A wise man once said, ‘the only constant is change’ and this applies to the cab vs conventional and Euro vs USA debate. However, when a situation lasts for quite a few years, the human mind tends to think it was always like this and forgets major changes of the past.
The heavy end of the Australian prime mover market seems to be going through such a change at the moment, with new players coming on strong and some of the older players changing strategy. A number of factors seemed to have conspired to cause a new order to be on its way and a change in emphasis for both truck buyers and sellers.
What is clear is a trend towards cabovers, as opposed to conventionals, has been going on for some time. The B-double length rules made cabover prime movers a more flexible option within a fleet. Now we seem to see a drift in the cabover market towards European cabovers and away from the traditional market leaders from North America.
Concurrent with these changes has been a, logical, new emphasis from the US based truck makers to develop conventionals which can also be used in the B-double applications which predominate. This has seen a shift back towards the North Americans, but nothing like as big a change as in the cabover segment.
Conventional trucks also seem to be benefitting from the increasing use of A-double combinations around our capital cities, as well as in rural areas. These 30 metre long combinations are pulling heavy loads, up to 85 tonnes and there is often enough room for a conventional to do the work. As this segment expands, as it surely will, the market for conventionals should strengthen.
These changes have seen the truck manufacturers shifting their positions and try to adapt to the new conditions. New opportunities are opening up for some and, for others, a change in emphasis is needed.
The question for the truck buyer is whether this is a straightforward structural change taking place, which will not revert to the past, or if this is simply the global currency market at work. Since the GFC and the dip in the value of the Australian dollar, the effect on the North Americans has been much more dramatic than on the Europeans. This has meant Europeans have been more price competitive in pure money terms.
This change has affected Freightliner, Western Star and Cat, who import direct from the US. However, even though Kenworth trucks are made in Australia, the number of components are of US-sourced composition, making them currency sensitive.
As the popularity of European cabovers has grown in recent years it has appeared to be more than just a currency blip. Volvo and Scania have increased market share, while Western Star, and to a lesser extent Freightliner, seem to have slipped in the ratings. What can’t be said, for certain, is what the reason for these changes has been.
However, there have been changes and three new releases this year reflect the new truck sales landscape we are looking at. Two of the European truck manufacturers, who have had consistently low market share in recent years, are looking to jump on the bandwagon, with new product which is much more precisely targeted at the Australian truck buyer.
From Mercedes Benz, the new Actros could well be a game changer. It is a truck which is at the leading edge of technology and the long evaluation period over the past two years means it is Australia-ready.
The new MAN TGX D38 is a first for the other German manufacturer, the 15 litre engine gives MAN product a new dimension and, spec for spec, this is a very competitive product. This is the opportunity for Penske Commercial Vehicles to get some real traction, in a market segment in which they have struggled to import trucks with specifications which directly match the needs of Aussie trucking.
From the other side of the ledger, we have the dominant player in heavy duty stretching its muscles and introducing a new model. The Kenworth T610 is both a revolution and an evolution, it sees the truck maker heading down a new track with a new truck, but one developed in the traditional Kenworth way.
With this new conventional, Kenworth have achieved their aim of creating a truck which will appeal to the heart of the Australian truckie, while also ticking all of the boxes, around safety, efficiency and integrated driveline, which the trucking business owner is looking for.
The dominant flagship for Kenworth in the past, has been the K 200. At certain times it has represented over 50 per cent of all cabover sales in heavy duty. With the introduction of the T610, there is now a high power range of conventional capable of pulling a 26 metre B-double with no dimension issues, from the top selling truck maker in the country.
As usual, Kenworth have probably got both bases covered. If the drift to cabovers continues, the K 200 is going to remain around the top of the list. If the market sees the new range of conventional as a viable alternative, the new T610 will fit the bill. 2017 is expected to be a relatively flat year, in terms of truck sales, but if the figures begin to change, we can expect confirmation of any new trends in the expected growth in 2018.