Peterbilt debuted an updated line-up of medium-duty trucks earlier this year and is now claiming a market share leadership position in the North American vocational truck space. While that’s good news for Jake Montero, the OEM’s new general sales manager for vocational trucks, he notes that like other truck manufacturers around the globe, Peterbilt must navigate some unprecedented new challenges in the months to come.
At a Peterbilt vocational dealer meeting at the Gateway Canyons Resort, in Gateway, Colorado, Montero sat down with HDT for an exclusive interview on the OEM’s current state of affairs in the North American vocational market.
HDT: This is a dealer meeting. So, let’s start there. What kind of feedback are you getting from Peterbilt dealers regarding the refreshed medium-duty lineup and other vocational models?
Montero: They’re now learning how to operate in the post-COVID world that we’re moving into and learning how to adapt to it. That’s the main thing they’re telling us. But, in that space, there’s also a tremendous amount of demand for new trucks now. There was some COVID-related contraction in the market last year because of all the uncertainty in play then. Now things are accelerating in a super-strong market. If only we could producE the trucks to support it! Because supply does not match demand at the moment due to supply chain issues on the manufacturing side of things, we’re out of whack at the moment. But, sooner or later, those issues will correct themselves.
But, to your question about the upgraded medium-duty line, feedback on the new trucks has been impressive. Our dealers tell us they really like the new, wider cab that was designed specifically for this class of truck. Another thing we’re hearing is that the new trucks are opening up new opportunities for our dealers to participate in lease and rental markets in a way they’ve not been able to before. They’re very pleased about that. And from the customer side of things, the new optimized design that allows easier body installations is getting rave reviews. That whole process used to be a lot more challenging – and we’ve made that much easier for our dealers, body installers and customers.
Q: You’re also touting some impressive market share numbers in the vocational space today.
A: Yes. We’ve enjoyed leading vocational market share for the past three years in a row, now. We are No. 1 in North American vocational trucks – and that includes the refuse market. That leadership position is a testament to the products we’re building today – even our larger trucks like the Model 567. They’re well-built trucks, specifically designed for the vocational space, and I think our customers see and appreciate that. Those designs have enabled us to really leap ahead in terms of sales, and our dealers did a nice job of growing our presence in the refuse space. At the same time, the Model 567 plays really well in the mixer space – so we’re really seeing growth across the entire vocational market in all segments.
Q: The role of the driver seems to be changing dramatically these days. And your new cab designs and emphasis on safety systems seems to be directly answering these changing expectations.
A: Yes. I do think that typical, old school, truck driver is still out there. But, now, we see that our products have to evolve to the point where anyone can jump into one of our trucks and drive them. That’s why you see all of the standard safety features and driver aids like automated transmissions. Fleets are telling us they want it to be as easy as possible for them to put a new driver in a truck. And we’re responding to that in both our medium- and heavy-duty products. It’s just the way the market is evolving: We have to make our trucks as easy to drive as a passenger car. And thanks to new technologies, we’re doing that.
Q: Peterbilt now also has three distinct electric truck models for sale. Can you talk a little about how those new products are being received in the market?
A: The EV space is interesting. Peterbilt has been a leader in that space for the past five years with a number of grant-funded prototype trucks that led the way to the production models we have now. We have a very good opportunity to see trucks go into this new space with three distinct electric trucks – more than any other OEM currently offers.
We designed our electric trucks with what we call “purposeful innovation.” What that means is that we understand that electric trucks do not fit all the markets out there today. But they do fit some markets really, really well. So those are the areas we’re going to concentrate our engineering and design efforts on. We understand that there’s not a one-size-fits all approach that works for electric trucks. But we’ve done an excellent job designing products that work well in those appropriate spaces with the technology that is available today. And that technology will, of course, evolve over time and extend the range and capabilities of these trucks. But there is no question electric trucks can be successful in the right applications. The No. 1 thing we talk to our customers about is application. If the specs right, you’re going to be successful with electric trucks. But if you get the specs wrong, it’s not going to go well. So that part of the process is critical.
Q: Is there a lot of enthusiasm for EVs among your customers?
A: Yes. Most of the customers who are interested in electric trucks are vey excited about the technology and the chance they have to push this new technology into the trucking industry. They are very motivated. A lot of our big fleet customers have extremely ambitious corporate sustainability goals they have to meet – not to mention the regulatory side of things, which is only going to increase in the coming months and years. The volumes are still very small. But there’s a genuine air of excitement among these fleets to be invoiced in the early days of these new technology.
Q: With the advent of production trucks, the talk in the EV space has now turned to infrastructure issues – something that Peterbilt has been talking about for some time now.
A: Yes. Again, we’re still in the early days with electric trucks. Most fleets that are using them are investing in their own chargers and facilities to support those vehicles. We’re seen that probably the most important thing for fleets interested in electric trucks is to start building a strategy around charging the vehicles very early on in the process. That includes working with your local power company, because there’s a lot that goes into this process. You don’t just buy an electric truck and plug it into a wall outlet. It is imperative to talk charging at the very beginning of your conversations about electric trucks and understand that it takes a lot of time to get those charging facilities and infrastructure in place.
Q: Circling back to the current production problems you’re facing: What would you like to see happen to return things to a more normal state of affairs?
A: Well, every issue we’re dealing with at the moment is specifically related to the pandemic and its aftereffects. It really boils down to component shortages now. Next year, the truck market is going to be hot again. There’s still plenty of demand out there. But it will all come down to what we’re able to build based on these shortages. It’s just going to take some time for the supply chain to correct itself. And these are issues that every car and truck OEM out there just has to live with until things settle down.