CHARLESTON, S.C. The head of Mack Trucks regards the state of the heavy-duty truck market as solid. “Everyone in the industry has succeeded in bringing inventory down to safe levels,” Dennis Slagle, president of Mack Trucks and Volvo Group executive vice president, said at a May 18 media briefing here.
“[Class 8] inventory industry-wide is now at a level that we can look forward to factories building for demand,” he continued. Slagle said the upshot is that this year Mack is forecasting North American truck sales of 215,000 units.
While he allowed that would be down from last year’s total of 243,000, he said it reflects “the industry looking to adjust to true market conditions.” What's more, he said that "the underlying demand is healthier now than what we saw last year, so we see the market leaving 2017 in a stronger way.”
Along with the inventory correction, Slagle said he’s pinning hope on President Trump holding true to his promise to foster policies favored by business interests. “We think, like everyone else, that the business-friendly environment of the Trump Administration— if he will get through the mismanagement he’s done of the bureaucracy— could be helpful [to trucking], such as with infrastructure [spending] and reducing regulations.”
Slagle also hit on the importance of boosting customer uptime for the OEM. “Our greater focus will continue on the service side of the business,” he said, noting that when he entered the truck side of the business, coming from Volvo Construction Equipment, he was “surprised we were not talking as much about service as other things, such as fuel economy.”
He said Mack has in recent years “taken steps to really help customers manage and increase uptime,” including working “to harvest opportunities not just with the trucks we sell now, but also over the complete lifecycle of trucks, including reman activities and for used trucks through our ownership of Arrow Truck Sales.”
Remarking on the GHG rules promulgated by the EPA as well as those put forth by the European Union, Slagle said it will be “very challenging” to implement the stricter standards globally. “Make no mistake,” he said, “this is costing a lot of money and the end user must embrace it as well.”
Slagle also noted that interest in LNG power is drying up while demand for CNG-fueled trucks remains “pretty steady.” He added that “diesel is going to be with us for a while.”
“Strong tail winds are driving the market and Mack,” said Jonathan Randall, senior vice president of sales. He reported that in 2016, Mack grew share in each of its on-highway and vocational market segments.
Those boosts amounted to a total gain on about one percentage point, which Randall said “by all accounts has Mack on a roll.” And he said the OEM sees “the same trends we experienced last year occurring this year,” which will help drive growth.
Randall gave a very slight sneak preview, advising that later this year Mack will reveal “something that will help us” in the on-highway market. He added that the company remains committed to maintaining its strong position in vocational sales as well as growing its business with regional fleets.
John Walsh, vice president of global marketing and brand management, noted that the driver shortage remains a critical factor holding back the over-the-road industry. “We hear all the time that ‘We’d but more trucks if we had more drivers.'"