Just five months into 2015, Kurt Swihart, Kenworth's director of Marketing is predicting the company will have its best year since the dizzying days of 2006. That, you'll recall, was the pre-buy year when everyone want a truck before the dreaded Diesel Particulate Filter became a standard feature.
"I think that 2015 will shape up to be an excellent year for the truck industry and I think it will continue into 2016 as well," Swihart told a group of reporters at a recent editor Ride & Drive event in Chilicothe, Ohio.
Swihart said several key economic indicators point to a strong year for truck makers and their customers, with freight tonnage numbers continuing to climb to near record levels from November and December last year.
"There's a lot of business out there and many fleets are looking at expanding into new lanes, and that means additional trucks are going into service, not just replacements for existing capacity," he says. "Our order intake has been robust and we have an excellent backlog at this point."
Kenworth ended 2014 with about 40,000 trucks coming off the assembly line, giving the company 14.5% heavy-duty market share for the U.S. and Canada, and 8.5% for medium duty -- a record for Kenworth. Year-to-date heavy-duty market share is at 14.8%, even stronger than it was at the end of 2014.
"We're off to a great this year and we've got excellent momentum going into the second half of the year," Swihart says.
Much of that success comes from the popularity of the T680, introduced in 2012, and improved upon last year with the launch of the Advantage fuel economy package. Kenworth claims the Advantage configuration provided a 5% fuel economy benefit over the original T680, while the 2015 version of the mid-cab Class 8 is said to be up to 10% better than the original.
Also doing much better than anticipated is the T880 flagship vocational platform. Kenworth's Chillicothe plant manager, Judy McTigue, says orders for the T880 surpassed its predecessor, the T800, in a very short time.
"It has been surprising in a good way how quickly customers have embraced the T880," she says. "But don't get me wrong, the T800 isn't going away anytime soon. There's still plenty of life in that design and plenty of customer interest."
Kenworth ceased production of the relatively short-lived T700 in the fall of 2014, with that last 15 or so trucks off the line delivered to R&R Transport of Wisconsin.
NEW FOR 2015
Kenworth has already rolled out some new goodies for 2015, including the latest fuel efficiency updates for the T680. New to the line up this year is the Icon 900, and classic W900 with a special trim package. Swihart says orders for the truck have exceeded all expectations.
"It has been a great launch right out of the gate," he says. "There has been huge demand for the truck from customers and dealers. Everybody wants into that truck."
Swihart says many of the orders are coming from large fleets with plans to use the truck as a reward truck for their best drivers. He says being serialized as well, and that's driving interest in getting those low numbers.
"It will be a limited edition, but we haven't yet decided on what that limit will be," says Swihart. "We won't be building very many of them, and that's generating a lot of interest."
Also new for 2015 is the 76-inch Mid-Roof sleeper. It's designed for fleets running something other than a full-height van trailer. It has all the creature comforts of the taller version of the sleeper, less a foot or so in height. It's available on the T680 and T880. You can see photos of the sleeper here in out photo gallery from the Ride & Drive event.
Soon to join the MX engine lineup is something we haven't seen yet, called the MX-11. McTigue says it's expected the engine will be launched in 2016.
"The MX-11 is currently in service in Europe," she says. "There are also several of them on the road here in North America in fleet testing at the moment."
Currently MX engines represent about 40% of the Kenworth build.
Asked whether Kenworth will be present at Mid-America in 2016, Swihart was vague.
"That's certainly an interesting topic," he says. "Right now we are just focused on 2015. We still have a number of different events and trade shows that our team is fully focused on. We haven't really gotten into 2016 yet, but we will be evaluation our full range of options when the time comes."