The 2016 Mid-America Trucking Show‘s loss of all Class 8 truck manufacturers as exhibitors is “a blow” but “we’ll just have to weather the storm,” said Toby Young, who heads Exhibit Management Associates, the annual event’s owner.
Yesterday, Peterbilt Motors became the final Class 8 original equipment manufacturer to say that it will skip next year’s MATS. The announced change from many years of annual participation was begun in May by Daimler Trucks North America, which said it would begin alternating between the IAA Commercial Truck Show in Hannover, Germany, and MATS in Louisville. Volvo, Navistar and Mack followed suit throughout the summer, and this week Kenworth and Peterbilt joined the 2016 desertion.
“It’s very unfortunate, both for the show and the industry,” said Young. “We still hope they [the original equipment manufacturers] will still participate, perhaps at the dealer level, to continue their brands in some way.
“It’s so important not just for the show and the industry, but for the OEs," he continued. "They can’t connect with their customers and their suppliers, there won’t be any new models on display, and we’re not going to be able to get together as an [entire] industry."
He said there’ll probably be other desertions.
“There’ll be a few suppliers that will pull out because of the OEs not being there, but they’re not being as public as the OEs have been in announcing it,” Young said.
The OEMs were only six of the 1,062 exhibitors at the 2015 show in March. But the heavy-truck builders rented large amounts of space and had a big impact beyond that. Many in the industry attended MATS to see the latest heavy-truck products and talk with factory representatives.
“That’s what we’ll miss, a strong draw for the attendance,” Young lamented.
Also, the moves were revealed on rather short notice, and Exhibit Management Associates has a long-term contract for use of the Kentucky Expo Center.
“Long before we heard about the OEs’ decision, we booked the entire facility,” he said. “That’s what you have to do to secure it all,” including the parking on the expo center grounds and blocks of hotel rooms.
“That’s what’s kinda tough to swallow,” he said. “It doesn’t give us enough time to make adjustments. But we’ll adapt.”
Over 750 companies have applied to be part of the 2016 show so far, and more will almost certainly follow. With more inside space available, many exhibitors that have been waiting for better “real estate,” including those relegated to space outside, might be able to get inside at the next show, scheduled for March 31 to April 2, 2016.
“There’s a silver lining in this, and it’s that they still believe in the show,” Young said of the OEMs, which have all stated that they’ll return the following year. “They want to be here in 2017, and I think they’ll be assessing the damage by not being here in 2016.”
Young said his organization is not considering following the OEMs and changing MATS to a semi-annual schedule because “there are too many companies that depend on it being on an annual basis.” They range from truck, trailer and major-component builders to fleet driver recruiters to sellers of boots and belt buckles.
Toby Young’s father, Paul Young, founded the show in 1972 as a small regional event in an airplane hanger at nearby Sanderson Field. At that time, the North American industry’s largest gathering was the International Trucking Show in California, which was expensive for most suppliers based in central states to travel and ship exhibits to, and hotel costs were high.
The Young family capitalized on Louisville’s closer location and, when MATS had moved to the Kentucky Expo Center, pointed out its abundant and easy-to-get-to parking for tractor-trailers, lower exhibit fees and more reasonable rates for hotel rooms. By the early '90s MATS had eclipsed ITS, which thereafter withered.
Most of the Louisville advantages are still there, and observers think the show will remain popular with most exhibitors and therefore remain a large show. How much smaller it will be in the off years, when the truck OEMs aren’t there, remains to be seen.