LOUISVILLE, KY.  With the largest fleets representing the one growing portion of the industry, trucking may have witnessed a permanent shift to lower miles driven per tractor and higher average vehicle ages, according to Troy Clarke, president and COO of Navistar

“Bigger companies with more trucks…are driving productivity improvements with ever more sophisticated methods to offset the increased cost of [equipment] acquisition and operations,” Clarke said, addressing the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Assn. during the Mid-America Trucking Show.

“These improvements are allowing them to absorb the increased freight of a struggling recovery without really adding large increases in capacity, at least not yet,” he said. “We could be living in an industry that largely represents the range of [truck sales] volumes that is the new normal.”

Looking ahead to the next two decades, Clarke said he’d place his bets on diesel prices stabilizing, wider adoption of technologies like automated mechanical transmissions that make life easier and safer for drivers, and “on a new cycle of regulation.”

In order to stay competitive, fleets will have to be “bigger, more diverse in application, more national in scope and running trucks longer,” he said, predicting “these changes are permanent.”

Despite those changes and an environment of “certain uncertainty,” Clarke said he remains optimistic about the future. “Every scenario you can imagine requires trucks…. In the end, the world economy rides on our vehicles.”