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April 11, 2016 3:30 AM, EDT

MATS to Remain Annual Event Despite Challenges, Planner Says

This story appears in the April 11 print edition of Transport Topics.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Mid-America Trucking Show will maintain its annual schedule for the “foreseeable future,” the president of Exhibit Management Associates told Transport Topics.

“We are happy where we are at given the challenging year, and we are really looking forward to 2017,” Toby Young said in an April 1 interview at the Kentucky Exposition Center.

John Sommers II for TT

Asked whether he was certain there would be a show next year, Young responded: “Without a doubt; 2017 and a 2018 and a 2019. MATS will continue to be annual for the foreseeable future.”

COMPLETE COVERAGE: 2016 Mid-America Trucking Show

He added: “This is the show for the industry — the annual forum. We want everybody here that we can get here.”

During the 45th annual Mid- America Trucking Show here March 31-April 2, there were 1,102 exhibitors and nearly 75,000 in attendance. However, all of the truck manufacturers opted not to participate as well as engine maker Cummins Inc. and a number of trailer makers and other large industry suppliers.

Young said he “would love to have the truck manufacturers in the show,” but “exhibitor sentiment has been strong.”

Much of the area the truck makers previously occupied in the center’s South Wing was filled by a Truck Dealer Showcase that represented Class 8s and trailers from all major manufacturers. A small area at the far end of the South Wing was converted into a food court, and there was some unoccupied space that in prior years had been used by exhibitors. The North Wing and West Wing generally were unchanged from previous shows.

Young was at the awards ceremony after the 27th annual PKY Truck Beauty Championship, named in honor of his grandfather, Paul, who founded MATS. Before the winners were announced, he led a remembrance ceremony for several longtime members of the show-truck community who have passed away in recent months. His comments brought tears to the eyes of many in attendance and were followed by standing ovations as family members were called to the stage to be honored.

Suzanne Stempinski has attended MATS for 22 consecutive years as an owner-operator, show-truck contestant and most recently as field editor of Land Line magazine. She said people in attendance appreciated Young for “acknowledging these people who made a huge impact in the show-truck community.”

She also said the record number of trucks entered into the PKY contest showed that the absence of truck makers “basically didn’t matter to them.”

“It’s not irrelevant, but not as important as the opportunity to show off what they drive,” Stempinski told TT.

She said the close-knit, friendly atmosphere at MATS means tens of thousands of people will continue to attend every year, which many owner- operators believe “shouldn’t be dictated by those who do not show up.”

It was Daimler Trucks North America who first announced it would not attend this year’s event. DTNA President Martin Daum told TT in an exclusive interview last May the company wanted to focus attention on the 2016 IAA Commercial Vehicles show in Hanover, Germany, and called for MATS to move to a biennial schedule because “we have longer investment cycles. It is not that easy to every year make a big splash.”

Young said that while truck manufacturers’ product release cycles may be two years or longer, many exhibitors “want to keep this show annual because that is what they need to showcase their products.”

“We are going to be as accommodating as we can be, regardless of product release cycles,” he added.

Beyond the showcase area, Young pointed out there were more total trucks and trailers on display than past years, including in some booths throughout the exhibit hall that might not ordinarily have them.

“There is a recognized need to have trucks on the show floor,” he said. “That is what attendees want, [and it is] satisfying knowing they can see trucks and trailers and technology all in one place as MATS has always had.”

Young also said there had been conversations with several representatives of the companies that did not exhibit at MATS this year.

“We had some that have visited with us during this year’s show. We’re hopeful we will get them back,” he said. “They have some expectations, and we will have ongoing discussions. We’re hoping in the near future we will be able to reveal results of the discussions, and we’re optimistic.”

Stempinski said many owner- operators took advantage of the truck dealer pavilion to shop for a vehicle, as opposed to the more future-looking vision the original equipment manufacturers sometimes showcase at events.

She summed up the general reaction of many drivers she spoke with, saying while it would have been nice for the truck makers to have been at MATS, it “went better than expected.”