Opinions have always been divided on whether a truck manufacturer derives more benefit from focussing on one market segment – most obviously heavy-duty – or by offering a spread of models across the weight spectrum. It is sometimes asserted that an “all weights” strategy is an effective insurance policy, enabling a downturn in demand in one market segment to be balanced by stronger sales in other weight categories. Dealers are often the keenest advocates of such a policy, being all too aware of the cyclical nature of the market, characterized typically at the start of an economic downturn by a more abrupt fall-off in sales of heavy-duty chassis than of lighter models.
In Europe, of all today’s players in the heavy truck market only Scania has resisted the temptation to move downrange. Its undoubted strength as a premium brand has enabled it, through the transport industry recession of the last two years, to resist more strongly than any of its rivals, the squeeze on prices. Scania’s refusal to get embroiled in discount battles with competitors is widely acknowledged. That same self-confidence has, to date, also justified Scania’s long-standing philosophy of concentrating solely on the heavy market.
In Europe, of all today’s players in the heavy truck market only Scania has resisted the temptation to move downrange.
Across the Atlantic, there is arguably no equivalent of Scania among the major players. In the last decade even Paccar has softened its previous focus on the class 8 segment. Its Kenworth and Peterbilt dealers now offer their customers lighter, class 6/7, chassis mainly for short-haul distribution work. They include a number of cab-over models imported from Paccar’s European DAF subsidiary.
Assembled in the UK and powered by Cummins ISB engines, they are rebadged versions of the highly successful DAF LF range. Significantly, in the present context, the LF cab is manufactured at Blainville in northern France under a joint venture originally established by DAF and Renault Trucks, long before Volvo gained control of the latter business.
An intriguing possibility now arises with the recent news that, following a similar announcement from rival Navistar, Volvo’s North American subsidiary Mack Trucks is looking closely at the class 5 and 7 truck market categories, with a view to extending its model line-up downrange. Should the plan get the green light, it is highly likely, given the current constraints on all-new truck investment, that the Volvo Group decision makers in Sweden would favour a similar strategy to Paccar’s, that is by bringing in “cruiserweight” trucks from Europe, suitably adapted to meet US legislation.
An intriguing possibility now arises with the recent news that, following a similar announcement from rival Navistar, Volvo’s North American subsidiary Mack Trucks is looking closely at the class 5 and 7 truck market categories.
Why is the possibility intriguing? Because the relevant Volvo FE/FL and Renault Midlum models feature the very same visually distinctive Blainville-sourced cab as those similarly imported class 6/7 Kenworths and Peterbilts, with which they would be in head-on competition.
Any such Volvo Group plan is however unlikely to be implemented until after the introduction, scheduled for next year, of some all-new mid-range engines, being developed entirely in-house. They will replace the present 4.8- and 7.2-litre diesels in the FE, FL and Midlum chassis, which are outsourced from Deutz in Germany. Mack and possibly also VTNA (Volvo Trucks North America) would want to avoid the parts and service complications of an engine range which was shortly to be discontinued.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.