General Manager Kyle Quinn talks about Peterbilt's 2017 accomplishments. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

General Manager Kyle Quinn talks about Peterbilt's 2017 accomplishments. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

After reaching new market-share highs in Class 8 and vocational truck sales for 2017, Peterbilt has kicked off 2018 with an addition to its on-highway truck family and plans to continue to grow its market share as it also works on developing the next generation of advanced driver assistance systems.

Peterbilt hit a record 15.3% market share in Class 8 for 2017, eclipsing its previous high of 14%. It also set a new vocational market share record of 20%, and a 30% market share in the refuse truck portion of that vocational market.

For 2018, the company is predicting the total Class 8 market for the U.S. and Canada to be 235,000 to 265,000 trucks, and medium-duty at 85,000.

HDT spoke with Peterbilt executives during this week's launch of the Model 379 UltraLoft, an integrated high-roof sleeper designed to appeal to long-haul and team drivers.

Strong economy, industry

Peterbilt General Manager Kyle Quinn said a strong economy is driving truck sales growth, noting a GDP that’s expanding by more than 2.5%, business investment that’s up 4% since 2016, a strong manufacturing environment, and growing motor vehicle sales. Unemployment is low, and recent changes in U.S. tax laws will create new opportunities for customers, he said. “All in all, a very healthy environment.”

Freight tonnage is at record levels, driven by multiple industries and e-commerce activity, he added. And crude oil prices above $60 per barrel are making a difference of their own, especially for Peterbilt, which is a strong player in the oil-field market.

“We started to see a little bit of strength last year,” Quinn said, referring to oilfield-related investments. “We’ve seen strength return in the Canadian oil patch, the Midwest oil patch, and even some in Pennsylvania.” It has led smaller oil service fleets to begin adding trucks as they prepare for idled production to return. “Anything north of $60 per barrel is healthy,” he said of the economic conditions that drive truck sales. “Many of our energy customers are getting ready for growth, but some of that growth has already arrived.”

Peterbilt General Manager Kyle Quinn outlines why the truck maker is optimistic about a strong year in truck sales. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

Peterbilt General Manager Kyle Quinn outlines why the truck maker is optimistic about a strong year in truck sales. Photo: Deborah Lockridge

Growing fleet, vocational, refuse business

The new Model 579 UltraLoft will help Peterbilt continue to grow its business with larger fleets, said Robert Woodall, assistant general manager of sales and marketing.

“This fully integral cab really closes a gap that we had in our product lineup, and it’s going to provide access to new customers that demand the spaciousness of the UltraLoft product.”

The company has been working over the last several years to grow its large fleet business, while at the same time continuing to serve its traditional core audience of owner-operator, small fleet and vocational customers.

The fuel efficiency of the Model 579 Epiq fuel-economy package, Woodall noted, especially combined with Paccar’s new integrated powertrain, means Peterbilts are the most fuel-efficient trucks in some customers’ fleets. “That’s allowed us to grow with larger fleets,” Woodall said, such as FedEx, Cowan, R&L and Central Transport. “Those are fleets that four years ago we didn’t sell.”

In the on-highway marketplace, Paccar’s integrated powertrain, completed with the introduction of the 12-speed Paccar Automated Transmission last year, is also a strong force, officials said. Paccar MX engines are now found in 43% of the new trucks that roll off the Peterbilt assembly line.

“We’ve seen steady growth of adoption through 2017, and we expect that momentum to continue to grow this year,” he said of the proprietary powertrain.

In addition, the vocational market is very strong, Woodall said. “The mixer business has grown tremendously over the past 12 to 15 months, and that’s continuing,” with strong housing starts and other investment. “Unfortunately natural disasters create demand as well, so there’s lots of activity in Texas and Florida, which has pushed demand for dump trucks, flatbeds, that type of equipment.”

The Model 520 refuse truck is also coming on very strong. “We’ve made significant investment in that product over the last two years and that’s why we’re able to grow in the low-cab-forward business.” It competes against Mack and Autocar in that market, he said, and has earned a number two market share spot. “Our goal is to take over the number one spot in 2018.”

And of course Peterbilt is still very popular with owner-operators, drivers and small fleets. Officials announced they will once again exhibit at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, next month. There they will have a presence specifically geared toward owner-operators and "brand enthusiasts," and will announce the SuperFan winner of its recently produced 1 millionth truck.

Peterbilt believes the newly announced Model 579 UltraLoft will help it win additional on-highway fleet business. Photo: Peterbilt

Peterbilt believes the newly announced Model 579 UltraLoft will help it win additional on-highway fleet business. Photo: Peterbilt

ADAS: Moving toward autonomous trucks

Peterbilt also showed reporters a video highlighting advanced driver assistance systems it’s working on, including traffic jam stop-and-go technology, lanekeeping assist, auto-docking, platooning and even autonomous trucks.

It’s emphasizing an open partnership approach to development of these technologies, and opened an innovation center in Silicon Valley to help enable that process.

Some of the things it’s working on:

  • Traffic jam assist. This is something Peterbilt says we’ll see in the near future, even this year. This essentially combines adaptive cruise control and emergency automatic braking for use in stop-and-go traffic situations. “What that does is at very low speeds, in heavy traffic, it can control the acceleration and braking, and can bring the truck to a complete stop if needed” – and then accelerate as the traffic ahead moves, explained Peterbilt Chief Engineer Scott Newhouse. “You’d be amazed at how wonderful that feature is in a traffic jam.”
  • Lane-keeping assist. This one’s probably about another year after the traffic jam assist. Peterbilt is working with several partners to evaluate torque overlay steering – electronic steering that takes some of the load off the driver, especially in slow maneuvering. You can literally turn the wheel with one finger. And in highway situations, it helps keep the truck in the lane without the driver having to make the constant small corrections that are part of a trucker’s everyday job.
  • Autodocking. While Peterbilt did not elaborate on this particular technology, we know companies such as Eaton and ZF are working on such systems, which would back a trailer up to a dock automatically.
  • Platooning, in partnership with Peloton. “Their intention is to begin the process of commercializing that solution this year,” Quinn said. “But it’s really going to come down to, do the initial fleets trying to prove that out for them see the benefit. And I think that’s important about all of these ADAS solutions – is it has to provide a solid benefit for the customer, whether it’s in fuel economy or improved safety.”

All these things can be stepping stones toward autonomous vehicles. How soon will that be? Quinn said, “My particular perspective is, it’ll be a while. It’s hard to define ‘a while.’ But I do think there’s a tremendous opportunity in the near term to dramatically improve the safety of vehicles and reduce the burden on drivers.

“There are a lot of tech companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere working on level 4 autonomous, which means the driver can disengage in certain use cases like on highway,” Quinn said. “Those have a lot of promise, but they’re still out there a ways. I think one of the main things that’s going to stand in front of that is regulation. My belief is we’ll see something very similar to aerospace, a kind of autopilot with the driver watching.”

Newhouse agreed that “the timing will be decided by regulation, by when the customer needs it. Our focus is to make sure it’s right when they’re ready for it.”

Originally posted on Trucking Info

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