The Germans pronounce it “Eee Ah Ah,” in case you wondering. Held in Hannover, Germany, every other year, it’s massive, just the way Europeans like their trade shows with hall after hall filled with the last technology, visionaries, OEMs, and suppliers. And it’s also an excellent way to take the measure of an industry poised confidently on the brink of great change, and gain insight into where we’re headed in the near future.
Trade shows often have official themes that their creators dream up in hopes of creating a buzz, spurring interest, and diving up attendance. But a really good show often generates a vibe or a theme all its own. And that seemed to be the case during the four days I spent wandering around IAA, sweating through my suits, and cursing the stupidity of my decision not to go spend some money on a better pair of dress shoes. But, nonetheless, through the cloying heat, the endless mugs of beer, pretzels, wurst, and walking, two strong themes emerged on their own that are going to affect the North American trucking industry significantly very soon.
Hall 12 was where you found the Volkswagen Group, and it was a bustling hive of sweaty activity from start to finish. In fact, VW kicked off the show on Tuesday night with a “Housewarming Reception” for the newest company created from its global Bus and Truck Group — the all-new, chomping-at-the-bit Traton Group, which showcased its already impressive portfolio of global business units and partners, including brand-new alliances with Hino, Brazil’s Rio truck brand, and China’s Howow. North America was represented by a bright red International LT tractor, which looked strikingly out of place in the company of MAN and Scania cabovers — many of which were showcasing advanced hybrid-electric or hydrogen fuel-cell technologies in their own right.
Traton Group CEO Andreas Renschler hosted various CEOs from around the globe on stage with him in an event that was clearly intended to send a strong signal to the global trucking industry: We are here. We are growing quickly. And if we are not already selling products in your corner of the world, rest assured that we soon will be.
It was a message intended for customers, competitors, suppliers, and potential investors as Traton gears up for an initial public offering sometime in the “near future,” and it seems clear that the company’s directors have looked at the dizzying array of partnerships and alliances among truck makers around the globe, as well as how its main competitors, Daimler and Volvo, have leveraged this environment to achieve stunning successes on the global stage and decided, “Hey. We can do that, too.”
The implications of this push could not be clearer — in the near future, trucking will have a brand-new, heavily monetized player on the scene, taking advantage of the innovations and inspirations of engineers and designers in well-established business divisions around the world. It seems almost certain that this influx of new technology, new ideas, and new players into the global trucking markets will boost competition, drive new technologies, and create disruption in its own right all over the world — including in North America.
For once, all the talk about autonomous vehicles that has dominated trucking industry trade shows and gatherings for the past several years took a back seat to a concurrently emerging technology — electrification, which has clearly moved on from the R&D phase and is now fueled up, primed, and siting on the launch pad ready to blast off.
Every single OEM and Tier 1 powertrain supplier I visited at the show, from Dana to Eaton to Meritor to Cummins has an array of electric truck-optimized components and systems either in production or in a final, pre-production design and validation phase. And the buzz around these new products definitely drowned out the usual talk about automated vehicles for a change.
Scoff and sneer all you like, but it seems almost certain that 2019 will be a seminal year for the advent of electric trucks and buses on a global scale and this technology is unlikely to be a flash in the pan given the massive amount of interest — and money — flowing in from China alone. The Chinese today are the lead dog in electric trucks and buses, with the Europeans close on their tails. North America isn’t quite taking this race seriously at the moment, but given the wide array of components and technology on display and the scale production for them lying just over the horizon, it seems sure we’ll see electric trucks working hard to earn their keep on this side of the Atlantic soon.
On the whole, IAA 2018 was vibrant and brimming with, well, electricity, at the new products, companies and technologies set to test the waters in the coming 12 to 24 months. The trucking industry has been promising change for quite some time. IAA this year made it clear that those promises are about to start being delivered.