SAN ANTONIO. The future of the truck selling business doesn’t rest on price or even pure service support anymore, according to one of the biggest truck dealership groups in the U.S.

Instead, truck buyers are going to demand broader solutions from dealerships to address a range of issues – some of them well outside the truck cab, contends W. M. “Rusty” Rush, president & CEO of Rush Enterprises, which holds roughly a 4% share of the U.S. Class 8 truck market and 2.6% of the U.S. medium-duty market.

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“As companies continue to consolidate in the trucking industry, they are looking for broader answers to their business needs,” Rush explained here at Rush Truck Centers (RTC) 2011 Technician Skills Rodeo in a roundtable meeting with reporters.

“To me, it’s all about providing wider ‘service solutions’ to our customer base – now and in the future,” he said. “It’s no longer going to center around the capital cost to buy trucks or the cost per mile to operate them. Rather, customers are demanding a broader set of solutions.”

In some cases, Rush noted, fulfilling those needs means staffing customer fleet shops with RTC technicians, something the company already does, as it currently has 250 so-called “outside techs” on the job. It might also mean providing more “house calls” via RTC’s national fleet of 170 mobile technicians. It could even mean providing more administrative support to fleet customers as well, he stressed.

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“We recognize that, going forward, this is how we’re going to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace,” Rush explained.

In terms of retail Class 8 truck sales volume for 2012, Rush expects volumes to remain relatively flat in comparison with this year’s numbers. For 2011, he said Class 8 retail sales will end the year between 165,000 and 175,000 units, with retail sales for 2012 reaching 190,000 to 205,000 units. “In short, 2012 is going to be pretty consistent with this year,” Rush noted.

However, he also expects truck sales volumes will continue to steadily grow year-over-year as the average age for commercial vehicles remains at historically high levels.

“People get too caught up in the change in orders from month to month or quarter to quarter,” he said. “What’s been pretty obvious, however, is that the industry has been significantly under the normal annual replacement demand of 190,000 to 200,000 units for the last five years, so they still have lots of trucks to replace.”

In short, Rush expects the “slow and sluggish” pattern of economic recovery experienced by the U.S. over the last few years to continue.

“We’ve been in this recovery pattern for almost three years now,” he explained. “It’s not perfect – unemployment is too high and the housing market remains down – but we’re still chugging along.”

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