It’s ironic that the cabover truck is in high demand almost everywhere in the world—it’s a configuration that’s practically the de facto global standard where commercial vehicles are concerned—yet it is nearly an afterthought here in the U.S. Despite its global dominance, can the cabover truck ever hope to break out of its niche in this very major truck market?
UD Trucks North America (UDNA), a subsidiary of Sweden’sGroup, for one, no longer sees much of a future for the cabover design here. Thus, it announced back in September that it would stop production of cabover medium-duty trucks in Japan aimed for the North American market by the end of this month.
And this wasn’t a “short-timers” move either. UD’s decision came just two years after its North American division celebrated its 25th anniversary serving the U.S. market.
Yet cessation of cabover production for North America should not affect the global cabover sales of UDNA’s parent company, UD Trucks, which is being more strongly aligned with Volvo products in overseas markets, the most recent being South Africa.
So why leave? For starters, the U.S. market is very crowded with Japanese medium-duty cabover manufacturers, i.e., Hino Motors (a division of Toyota), Mitsubishi Fuso, Isuzu Commercial Truck of America Inc., and domestic builder Paccar, which just got back into the cabover game via new models produced by itsTruck and Motors divisions.
“The Japanese OEMs in particular have saturated the market,” says Steve Tam, vice president-commercial vehicle sector for ACT Research Co. Secondly, and much more importantly, the medium-duty segment is a small slice of the overall U.S. truck market. Some are predicting this market will decline going forward as the renewed growth of major metropolitan centers in this country will demand light-duty equipment that is more adept at navigating crowded urban roads.
“The main reference point for cabovers is the smaller Class 4-5 segment; we see more of the cabover play in that part of the medium-duty market if you will,” notes Jonathan Starks, director of transportation analysis for FTR Associates. “Right now, looking out five to 10 years, we really don’t see any major play towards increasing cabover use in that segment.There’s definitely nothing near term we see moving the needle more in the cabover direction.”
But the gradual falloff in medium-duty demand in the U.S. isn’t being replicated in other nations, explains Sandeep Kar, global director of commercial vehicle research for Frost & Sullivan. UDNA’s exit from the U.S. market may be part of a strategy by its parent to “reposition” factory capacity to serve markets closer to its home base in Japan, particularly Indonesia.
“We’re predicting the medium-duty market in Indonesia alone is going to [more than] double over the next six years, from 280,000 units this year to 670,000 units by 2018,” Kar says. “Those kinds of volumes far and away dominate anything UD could hope to achieve in the U.S.”
Yet it’s also important to remember that being a niche player in the U.S. isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either.