to meet federal greenhouse-gas emissions standards for trucks that tighten on Jan. 1.

“These are our most innovative and integrated engines and transmissions ever,” said John Walsh, Mack’s marketing vice president.

There have been other recent events — and there will be even more in the near future — where OEMs display their engineering feats for meeting and even beating GHG standards.

This is a very different situation from what we saw from 2002 to 2010, in terms of environmental regulation. Engineers are currently, well, flat-out having a blast designing small but useful devices for improving miles per gallon — something truck buyers invariably crave.

A decade ago, they were cleaning the air, too, to comply with regulations, but at a cost of making engines less efficient and durable — something that makes truck buyers cringe, and not unreasonably.

The challenge is to make sure the current improvements are efficient and cost-effective.

While the wisdom and methods of the federal government in implementing regulations can be called into question, the efforts of truck and engine makers to find innovative methods to make the air cleaner, the roads safer and fleets more efficient certainly is not at issue.

The news of the last few weeks is only the latest example. It certainly will be an exciting future.