New options, e-commerce initiatives also unveiled

Despite a nearly 50% rise in fuel prices from last year, insurance rates climbing 10% to 20%, and a continuing driver shortage, 2000 will be a good - not great - year for truck sales, said Nick Panza, general manager for Peterbilt Motors.

"The economy is still growing," Panza said at the Mid-America Trucking Show. "Housing starts are predicted to top last year's record of 1.6 million. That means more construction and more need for construction vehicles. Core inflation remains low and demand for freight services remains high.

"Freight demand is predicted to grow between 4% and 5% this year. There will be greater use of medium-duty vehicles to meet the need of suburban shippers and e-commerce companies for vehicles to fit in tight areas," he added.

New models, features Peterbilt's new Class 6 model, the 330, is designed to take advantage of this trend. The 26,000-lb. conventional is intended for general freight, P&D, and retail distribution operations.

The 330 sports an all-aluminum chassis, a selection of Cummins and Caterpillar engines ranging from 225 to 300 hp., and either automatic or manual transmission. Production is slated to begin in the third quarter.

Peterbilt also unveiled a range of enhancements to the Class 7 Model 330, including a crew-cab option and choice of 6-, 7-, or 10-speed Eaton Fuller AutoShift transmissions.

Other new Peterbilt models are rolling off the line this spring as well, including the medium-duty COE Model 270, the long-length BBC Model 387, and the new Unibilt premium sleepers and ergonomically designed dash for the Model 379.

Internet initiatives Peterbilt made e-commerce announcements in addition to equipment introductions in Louisville. The e-commerce initiatives are designed to improve communication throughout the truck market B2B relationship chain, noted Panza, as he introduced eBilt, a new computerized truck "configurator" that will be available to Peterbilt sales representatives later this year, and a variety of new Web site features.

EBilt is a Windows-based software platform designed to greatly enhance the process of specifying a truck. Among other features, it will offer users "standard" application-specific specs as a starting point from which to further customize vehicles.

Peterbilt Web site enhancements include a virtual store for Peterbilt merchandise, an interactive virtual truck tour of the Model 387, and links to a number of key sites.

A number of new programs with Park 'n View (PNV) were also introduced, including the ability to establish wireless communications with PNV's system once drivers are within half a mile of a PNV installation in a travel plaza.

Panza noted that its e-commerce initiatives were made possible in part by the recent formation of two new divisions by parent PACCAR Inc. -paccar.com and e-PACCAR.

Paccar.com is an investment vehicle, created to fund and participate in a variety of Internet and e-commerce businesses. By contrast, e-PACCAR was developed to consolidate and focus the entire company's e-commerce strategy, he explained.