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April 3, 2017 3:45 AM, EDT

ELDs Hot Topic at MATS as December Mandate Looms

FMCSA's ELD seminar by John Sommers II for Transport Topics

This story appears in the April 3 print edition of Transport Topics.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Truck makers returned to the Mid-America Trucking Show, to varying degrees, and while many things seemed familiar, the specter of new competition also loomed over North America’s largest annual truck show.

While Kenworth Truck Co., Mack Trucks and Peterbilt Motors Co. were back in their usual places here March 23-25 after a one-year hiatus, the focus among press events and in several seminars was the technology attached to the truck, not the vehicle itself. The federal mandate for electronic logging devices takes effect in December, so vendors put all things ELD immediately before owner-operators, company drivers and fleet managers.

MATS 2017: Complete coverage | Photo gallery

YOUR GUIDE TO THE MANDATE: Downloadable PDF. 

Companies from truck maker Navistar Inc. to a small startup called TruckX hawked their ELD offerings, as did more established tech vendors such as Rand McNally.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offered guidance to drivers at a seminar on how to comply with the ELD rule.

Overhanging Mid-America was its new rival in Atlanta that starts in September, the North American Commercial Vehicle Show, designed to give the big truck makers exactly what they want — an every-other-year format.

The Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems press event March 22 encapsulated the tension. Company managers Fred Andersky and Barbara Gould welcomed the assembled, said they were happy to be back with their large, traditional presence at MATS, talked about air disc brakes and active safety systems and then urged everyone to go to NACV in Atlanta, where Bendix would roll out a major product update.

All truck makers and engine maker Cummins Inc. backed out of Mid-America last year, even though the 2015 show set a record for attendance.

The two Paccar Inc. brands gave MATS a shot in the arm this year, not only by reclaiming their traditional South Wing spaces but by saying they would not exhibit at the inaugural NACV Show. The general managers of Kenworth and Peterbilt said they liked the owner-operator small fleet emphasis of MATS, as did Mack Vice President John Walsh.

"This crowd is great for us. It's where we live," Walsh said from the Mack space, where visitors clamored to get their Mack military-style dog tags stamped with their names.

Mack's John Walsh by Philip Scott Andrews for Transport Topics

Volvo Trucks, Mack's sister company, did not show up, keeping its powder dry for NACV.

The number of attendees and exhibitors both dipped, year-over-year, Exhibit Management Associates said March 29. EMA owns and operates Mid-America.

This year 72,271 people came to the show and 1,012 firms exhibited. In 2016 there were 74,937 attendees and 1,102 exhibitors — the fourth-highest level.

In 2015 there were 81,768 attendees and 1,064 exhibitors.

The EMA announcement said this year "marks the seventh consecutive year that MATS has featured more than 1,000 exhibitors and the 15th that we have hosted more than 70,000 attendees."

At last year's show, Mack and other truck and engine makers were talking about how new engines slated for launch in January of this year would meet new federal emissions standards, but at this event, software dominated. Mack emphasized connectivity and said it is extending its telematics hardware as an option for some older trucks.

Navistar did not rent exhibit space but did have a press conference to talk about its own ELD option, part of its OnCommand Connection telematics platform.

Cummins and Daimler Trucks North America went the other way, renting floor space but not hosting their large, usual media events. Although DTNA has led the push for a two-year exhibition cycle, four of its brands showed up at MATS, including Freightliner and Western Star trucks.

Traditional equipment was exhibited as well, especially from trailer makers, including big OEMs such as Utility Trailer Manufacturing and Hyundai Translead, and smaller specialty makers such as Talbert Manufacturing, which displayed two new heavy-haul models.

The floors of the Kentucky Exposition Center still were crowded. Adults pulled red wagons filled with exhibitor swag and/or children. Sometimes they pushed strollers populated by children or dogs.

Webb by John Sommers II for TT

There also was the celebratory side of the show. Goodyear Tires presented Wilson Logistics driver David Webb with its Highway Hero award for helping save the life of a dump truck driver who suffered a heart attack while behind the wheel. Trucker Buddy International celebrated four elementary school teachers and four drivers for fostering pen-pal relationships between drivers and classrooms.

There were several performances by country music acts, most notably Thompson Square, and presentations on business operations and government policy.

Truckers Against Trafficking members continued their efforts to help fight sexual exploitation by engaging drivers in the cause.

Leaders of Trucking Moves America Forward said there now are more options for trailer wraps that tell highway users about the importance of trucking and that more people are following TMAF on social media. The American Transportation Research Institute used MATS to gather survey information from drivers.

Truckstop.com had three seminars, each on a different topics: teaching smaller carriers how to use big data, helping brokers and carriers to plan for and identify profitable loads, and helping carriers to determine accurate costs per mile.

An insurance executive gave suggestions on how to deal with accidents.

Trucking companies continued the tradition of using MATS as a recruiting drive and an opportunity to lure drivers from their current places of employment. They were joined by Uber-like technology companies such as Transfix that urge drivers to add their apps to their smartphones so they can seek out loads as needed.