Contenders for the title of best medium-duty and heavy-duty truck gathered at the St. Louis Regional Airport last week to strut their stuff to the panel of judges made up of eight magazine editors
(Photo by Tom Berg)
(Photo by Tom Berg)
, with our own Executive Editor Steve Sturgess leading the pack as chair this year. While last year panelists had to make their way to truck dealers around the country on their own for judging, this year, the American Truck Dealers, which holds the Commercial Truck of the Year contest, assembled the judges and OEMs in St. Louis in conjunction with the National Truck Equipment Association's Work Truck Show.

According to Tom Berg, a judge and truck editor with Construction Equipment, the panel wanted to make sure they could drive all the trucks on the same day and on the same streets, in order to make more direct comparisons. In addition, the East Alton, Ill., location was more centrally located for OEMs and press people alike, Sturgess said.

The Judging Process

When ATD approached Sturgess two years ago about doing the Truck of the Year competition, he decided to assemble a group of trucking industry editors from magazines covering different vocations, in order to get a more broad perspective and objective judging. Along with Construction Equipment and HDT, other publications represented include Fleet Equipment, Landline magazine, CCJ, Fleet Owner and Bobit Business Media.

Entrants are nominated by the OEMs themselves, and to be eligible, the vehicle must have been introduced or announced to the press in the calendar year prior to the contest (2009). The vehicle also has to be available to drive, even if it's a prototype, Sturgess said.

According to Sturgess, the vehicles are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. They're evaluated under three different categories, including driver-oriented, technician-oriented, and owner-oriented. For example, if the vehicle comes with a good warranty, this would go into the owner category.

To judge the nominees, the panelists with CDLs had the opportunity to ride the vehicles around the airport track to get a feel for how they drive. ATD also asked that the manufacturers bring a salesman, so to speak, to present the truck to the judges, provide a walkaround of the vehicle and answer any questions they might have, Sturgess said.

Medium-Duty Truck of the Year

Different from last year, this year's competition includes a new category for medium-duty trucks. This encompasses trucks in weight Classes 3-7. Nominees on the medium-duty side are Freightliner MZ tractor with a Cummins Westport natural gas engine; the Hino model 268; Kenworth's T370 hybrid; and the Peterbilt 337.

Entrants in the heavy-duty weight class include a Freightliner Coronado, a Kenworth T660 extended day cab, and a Peterbilt 384 sleeper cab. Last year, ATD presented the award to the International LoneStar.

"They really were all good trucks for their intended purpose," Berg said.

History of Truck of the Year

The original idea for the Truck of the Year contest came from George Grask, past chairman of ATD, said Barbara Robinson, director of ATD. In the summer of 2007, Grask traveled to Europe with a group of Peterbilt dealers. During a tour of the DAF Truck facilities, Grask noticed an award for European Truck of the Year for 2007. When he returned from his trip, he recommended ATD bring something similar to the U.S., to give American manufacturers the same prestige and pride in their products.

The competition was also a natural complement to ATD's Truck Dealer of the Year award, Robinson added. ATD's membership encompasses all manufacturers. "We hope this award gains traction," she said. A good story about new commercial trucks, "is good for all of us," Robinson said.

The final scores will be sent to John Merrifield, industry liaison to ATD and former general manager of Sterling Trucks. He'll tally the scores, and the winners will be announced during a luncheon at ATD's Convention and Expo in Kissimmee, Fla., on April 25. We'll just have to be on the edge of our seats until then.

For an overview of the award and information about nominee qualifications, click here.