Is it the end for Cat Trucks?
Iveco getting Inter may have been the death knell
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”.
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.