In a world gone “flat” thanks to galloping globalization, commercial vehicle engineers will be increasingly called on to drive product success across international boundaries as manufacturers seek to best serve established and emerging regional truck markets. That was the message of panelists speaking at the SAE 2006 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress in Chicago last month.

Jack Allen, president-engine group, International Truck and Engine Corp., said the challenge for OEMs and suppliers is to determine how engineering resources can be marshaled to be effective on a global scale.

Moderator Daniel Ustian, president, chairman & CEO of Navistar International, stated that worldwide “engineering talent is needed to support region-specific customer needs.”

Regarding talk of a “global truck,” panelist Paul Vikner, president & CEO of Mack Trucks, observed that “nothing could be further from the truth. There are too many distinct truck applications around the world for that.”

What's more, Vikner pointed out that around the world there has been a big uptick in spec requirements in the last 15 years, driven by customer requirements, as well as safety advancements and the march of electronics. “In 1990, there were 34 electronic options on a Mack — in 2006, there are over 500 and counting.”

All this product innovation, Vikner continued, must be brought to market while also ensuring there are improvements made to the “quality, delivery and cost” of trucks. “There must be streamlining of truck specs [for efficiency's sake], yet there must be the correct specs for every application.”

He said the path all global truck makers are taking to succeed in the face of this dichotomy is “platform thinking,” which will make it less expensive to manufacture trucks and bring them to market faster.

Vikner made the case that since Sweden's Volvo acquired America's Mack and France's Renault truck operations, there has been “sharing of technologies and components while preserving [truck] brand distinctiveness. Global platforms meet the [efficiency] challenges, but must accommodate the needs of regional markets as well.

“The result,” he concluded,” is a more challenging environment requiring greater engineering excellence [for OEMs] to compete effectively in the future.”