Looking back on 2017, Rusty Rush sees a year of broad-based, consistent growth. And the chairman and CEO of Rush Truck Sales, says he’s mildly surprised by that result.
Speaking to a group of journalists ahead of the 2017 Rush Technician Rodeo in San Antonio, on Dec. 12, Rush noted that overall Class 8 sales are projected to wrap up at around 197,000 units for the year, which he says is an uptick of 25-30% from initial projections. “We’ve seen excellent numbers from our perspective,” Rush said. “That includes International, Peterbilt, Isuzu, and Hino. So I feel good about where we’ve been, and as good as it’s possible for me to feel in December. All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic looking ahead into next year.”
Looking at overall industry trends today, Rush said he firmly believes electric trucks are coming, and that electronic logging devices will be a technology enabler for the industry as well.
“I think we will see electric trucks, but they’re going to be more on the medium-duty and P&D side of the business,” Rush said. “I think we’re still 2 or 3 years away from seeing them in substantial numbers. And we’re probably 10 to 15 years away from seeing any significant presence in the long-haul, Class 8 markets. There will be some headwinds with electric trucks. But I think they will eventually just be a part of an OEM’s product offerings alongside diesel and natural gas units. But I think we’ll learn how to sell and service them as dealers.”
Rush is also pragmatic about ELDs noting that they will be technology and maintenance enablers when tied in with telematics and diagnostic systems. “They’re going to work their way into the system,” he said. “And it’s going to be hard for people who are used to running a little bit outside of the lines. They say they can’t survive. And we’ll see. But I don’t think we’ll see a large drop-off in carriers because they can’t compete with ELDs. We might lose 4% or so. But we’ll see.”
Mike McRoberts, Rush’s senior vice president and chief operating officer, said he thinks the widespread, forced ELD adoption will be a good thing on the maintenance front since it will give the entire U.S. truck population a common platform to enable telematics capabilities. “ELDs make diagnosing problems easier for technicians,” McRoberts noted. “They can really cut diagnostic times considerably — particularly when it comes to tracking down electronic issues on a truck.”
But the big event in San Antonio, the Rush Technician Rodeo, was never far from Rush’s thoughts during the discussion. “This is one of my favorite events of the year,” he said. “I just love it. We’ve gotten so big, that’s it’s impossible for me to reach out and touch 6,500 people. This gives me a chance to spend some time around our techs and set a culture. Because if you can start a fire, it spreads. People are attracted to success. And that’s what this event is all about.”
Still, Rush and McRoberts both said the national shortage of technicians remains a troubling issue and that Rush Truck Centers continues to work on new ways to attract and retain new young technicians. “We could hire 500 technicians right now,” McRoberts said. “We could put 50 to work in Ohio alone today. So it’s a problem. And we’re working on finding new ways to invest in our younger technicians with new programs, more training, and new ways of working — including doing more preventive maintenance work. But we find that if we can keep them for that first year, we tend to keep them for a long time. So that’s an additional focus as well.”