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Trucking technology finding wider audience: Industry panel

LAS VEGAS -- The cyclical nature of trucking means commercial vehicles sales will always sway up and down, but a group of industry suppliers see steady growth opportunities in a number of other key industry technologies.

That was one of a handful of major themes at this year's Heavy Duty Dialogue, a full day of trucking, economic, and manufacturing-related discussions, which precedes Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in Las Vegas.

While the consensus among OE manufacturers and suppliers is that we're in the beginning stages of a severe downturn (30-40 percent lower from '06 records) in class 8 truck sales, a core of innovative add-on technologies are starting to emerge and give the trucking industry a welcomed boost, say representatives from companies like ArvinMeritor, Bendix, Eaton, and Qualcomm.

At one time, technology like this what only the big boys
could afford to have. Times are changing, suppliers say.

Technology advancements in telematics, equipment safety, and driver warning devices -- such as electronic braking, lane-departure warning, roll stability, collision warning and night vision technology, as well as driver fatigue monitoring -- have grown rapidly in recent years.

Challenges for speedy market penetration of these technologies still exist, says Joe McAleese, president and CEO of Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems, but barriers such as cost and small fleet compatibility are coming down.

Next generation safety solutions such as electronic stability control and electronic braking -- both Bendix keystone technologies -- are still not in the short-term plans of many small and medium fleets, but are quickly gaining acceptance as technological costs come down and manufacturers do a better job of laying out ROI for customers.

"When these things start to happen, even a small van delivering flowers can justify a $200 solution that does what the (operator) needs as opposed to a complicated $2000 solution," says Norm Ellis, vice-president of Qualcomm Wireless.

Helping buyers select the right technology for their application, eliminate redundancy in product offerings, and implementing the technology in broader truck systems are also things the industry is improving on, adds Garrick Hu of ArvinMeritor.

Meanwhile, suppliers are looking to make great improvements to their available technologies as well as develop new ones. Eaton, for example, is testing infrared technology as an alternative to its expensive camera-based night vision system.

Says Qualcomm's Ellis: "(Truckers) are made up of two groups: those who lead in innovation and those who follow. More and more we see that second group is crossing into the first."

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