Although seemingly slow to get up to speed, the inevitable economic recovery is beginning to provide growth opportunities for commercial trucks used in the construction industry. Typically split into public, private residential and private nonresidential segments, these markets make extensive use of purposely designed truck models.

Steve Latin-Kasper, market data and research director at the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA), recently commented in an Application Market Analysis on the outlook for the construction industry. “While all three sectors have a mediocre forecast for 2011,” he said, “their outlooks are not completely identical. Expectations for public sector spending on construction are better for 2011 than 2010 since the economy is growing and higher tax revenues will be generated; however, many states and municipal governments are still dealing with deficits. As a result, spending on trucks will be well below normal this year.

“Further segmentation of the public sector component of the construction market shows that some state and local expenditures have more to do with trucks than others,” Latin-Kasper continued. “Big infrastructure projects obviously make more use of construction vehicles than other types of state and municipal ventures.”

Although the forecast for the private sector of the construction market is viewed in a more positive light, Latin-Kasper noted, he does not expect the construction market to see big increases in truck sales in 2011. “Construction truck spending in 2011 must also account for the average age of trucks in state/municipal/private contractor fleets and the number of miles on the trucks in those fleets,” he said.

“Most fleets have allowed the average age of their trucks to increase significantly in the past three years,” Latin-Kasper added. “However, also due to the recession, those old trucks are low mileage vehicles. As such, fleet managers will be debating whether to replace the trucks because they're older than preferred, or whether they should continue using them until they accumulate the mileage they were originally intended to reach.”

The bottom line for Latin-Kasper is that spending in all construction segments is expected to be flat this year. “The construction industry will buy a lot of trucks in 2011,” he said, “just not a lot more or a lot less than in 2010.”

In general, manufacturers of construction trucks agree with this analysis but remain optimistic about the future.

“Like other segments of the trucking industry,” says Gary Blood, Caterpillar vocational truck product manager, “customers have delayed purchases due to economic conditions and concerns over 2010 engine emissions technology. Therefore, at some point existing trucks will need to be replaced. If you look at Class 8 truck sales over the past few months, it appears this is starting to happen.”

Navistar is optimistic about growth in the construction market. “We forecast that the construction economy will increase over the next three years,” says Melissa Gauger, vocational marketing manager. “But certain markets like residential housing will continue to experience challenges.”

Curtis Dorwart, vocational products marketing manager at Mack Trucks, notes that while most of the construction market remains relatively flat, there is some interest in specialty applications. “We've also seen a trend toward the lower end of the Class 8 GVW rating,” he adds. “With weakness in the construction market and rising diesel prices, companies are focusing on fuel efficiency and looking at how much truck they need or, in some cases, can afford.”

The construction market has clearly been depressed for quite some time, Kevin Howard, marketing segment manager at Western Star Trucks Sales, points out, and it has changed substantially during this decline. “The average age of trucks rose during this time so truck purchases should increase as maintenance costs become unfavorable,” he says.

“Many areas are showing signs of recovery,” adds Charles Cook, product marketing manager at Peterbilt Motors. “While home construction is expected to provide some growth, we believe infrastructure will provide the majority of the expansion over the next three to five years. Repairing or replacing structures from the Interstate Highway System to local roads, and pipelines carrying energy, water and waste, will provide significant opportunities.”

The construction market is comprised of a wide variety of niche applications, Frank Bio, Volvo Trucks product manager-trucks, explains. “Our focus has been on expanding and refining current product offerings to better serve customers in these various areas.”

OPTIMIZATION

Truck OEMs, in fact, all point to several key and some new features of their construction truck models. Many designs, for example, are offered with set-back front axles to optimize payload potential and maneuverability on job sites, as well as front and rear power take-off (PTO) options to meet application requirements. There are also set-forward steer axle offerings and a variety of frame extensions for front-mounted equipment, and many newer models have hoods designed to provide an increase in cooling system size without having to raise the cab.

Manufacturers serving the construction truck market work closely with body builders to develop solutions that minimize installation time. “We met with various body and equipment suppliers to understand the pain points they have when integrating body and chassis,” says Caterpillar's Blood. “We see this as a critical element in the process. The more we can collaborate with these companies, the better the result for the user. We can drive out unnecessary costs or provide customers more value-added features for the same amount of money.

“Another key reason to work closely with these companies is because of the impact emissions regulations have had on chassis design,” Blood continues. “Truck manufacturers have had to alter exhaust configurations and provide other emissions-related components. Without close collaboration, the body supplier can have a real surprise when a truck shows up and it's built like nothing they've seen before.”

“As a manufacturer, it is important that our trucks are easy to upfit,” says Western Star's Howard. “For example, our 4700 model features a wiring raceway that leads to a bolt-in plate in the cab floor that is dedicated to wiring in the upfit process. A clean back of cab is also important to body builders so trucks are packaged to allow for maximum space on the frame rails for body builders to install equipment.”

Peterbilt works closely with a number of body builders, Cook notes, not only in the development of products but also to make the integration of bodies as smooth as possible. “We want to ensure we maximize efficiencies for the body companies, minimize cost for our customer and get the trucks in the field as quickly as possible,” he says.

