Trucks in North America, Asia and Europe only look different Common wisdom holds that America's trucks are unlike any others in the world, except perhaps for those sold in Canada. We strongly favor conventional tractors and trucks, showing great resistance to the cabover configuration even though it has become the standard throughout the rest of the world. We continue double-clutching non-synchronized transmissions while everyone else shifts with automotive-like gearboxes. We continue supporting independent engine, transmission and axle manufacturers with our customized truck specs while truck users in the rest of the world buy their equipment from vertically integrated suppliers.

At first glance, for example, the Japanese truck market couldn't seem more unlike ours. As befits the congested nature of a populous island nation, small trucks and even micro-commercial vehicles with payloads measured in the hundreds of pounds make up a large portion of the truck population. Exceptionally long straight trucks, as least to our eyes, are favored over P&D tractor/trailer configurations.

Look beyond superficial differences, though, and you'll find a rapidly developing global truck market with common concerns, technologies and, increasingly, nameplates. U.S. visitors to the Tokyo Motor Show last month felt right at home as every truck maker, and many component suppliers as well, displayed their current efforts to control diesel engine emissions, to offer practical alternative fuel applications, and improve vehicle safety with advanced electronic technologies.

Domestic truck manufacturers showed high-pressure unit injectors, exhaust gas recirculation systems and regenerating catalytic aftertreatment they believe will help them meet proposed Japanese, European and U.S. diesel emissions levels in the near future. These are essentially the same strategies under development by North American and European engine makers.

Alternative fuel for commercial vehicles is a bit more advanced in Japan, in large part because Tokyo's mayor has strongly indicated that he wants to phase out diesel power within the city limits. Sound familiar to those of you operating in California?

Adaptive cruise control, collision warning, driver-alertness monitors, remote vehicle tracking and other safety-related technologies on display in Tokyo are familiar to any-one who's seen or read about the advanced technology trucks developed by U.S. manufacturers. Business is business, no matter what the continent. Like truck OEMs here, those in Japan are concerned about how users will justify the costs.

Clearly widespread societal concerns such as the environment and highway safety are pushing regional truck markets towards global solutions. Not so coincidentally, business imperatives are rapidly transforming national truck and component manufacturers into global suppliers through acquisition and partnerships. A single model that suits all of the world's trucking needs is certainly unworkable, but the days when everyone answers the same questions with their own answers may be drawing to a close.