Is it the end for Cat Trucks?

Iveco get­ting In­ter may have been the death knell

Big Rigs - - TECH TALK WITH BRUCE HONEYWILL -

IT MAY sound like an obit­u­ary for a per­son still alive, but let’s face the facts, it’s not look­ing good for Cat Trucks in a mar­ket as hard and com­pet­i­tive as Aus­tralia.

Let’s make it clear that I have noth­ing against Cat Trucks, I have driven them in road train com­bi­na­tions across the na­tion, through Mount Vic­to­ria and Syd­ney traf­fic in the smaller rigid ver­sion and thou­sands of other kilo­me­tres all over the coun­try and I like the truck and have writ­ten so. The frus­tra­tion is that it is not sell­ing.

Road trans­port writer Steve Brooks, who I con­sider the fore­most me­dia au­thor­ity on truck com­pa­nies, brands and re­cent his­tory, in the past cou­ple of weeks wrote:

“It would take an in­cred­i­bly op­ti­mistic mind to be­lieve that Cat Trucks are not on the edge of ex­tinc­tion, bring­ing to a close one of the most tu­mul­tuous, dis­jointed and ul­ti­mately dis­ap­point­ing brand his­to­ries to ever im­pact the Aus­tralian truck­ing in­dus­try.”

Steve hit the nail on the head and ex­pressed in print what we’ve been talk­ing about for a long time.

A song from The Doors comes to mind, the sig­na­ture song from the film Apoca­lypse Now, The End:

“This is the end, beau­ti­ful friend / this is the end, my only friend, the end.”

So if I’m bold enough to call the Cat Truck a good truck, one with a vi­able place on Aus­tralian roads, which I have done many times, what the hell went wrong?

The con­cep­tion of the Cat Truck in Aus­tralia can be traced back to the ill-con­ceived de­ci­sion of Cater­pil­lar in the US to pull the Cater­pil­lar en­gine out of the on-road mar­ket.

This de­ci­sion cut deep in Aus­tralia, where the yel­low en­gine, par­tic­u­larly the C15, had a pas­sion­ate fol­low­ing.

Many op­er­a­tors, some who I have worked with closely, never for­gave Cater­pil­lar for this de­ci­sion.

The cor­po­rate rea­son­ing for this de­ci­sion was sim­ple, all the scratch­ings on the white­boards in Peo­ria told the sim­ple truth that the Cat en­gines did not have a long en­gi­neer­ing shelf life with the global restric­tions of emis­sion stan­dards.

The big com­pany, ap­par­ently, was not pre­pared to in­vest in emis­sion man­age­ment tech­nol­ogy to take the en­gine even to the next stan­dard, Euro 6, a stan­dard ex­pected to be writ­ten into Aus­tralian ADRs around 2020 or a lit­tle later.

This shelf life was longer in Aus­tralia than in many other coun­tries so a mar­ket was iden­ti­fied here to be vi­able over a rea­son­able pe­riod.

To bring this about Cater­pil­lar and Nav­is­tar got their cor­po­rate heads to­gether and pro­duced a com­pany to han­dle the Aus­tralian invasion called NC2, an acro­nym sup­pos­edly mean­ing Nav­is­tar Cater­pil­lar squared, sym­bolic that the new com­pany is greater than the com­bi­na­tion of the two Amer­i­can giants which in it­self is laugh­able.

More than 500 of what I con­sid­ered to be, and wrote about, Cater­pil­lar on-road en­gines turned up in Aus­tralia each wrapped nicely in a white Nav­is­tar ProS­tar. A mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise.

In spite of a hugely ex­pen­sive launch at Uluru, the new trucks sat at Tul­la­ma­rine for a long time, in their orig­i­nal form they did not meet Aus­tralian emis­sion stan­dards.

Some en­gi­neer­ing tweak­ing, the ad­di­tion of a big DPF and prob­a­bly con­sid­er­able lob­by­ing brought the trucks over the line to meet ADR80/08 stan­dards and make them le­gal to sell on the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

The ex­ec­u­tives of the Aus­tralian coloni­sa­tion were never com­fort­able from the be­gin­ning right through to the present day.

From the early days there were cor­po­rate back stab­bings and reshuf­fles dur­ing a time when the Nav­is­tars were proven not ready for Aus­tralian con­di­tions.

But there was some great Aus­tralian tal­ent on the ground both in en­gi­neer­ing and mar­ket­ing.

The trucks were worked on con­tin­u­ously and what evolved over three or four years was a damn good truck.

The mar­riage of Nav­is­tar and Cater­pil­lar was on the rocks and the com­pany changed to Nav­is­tar-owned Nav­is­tar Aus­pac.

A young mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive, Glen Shar­man, who for what it’s worth, I con­sider one of the best tal­ents in Aus­tralia, was given the reins.

The recipe was there, a good truck cou­pled with good mar­ket­ing tal­ent, was this the long awaited launch­pad?

At the 2015 Brisbane Truck Show, Shar­man an­nounced the im­mi­nent in­tro­duc­tion of the In­ter­na­tional brand un­der the aus­pices of Nav­is­tar Aus­pac.

This was the peak of the Cat Truck in Aus­tralia, the op­ti­mism of 2015. Many of the tech­ni­cal prob­lems had been ironed out, the Cater­pil­lar dealer dis­tri­bu­tion and ser­vice net­work was work­ing rea­son­ably well.

The In­ter­na­tional truck was about to of­fer a post-2020 fu­ture to deal­ers with the op­tion of Cum­mins.

But there is no ac­count­ing for the mas­ters across the Pa­cific and in the two years fol­low­ing the 2015 truck show, in­ter­ven­tions into lo­cal man­age­ment made an un­com­fort­able en­vi­ron­ment.

The de­ci­sion when and how the In­ter­na­tional was to be in­tro­duced was not made un­til late 2016.

The de­ci­sion to take the In­ter­na­tional ProS­tar back into the fold of Iveco was the coup de grace of Cat Trucks in my hum­ble opin­ion.

The Cater­pil­lar dis­trib­u­tors were hang­ing on for the In­ter­na­tional op­tion to boost sales and make their sup­port for the prod­uct vi­able. The rug was pulled out from un­der their feet.

How In­ter­na­tional will go with Iveco is still in the misty clouds of the crys­tal ball.

The part­ner­ship pre­vi­ously had a vi­able ar­range­ment with heavy end trucks like the Ea­gle with the Cater­pil­lar en­gine.

To­day Cat Trucks needs some kind of cor­po­rate rab­bit to be pulled out of the hat, or “this is the end, my beau­ti­ful friend”.

PHO­TOS: BRUCE HONEY­WILL

NINE LIVES: Cat Trucks ar­rival on Aus­tralian roads has been a up and down story of cor­po­rate in­trigue and even­tu­ally beat­ing all odds. But is it too late?

With­out the deal­er­ship of In­ter­na­tional, the fu­ture of Cat Trucks was al­ways un­der a cloud.

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