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Big Truck OEMs Have Been Very Busy

Big truck OEMs are expressing excitement over the prospects for future growth considering activity in last 2 years. Today, we are going to check on a few big manufacturers to gather sentiment on what we can expect from the heavy truck sector in months to come. To start, we will evaluate the battle between big names operating in the electric truck market.

Nikola Aims at the Hydrogen Truck Market

Continuing to push into new markets, Nikola Motor Company recently announced it is developing the Nikola Tre, which will be a fully electric hydrogen-powered day cab tractor. Their initial goal is to aim for high penetration in European markets. Named after the Norwegian word for “three,” the Tre will also be made available in Asia and Australia.

The company is banking on major innovations in the design to drum up customer interest. In fact, it will be the first European zero-emission commercial truck that includes options such as redundant braking, redundant steering, redundant batteries, and a redundant fuel cell. What does this mean? This is a truck that will be ready for true Level 5 autonomy, whenever that day will come. The company is expecting full-scale production to start sometime between 2022-2023.

According to the company, the Tre will come equipped with anywhere from 500 to 1,000 horsepower mated to a 6×4 or 6×2 axle configuration, with a final range of anywhere from 500 to 1,200 kilometers depending on the options selected. If the company can deliver on these numbers, it will represent a truly remarkable advance in renewable truck manufacturing.

Nikola will begin testing early versions of the vehicle in Norway around 2020 and is currently in the preliminary planning stages on figuring out where the proper location should be for a full-scale European manufacturing facility. Of course, building a vehicle is one thing, but will Nikola be able to build out the infrastructure required to make this vehicle work? Nikola has a plan to address that question as well.

Currently, the company is working with Nel Hydrogen out of Oslo, Norway to provide a solution for building out hydrogen stations in the United States market. Since European hydrogen infrastructure is already well-placed, Nikola is focusing on preparing for a successful rollout in the world’s largest heavy truck market.

Nikola plans to have more than 700 hydrogen stations across the United States and Canada by 2028. They estimate that each station will be able to handle 2,000 to 8,000 kgs of daily hydrogen production. Their European stations, which have a major head start, should come on line around 2022 and are expected to cover the entirety of the European market no later than 2030.

Nikola is boosted by a big initial order from Anheuser-Busch, who wants to integrate their vehicles into its dedicated fleet by no later than 2020. Having already made a big pre-order of the Tesla Semi, Nikola looks to also be a benefactor of the big dollars being thrown at these new initiatives.

With Nikola and Tesla moving forward with their plans for alternative fuel vehicles, legacy manufacturers aren’t just sitting on their hands. Daimler, owner of the Mercedes and Freightliner namesakes, is pushing ahead with their own plans and remains undeterred at the prospect of upstarts like Nikola and Tesla stealing their thunder.

Daimler Expresses Confidence

Daimler Trucks North America has expressed confidence in a strong North American buying economy. Even as they work at a breakneck speed to cover current demand, they are forging ahead with electric trucks, advanced safety technologies, connectivity, and other large projects.

While Daimler Truck’s North American market share slipped a but in 2018, to 38% of the market, company executives point to market challenges as the primary factors for this slip. Specifically, they point to lingering instability in the overall supply chain. As we have reported before, when a manufacturer is running at peak volume and capacity, even small bumps in the supply chain can cause big problems down the line. Fortunately, the supply chain situation has stabilized somewhat.

Some still wonder if the high truck order rate we are seeing in the market today represents “real” orders, or if those orders will suddenly disappear if the economy doesn’t continue doing well. According to figures released by DTNA and other heavy truck manufacturers, they are making inroads on preventing that scenario from happening.

As DTNA works to manage current demand, they are also pressing ahead with electronic truck initiatives. With their Freightliner eCascadias and Business Class eM2 106 trucks, DTNA is already in pre-production testing. At their recent ‘electric vehicle council’ event, fleet representatives got the chance to have hands on experiences with the new vehicles.

Doubling down on their electric vehicle bet, DTNA has also made a large investment in a North American company called Proterra, which is the largest supplier of electric bus technology on the continent. While they will likely utilize the technology gained in their bus manufacturing efforts, no doubt the underlying technologies will also undoubtedly make their way into DTNA’s electric truck manufacturing methods as well.

DTNA is banking on the fact that its electric trucks will continue looking like the trucks fleets are using today. At their electric vehicle council meeting, executives from the company expressed optimism that customers will be pleased with the fact that the new vehicles they are adopting will still be familiar to them. They want to make the transition from diesel to electric power as smooth as possible and are banking on the truck driver to drive that adoption.

Trade cycles are also important to fleets making big equipment purchases. When manufacturing vehicles according to the same standard, fleets don’t have to worry about whether adopting has a negative impact on their carefully curated trade cycles.

Volvo Trucks Remains Optimistic

There is a new CEO at Volvo Trucks North America and he has expressed confidence during an October 29 media briefing that the OEM’s market position remains strong. He reported that Volvo picked up 60,000 orders for new trucks since sales started on the latest models over a year ago. The company has also reported increasing market share as Volvo makes inroads in the long-haul market.

Specific numbers point to a two-percentage point rise in the OEM’s Class 8 market share in the U.S. In 2017 it was 8.6% and in 2018 the number has jumped to 10.5%. Market share in Canada is doing even better, with a current reading of 12.9%, up from 10.2% in 2017. With the Canadian market being such a mature market, a jump of this kind is certainly good news to the truck manufacturer.

On the flipside, Volvo has cooled a bit south of the border, where their share in Mexico dropped from 2.3% in 2017 to 2.0% this year. Still, Volvo continues to express confidence in the market, noting that between 2017 and 2019, Volvo will record a whopping 215% increase over orders over the same period in the past two-year cycle.

Volvo trucks entered the North American Market in 1981, and the company points to a robust dealer network, putting them on par with other OEMs that have been operating in the market for far longer. Volvo has also been heavily investing in manufacturing capability in the United States, with a production facility in New River Valley currently under construction.

Meanwhile, Volvo Trucks is not avoiding the electric truck game. In fact, just this year they introduced their first all-electric truck for commercial use, the Volvo FL, which will be primarily used for urban distribution and refuse operations. Sales and production will be mainly targeted towards the European market, expect to see them transition the technologies to the American market as business needs evolve.

Many may not know that Volvo Buses has been selling electronic buses since 2010, with more than 4,000 sold over the past eight years. A lot of the technologies developed in their electric bus efforts have been transitioned into use for their current e-vehicle endeavors. Volvo has also partnered with the Drive Sustainably network to ensure that the materials needed for their electric vehicles are extracted responsibly.

And if you want to see an even stranger example of Volvo innovating where electric vehicles are concerned, check out their fully autonomous, cab-less truck called the Vera. Looking more like an advanced trailer attached to a flattened car, the Vera is a truly space-age example of where the industry might be heading.

With so much movement within the OEM sector, heavy truck orders continuing to rise, and an economy continuing to do well, expect to see much more movement in the market. Who will come out on top as big manufacturers struggle for dominance? Only time will tell.

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