Navistar also understands the value of vehicle and body integration. “Not only does it make the body installation process easier,” says Gauger, “but it delivers a better, more reliable finished product to the end-user. One of the features that we developed to make body installation easier, for example, is our Diamond Logic multiplexed electrical system that reduces body installation time.”

Mack Trucks works with builders providing bodies, and continually looks for ways to better integrate the truck and body, says Dorwart. “Our vocational trucks now feature BodyLink III, which we designed with extensive input from body builders,” he says. “The new system provides an under-cab 29-pin connector, a cab pass-through boot for a quick body hookup and assignable in-cab switches.”

SIMPLIFICATION

Introduced this year by Freightliner, two new severe-duty (SD) truck models for Class 7 and 8 operations feature mid-chassis packaging for heavy applications such as dumps, cranes, roll-offs, and mixers.

“That provides flexibility to specify clear frame rail and clean back of cab configurations,” says Rich Shearing, director of product strategy. “The SD family also incorporates SmartPlex, a multiplex electrical system that simplifies chassis to body electrical integration and provides a large number of switches and lamps that are configurable by equipment and body manufacturers.”

Kenworth Truck Co. has been expanding its construction truck line in the past year to cover a broader range of applications, notes Alan Fennimore, vocational marketing manager. The lineup, he added, is designed to address the needs of vocational customers, who are often focused on durability and performance in challenging applications.

It is especially useful when body manufacturers are involved in the vehicle definition and ordering process. As Kenworth notes in its Body Builder Manual, the company often provides valuable information that may help reduce the cost of installation. The manual features detailed information on vehicle dimensions; ride heights; suspension layouts; ground and PTO clearances; frame layouts, exhaust and aftertreatment; and electrical systems.

NEW TO MARKET

Looking ahead to a more robust market for construction trucks, OEMs are offering a range of models, including some new vehicles designed specifically for construction applications.

Caterpillar has launched the CT660, which is the first model in its new line of vocational trucks. The CT680, a second model, is planned for the first quarter of 2013. Key features of the CT660 include lightweight aluminum cabs and modular components such as the bumper, grille surround and hood that help simplify maintenance and service.

The new Freightliner severe-duty models include the Coronado SD with its lightweight aluminum cab and the Business Class M2 106v/M2 112v and new 114SD construction trucks. The 108- and 114-in. BBC SD configurations feature options, such as front frame extensions and radiator-mounted grilles for body attachments, front and rear engine PTOs, and body-specific chassis layouts. Production will begin on a natural gas-powered 114SD model in December.

Kenworth's construction truck offerings include several versions of the T800, such as the short hood series, the FEPTO and the twin steer. The Kenworth W900S features a set-forward front axle, and the manufacturer's C500B construction series is available with optional front drive and rear tandem or tridem drive axles. Also offered are the T470 medium-duty vocational and T440 models.

Recently introduced by Mack Trucks is the Granite medium heavy-duty (MHD). The new version joins the OEM's Granite line in axle-forward and axle-back configurations. Also in the Mack product family for construction applications is the TerraPro cabover, which can be paired with concrete pumper, concrete, ready-mix or concrete form truck bodies.

Navistar's construction truck lineup includes the Class 4/5 TerraStar, with a 4×4 version planned for 2012, and the Class 6 and 7 DuraStar. Hybrid and natural gas-powered models of the DuraStar will be offered as well. A range of powertrain options, including midrange and heavy-duty diesels, and hybrid and natural gas power, are offered with the WorkStar. There are several versions of the PayStar for severe-duty applications.

Peterbilt Motors has a range of models for construction applications, including the Model 388 with a 123-in. BBC, a dimension shared by the Model 367, which is also offered with a rear engine PTO and in a heavy-haul version with a large cooling system. The Model 365 is offered in set-forward and set-back axle configurations. The Model 348 in truck or tractor versions can be specified in an all-wheel drive configuration. The Model 320, with a 96-in.-wide cab, can be equipped with a wide range of bodies and equipment.

Volvo Trucks offers the Volvo VHD and VHD 430 vocational vehicles for construction operations. Both models come in axle-forward and axle-back configurations. The recently released Volvo VAH, a model based on the VHD, features lower frame height and top of cab dimensions for use in crane applications. Volvo also recently introduced a clean back of cab on the VHD to assist in mounting pusher axles and snowplows.

Western Star's all-new 4700 model is available in set-forward and set-back configurations. The truck is designed for dump, mixer, crane, roll-off, and sewer vac and plow applications. Western Star 4800 and 4900 models are also suited to construction fleets.

READY-MADE

The North American construction truck market is large,” says Caterpillar's Blood. “Our research shows that customers are always looking for new and unique truck solutions to make their businesses more successful. Successful OEMs will leverage their experience and knowledge of applications and needs to create trucks that make customers more successful and productive in their work environment.”

Trucks designed and engineered specifically to serve construction customers are the result of conversations with fleets and drivers, body builders and upfitters, as well as countless hours of research and development. While tough economic times have forced many companies to re-evaluate equipment purchases, particularly in the individual choices they make, continued growth in construction markets will eventually bring customers back to the order table. And when they return, those customers will expect new trucks that meet their highly specialized needs.