Equipment Segment Marched to Higher Ground in 2021

Manheim Specialty Auctions in Indianapolis, Ind., will sells used trucks. (Manheim Specialty Auctions)

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The year 2021 will not soon be forgotten in truck equipment circles that were buffeted by a persistent severe virus carried over from 2020, by its new variants and more related supply chain and labor disruptions.

Fleets found themselves in a freight boom, but their high demand for new trucks and trailers was choked off amid shortages of components. So many hard conditions piled up it was easy to lose sight of an industry prospering as best it could.

“Year 1 of the industry recovery [2021] was greatly impacted by Year 2 of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Don Ake, FTR vice president of commercial vehicles, told Transport Topics.



The backdrop to the year also saw freight rates soar and used truck prices catch fire.

New directions emerged more fully: Interest in new, expensive-to-develop, sustainable alternative zero-emission powertrains was impossible for truck makers to ignore. That was even as they introduced new versions of traditional diesel trucks. In addition, the promise of autonomous trucks — also expensive to develop — became increasingly attractive, and some autonomous technology startups went public.

Daimler Trucks decided its best future was as an independent company, spinning off Dec. 10 from parent Daimler AG, now known as Mercedes-Benz AG.

But Lisle, Ill.-based Navistar Inc., parent of the International brand, in July merged after a four-year courtship with Germany-based Traton Group, a global truck maker and subsidiary of Volkswagen Group.

Meanwhile, government stimulus payments helped people recover from the economic turbulence of 2020, Ake said. “People spent this windfall mainly on products since services were still limited. This boosted freight growth and the demand for commercial trucks and trailers.”

A selective look back reveals:

January

  • Daimler Truck CEO Martin Daum told TT, “We have to reduce emissions. But I mean, if the times are changing, everyone involved needs to adapt and invest or the winds of the times pass by them.”
  • Transportation and logistics provider Werner Enterprises announced it invested in TuSimple, an autonomous trucking technology company founded in 2015, and described it as an important milestone in the journey to become an environmental leader.
  • North American Class 8 orders kicked off the year by reaching 42,200 in January, up 146% from a year earlier when they were 17,204, ACT Research reported, citing truck makers’ initial data.

February

  • Kenworth Truck Co., a unit of Paccar Inc., introduced the next generation of its T680 on-highway model, which it described as the most aerodynamic longhaul truck it had ever built.
  • Nikola Corp. announced updates on its zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell-electric commercial truck program as the company vied for attention beside other truck makers in an increasingly crowded space it helped create in 2016 with its introductory announcement.

March

  • Production of Class 8 trucks and to a greater degree of medium-duty trucks is increasingly at risk as the demand for computer chips exceeds supply in a widening environment of supply chain disruptions, experts said.
  • The North American Council for Freight Efficiency announced Run on Less-Electric, a real-world demonstration slated for September of zero-emission goods movement involving 13 private and public fleets and a mix of vehicles — including yard tractors — from 13 OEMs.

April

  • Experts said efforts to ensure the needed connections for exchanging more data between a tractor and trailer continue from many directions as electronics and sensors are increasingly coming to trailers.
  • Connector options were discussed during the virtual spring meeting of American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council. “Fleets, truck OEMs and trailer OEMs should get actively involved at a higher level to drive a consensus agreement on the path forward,” Paul Menig, chairman of TMC’s S.1 Next Generation Tractor-Trailer Electrical Interface Task Force, told TT.
  • Volvo Trucks North America announced United Auto Workers had called a strike at its New River Valley truck assembly operations in Dublin, Va. The strike would run off and on until the union narrowly approved a six-year contract in July.
  • Mesilla Valley Transportation Solutions tested FlowBelow Aero Inc.’s tractor and trailer wheel covers for the first time as well as the Tractor AeroKit, and found that each technology provided significant fuel savings.
  • Daimler Trucks North America and Portland General Electric announced the opening in Portland, Ore., of what they called the first-of-its-kind heavy-duty electric truck charging site.
  • The push for zero-emission trucks in California left drayage operators questioning that approach in light of their previous investments in equipment using natural gas fuel, an industry association executive said.

 

Lion Electric's St-Jérôme facility in Canada. (Lion Electric Co.)

May

  • Cummins Inc. reported first-quarter net income and revenue soared with recoveries in the North American truck and global construction markets.
  • The Lion Electric Co., a Canadian manufacturer of all-electric medium- and heavy-duty urban vehicles, announced it selected Joliet, Ill., for the construction of its U.S. manufacturing facility.

June

  • Some 49% of all Classes 3-8 commercial vehicles, or nearly 5.5 million trucks, are using advanced diesel engine technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study.

July

  • Paccar Inc. reported second-quarter earnings and revenue soared compared with a year earlier amid improved truck deliveries, and record performance at its parts and financial service segments.

August

  • Eaton Corp. announced a series of 48-volt technologies to assist its global on- and off-highway commercial vehicle customers transitioning from traditional 12- and 24-volt vehicle systems to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.
  • Detroit, the engine brand of Daimler Trucks North America, supplied the most Class 8 engines in North America during the first half of this year, nudging past independent engine maker Cummins Inc. by 1,344 units or 1.1 percentage points, according to WardsAuto.com.

September

  • Allison Transmission Inc. announced its selection by Hino Trucks as its e-axle development partner for Classes 6-8 battery-electric trucks.
  • Navistar Inc. announced the launch of the redesigned International MV Series, calling it a reimagining of its Classes 6-7 vocational vehicle that focuses on increased maneuverability, visibility and safety.
  • Daimler Trucks North America introduced the Western Star 47X vocational model, a Class 8 truck intended for lighter-weight applications than the heavier 49X introduced in September 2020.
  • The average price for a used Class 8 reached a record $66,258 compared with $42,069 a year earlier, a gain of 57.4%. The average price for a 3-year-old Class 8 reached a record $103,194 — passing the $100,000 threshold for the second time in a row, ACT Research reported. The average price for an 8-year-old truck rocketed to $32,400, or 63.3% higher compared with $19,835 a year earlier.

October

  • Truck maker Nikola Corp. and Opal Fuels, a producer and distributor of renewable natural gas for heavy-duty truck fleets, announced their intent to co-develop and co-market hydrogen fueling infrastructure for trucking, beginning with on-site locations for private fleets.
  • Embark Trucks Inc., a developer of autonomous truck technology, announced that carriers participating in its partner development program placed 14,200 nonbinding reservations for Embark-equipped autonomous trucks.
  • Volvo Autonomous Solutions announced its first major steps toward the autonomous Volvo VNL model in North America, drawing on its partnership with Aurora Innovation Inc., a self-driving vehicle technology company.

November

  • Wabash, formerly known as Wabash National Corp., notched higher net income and revenue in the third quarter, citing increased shipments of new trailers, while its all-time-high $1.9 billion backlog of orders rose 87% compared with a year earlier.
  • Trailer orders ballooned to about 31,000 in November after orders dropped to 8,128 in July, the low for the year.
  • Through November, almost 200,000 new Class 8 trucks had been sold. Medium-duty sales through the first 11 months improved to 217,000.

Simply put, the industry had proved it could manage through many challenges and get the work done now, plus continue to innovate with an eye to tomorrow.

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