In less than two years, the biggest names in semi-trucks have unveiled a combined seven new models, often replacing vehicles they hadn’t redesigned in a decade or more.
This wave of new heavy-duty trucks in an industry that works to get as much mileage as it can out of its older models represents a shift in truck development.
Changing environmental regulations, fierce competition and a heightened emphasis on aerodynamics to maximize fuel efficiency are speeding up the product turnover cycle in trucking. Expect fewer years between ground-up redesigns of big rigs.
The latest example came Wednesday, when Mack Trucks unveiled the Mack Anthem at the Mack Global Dealer Summit in Allentown, Penn. The long-haul semi-tractor will replace Mack’s Pinnacle Axle Back and marks the company’s first full redesign of its on-highway truck offering since 2005.
“Competitors are on our mind every day as we are out there fighting for the business,” said Jonathan Randall, Mack’s senior vice president for North American sales.
This follows similar launches by other manufacturers.
Volvo introduced two new-generation trucks in 2017 – the VNR for regional haul and the VNL for the long-haul market – its first new offerings in two decades.
“Historically, there have been long product cycles, but what’s happening now is a lot of regulations are coming into play like greenhouse gas rules and competition, which are inevitably speeding up the product cycle process,” said Magnus Koeck, vice president of marketing and brand management at Volvo Trucks North America.
“We won’t see another 20 years pass before new products are introduced; we will definitely see a faster product cycle going forward in the trucking industry,” Koeck told Trucks.com.
Navistar International Corp. launched its new line of HX Series work trucks last year. It also brought out its International LT Series long-haul truck last year, replacing the aging ProStar, introduced in 2007. In April, the company unveiled its regional truck, the International RH Series, which will also take the place of a decade-old design. Navistar plans a new work truck and a new truck that slots into the Class 6-7 weight range next year.
“We laid out a pretty aggressive schedule five years ago of touching, updating and improving every product in our lineup,” said Steve Gilligan, vice president of product marketing at Navistar.
Last year, Daimler Trucks North America unveiled the latest model of its flagship Freightliner Cascadia semi-truck, the first full redesign of the trucking industry workhorse since its introduction in 2007.
Mike McHorse, manager of on-highway product marketing for Freightliner, said the Daimler division has a product development lifecycle of approximately 10 years. What is picking up speed is the pace of updates, especially for electronic systems.
“We are seeing typical automotive systems make it to trucks much faster than in the past,” McHorse said.
For example, the company’s Detroit Assurance suite of safety systems – which includes adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation and lane-departure warnings – was derived from technologies recently implemented on Mercedes-Benz passenger cars. Daimler also owns the car company.
Although the product cycle for new trucks is speeding up, don’t expect it to catch the pace of change in light vehicles, which typically complete a redesign every five years, said Michael Baudendistel, analyst for Stifel Financial Corp.
“Light vehicles are sold in much higher volumes so the cost to refresh a model is spread over a larger number of units,” he said. “Also, light vehicle purchases are a more discretionary and sometimes an emotional purchase; for example, when the Ford Mustang is redesigned to great fanfare, some existing Mustang owners can’t help themselves but to upgrade to the latest model.”
The wave of new trucks is how manufacturers are preparing for a new round of emissions regulations — the GHG Phase 2 rule that starts in 2021, said Kenny Vieth, ACT Research president.
Nearly a year ago, federal regulators introduced new greenhouse gas standards aimed at forcing truck manufacturers to reduce carbon emissions from a wide range of commercial trucks, buses and cargo vans. The Phase 2 standards were developed jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to reduce emissions from trucks in three phases, 2021, 2024 and 2027.
Although some independent truckers and a semi-tractor trailer manufacturers group want the EPA to delay implementing GHG Phase 2 rules, the industry is pushing ahead because the California Air Resources Board will enact the regulations regardless of the EPA, Vieth said.
“Regardless of whether the mandate happens as currently expected, it is a great opportunity to push value to customers with new trucks,” Vieth said.
Competition also is playing a major role in speeding up the product cycle, Baudendistel said.
“Daimler had a great deal of success with the Freightliner Cascadia for its total cost of ownership, so there has been pressure on the other [manufacturers] to regain some of the market share lost to Daimler,” he said. “Paccar has refreshed designs to maintain its status as having the premium products in the market, and its product line includes some high-end models.”
Because fuel is such a high portion of the cost of trucking, every manufacturer is working on vehicles that can deliver the highest fuel economy in the industry, Baudendistel said.
Customer demand for new automated technology features has also spurred interest in the purchasing of new trucks.
“The latest model trucks are available with a wider range of technology options and standard features than earlier models,” Baudendistel said.
One out of three new trucks Navistar sells today is equipped with some sort of advanced driver assistance safety system, Gilligan said. Its LT Series comes equipped with Bendix Wingman Advanced, a package that includes collision mitigation and full stability technologies.
“It makes sense from a liability and cost standpoint because the system can help drivers avoid a catastrophic accident and frankly, the drivers recognize the systems can save them from having an accident,” Gilligan said.