LOUISVILLE, KY.  Predicting “a fairly robust ramp up” in truck sales this year,  Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems president and CEO Joe McAleese expects Class 8 production in the NAFTA market to grow 15% this year “and another 5 to 15% in 2015.” Medium-duty Class 6 and 7 production should also follow a similar growth path, he said during a press conference at the Mid-America Trucking Show.

While general economic conditions indicate “not bad” GDP growth of 2.5 to 3% this year, conditions within the trucking market point to stronger activity, according to McAleese.  Fleets are recording good equipment utilization rates and showing discipline in capacity expansion, he said, resulting in improved profitability that will allow them to begin replacing an aging fleet.  Strong freight tonnage numbers in February point to further rate stability and growth, he added.

“Net Class 8 orders are already strong in the first quarter, and the question now becomes can we produce enough [to reach 15% growth].  I say bring it on,” McAleese concluded.

Turning to the high level of regulatory activity experienced over the last few years, McAleese pointed to expected new rules on electronic stability controls and collision mitigation systems as proof that “strong government influence [on truck safety technology] will remain active.  That’s just a fact.”

The challenge for suppliers like Bendix is “to find the payback in those systems for our customer,” he said. Forecasting that the company will sell 250,000 heavy-duty air disc brakes this year alone and pointing out that it has surpassed the 300,000 unit mark for its electronic stability control system, McAleese said improvements in both safety and total cost of ownership were completely compatible.

Responding to a question about the future of autonomous or driverless trucks, Fred Andersky, Bendix director of government affairs, said that technology wouldn’t be the problem. 

“Google says it will have [autonomous automobiles] ready within the next few years, but I don’t think we’ll see them until 2025 at the earliest,” he said.  “There still so much to be addressed outside of the technology, including things like security, privacy concerns, liability, cost and above all public acceptance.”

However, developing the technologies to enable driverless cars or trucks will have other, more immediate benefits, according to Andersky.  “I’m not going to give up my CDL any time soon, but these technologies will bring significant improvements to active safety systems long before we get to driverless trucks.”