Back on track
Quiet Americans look ready to shrug off recent history and shake the market
T his humble scribe can recall a time when the inner thoughts of a US president had to wait on a book or a newspaper story to see the light of day. No longer. And as the present incumbent looks to shake up the status quo, for eventual good or ill, it seems all things American are being seen through the prism of Donald Trump’s tweets.
Certainly, it has been only 18 months into his incumbency but Trump has been as good as his promise to those who voted for him to change the world.
We now know that this means injecting a huge dose of uncertainty into the world economy through a radical reversal of the trade policy, just as memories of the Global Financial Crisis fade and corporate balance sheets look healthier than they have done for a decade.
The timing seems perhaps unfortunate, though fans might argue that if a realignment is to happen, best it occur in better times, rather than when economic fragility was the rule.
The timing may be accidental but it is, as they say, everything.
Closer to the industry here, the roiling of accepted norms internationally and the focus on what the president says, as opposed to what his presidency does, threatens to obscure a separate development from the world’s largest economy – the push to make “American trucks” great again.
Historically, this country has had a remarkable record of successfully Australianising US brands, making them more suitable to local conditions while enjoying the best technology and ‘ know-how’ from across the pond.
Now that US business confidence is back on an even keel, however, an added keenness can be discerned to right various wrongs committed when panic was the rule 10 years ago and perhaps for a few years after that.
As Technical Editor Steve Brooks makes plain in two in- depth treatments, of International and Freightliner, in this issue, the ambience surrounding senior non-Mack executives of unfinished business in Australia is palpable.
Those who have wondered how such a proud make as Freightliner could have lost its way and failed to get back on track for so long should not underestimate the impact of GFC on US management psyche after the long boom. ( It was always with a sense of unease that we reported complaints about the squeaks and rattles of the brand’s cabs that seemed to point to a certain distraction up the management line.)
But, equally, the desire for success may be diverted but never extinguished and learning from mistakes is the rule. One of the latter relates to doing due diligence on local conditions and expectations.
A challenge they face is, again, one of timing; the questions centring on whether it will be enough to follow in the lead of the likes of Scania and Mercedes-Benz in thoroughly acclimatising the machinery and seasoning the support infrastructure. With the steely determination that’s on display at present, more should be expected.
At least they have an opportunity to tweak rather than build a profile.
There has been an underlying goodwill towards American vehicle manufacturing that ties in emotionally to the motoring experience, positive familiarity being the comfort and attraction that it is. International’s advantage is that of a local heritage transplanted to the western hemisphere but with retains a local fondness and enjoys local design input.
As you can also read in this edition, locals fond of the Western Star brand have been given hope of renewal where once critical eyes viewed what appeared to be inertia with deep concern. While 2020 does seem quite a while off, we wish such loyal customers all the best. The outcome, if it comes to fruition, will be fascinating.
“There has been an underlying goodwill towards American vehicle manufacturing.”