The State of Trucking - Whale Watching
Battle Lines Are Drawn
I know you Texans would like to think so, but I am not talking about you here. It's the season of speeches. Every mayor, governor, president, or car company executive with a microphone and teleprompter is telling us the state of his city, state, country, or company. Often they don't say anything substantial in those speeches, but analysts follow anyway to tell us what they said.
Now it's my turn to talk about the state of consumer truckers and their vehicles. Dan Akerson has cemented his albeit short legacy at GM by getting Mary Barra in as the next CEO. Not only does this break any glass ceiling near the RenCen (note that Truck Trend has successfully been run by a woman for years), it puts a product person in charge. The last time a product guy ran GM, its 4WD 1500 pickup was in its first generation with IFS. Now the company will be run by motorheads: Barra (CEO), finance mastermind and Nordschleife-certified Dan Amman (president), and Tim Solso (non-exec chairman), who doubled Cummins' sales in the dozen years he ran it. This is good for GM, as this trio has a big task ahead.
Vans are back big time. Custom vans were far out in the '70s and potentially more useful and economical than a light-duty pickup. And, yeah, I did just refer to a big, empty metal box as cool. A 400-hp NV? And EcoBoosted Transit Connect? Use your imagination.
Smaller pickups (no longer compact) are back with the Colorado/Canyon duo and a new Ridgeline a year later. GM appears first to gamble that the market went away only because no one invested in small trucks as much as they did in full-sizes, not because people really believed you could drive a full-size without using any more gas.
Pricey luxury 'utes -- think Britons Bentley and Jaguar and Italians Lamborghini and Maserati -- will generate lots of coverage for their excess, perhaps gain their builders some mileage credits, and load up auto-makers' bank accounts to offset engineering and production costs for the cars we like: F-Type, Ghibli, LP-610, 911 GT2RS, and so on.
In local news, a DUI driver crashed and killed an unbelted passenger in his own car and got four years in jail, while another driver texting when she killed a pedestrian in a crosswalk -- and who immediately texted that she thought she just killed someone -- got a misdemeanor slap on the wrist. Both are bad behavior resulting in death, so why the discrepancy in keeping them off the road?
If you don't already, you will know somebody involved in a distracted-driving accident. While safety experts debate the definition of distracted driving, the bad habits will likely continue to kill 10 teenagers a day and contribute to more than a million accidents a year. Manufacturers are stuck in the middle, providing features customers want (really, a safe, fun ride is good with me) without upsetting government regulators and their political contributors. How about a driving test that includes car control and the ability to simultaneously text and drive? No pass, no license. Some of these people will always be distracted, so who says we need to let them drive?
All that distracted-driving data caused the National Transportation Safety Board to propose a nationwide ban on driving while calling/texting/surfing a couple of years ago. Don't hold your breath for that: NTSB also recommended seatbelts on passenger coaches (not school buses) in 1968. Nearly 50 years later, three-point belts will be required on new coaches beginning in 2016, unless the rule is revised or delayed.
Battle lines are drawn with GM and Ford introducing revamped HD pickups in the same year, while Ford's "aluminum" F-150 faces off with the Colorado in light-duty, and new vans join established players and recent additions to duke it out for "of the year" voters. This should ensure no one vehicle captures all the "of the year" awards because it was the only really new one. The entry-luxe crossover skirmish also promises to be a good one, and to keep things interesting, expect a Tesla crossover. Will it be the first company to have built just three models and garner two Motor Trend "of the Year" awards?
My advice is to enjoy 2014 before fuel costs go up again, and, for enthusiasts in high school, invest in a technical trade school or engineering degree. These new trucks aren't going to design, build, and service themselves -- and GM's new CEO began on the factory floor.