by Denny Jones,
I was asked to write about a recent business trip I took to Europe in the fall. The trip was organized by the NTEA, the Association for the Work Truck Industry. The NTEA is the most important industry association for those of us in the business of manufacturing and selling trucks and truck equipment. Auto Truck has been NTEA members for many decades and remains active in the organization.
As mentioned, the NTEA organized this trip to Europe, including all of the associated details, including lodging, meals, tickets, restaurants, before we even departed in September. What a well-run machine! There was not one glitch in the seven days we traveled together. That pre-planning was invaluable in that we didn’t waste time waiting for anything. It was truly the German way of operating. Everything was on time!
Our trip started in Hannover, Germany and ended in Salzburg, Austria. I’m unsure of the total number of kilometers we traveled but it was almost the length of Germany, north to south. Our main reason for journeying to Europe was to attend the International Auto Show (called the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung in Germany, or IAA for short) Truck show in Hannover, Germany. This show is held every two years in Hannover at the Messe. It is a monstrous show!
The IAA show in Hannover alternates every other year between automobiles and trucks. I was fortunate to have attended this show in 2006. This was my first exposure to such an incredible worldwide truck marketplace. I have been involved in international truck brands during my years in the fleet and leasing business but nothing like the first-hand experience of the IAA Show.
Back to the layout of the IAA show. The show uses about 20 of the halls on the fairgrounds. The total number of halls—and the sheer size of each—is massive. For example the Mercedes “display” is a part of one hall by itself and it is difficult to even see across the Mercedes display—it is that huge! The overall size of these displays and venues is hard to put in words. And this just includes the indoor areas.
Outside there are huge displays of cranes and aerial devices, trailers, specialized equipment, anything that will not fit inside a hall. When I was at IAA in 2006 I was president of the NTEA at that time and the events and commitments left little time for for fact-finding. At this year’s show I was able to roam by myself through all the halls. It was great to see what the rest of the world is doing in the truck and truck equipment marketplace.
When I came back after the show in 2006, I told everyone about the funny looking vans that were in the rest of the world marketplace. The van with sloped hoods and small aluminum dump bodies were everywhere! I came back and told our people that these vans will probably be coming to the USA in the near future. I received a lot of doubting looks, with some bordering on calling me crazy. Well to show you the accuracy of my prediction, Auto Truck just made a serious investment in brand new upfitting facility in Kansas City to upfit these “funny looking” vans, now called the Ford Transit!!! By the way, there will also be more funny vans coming to the USA next year (Mercedes Vito) and for years to come.
After this year’s IAA show, I have another predication about these vans, which we’re poised to capitalize on with the opening of a new facility in Kansas City, Missouri. My prediction: we will see a totally different approach how we upfit vans for their intended application. We know that Ford Transit and RAM ProMaster have already come out with cab chassis versions of the standard van. What are they going to mount on the back of these units? For sure it will not be a “2-3 yard steel dump!” The only body that will be allowable because of limited payload will be constructed from aluminum (or maybe a composite material). So those funny vans with aluminum drop sides and rear and with hoists will be the equipment of choice for this application. I also forecast that China will be a major contender in the truck and truck equipment industry over the next decade.
After we left Hannover, we traveled to Stuttgart to check out the Porsche museum on Sunday afternoon. Wow! If you are a Porsche fanatic, or just a person who enjoys cars, you should definitely try to make the trip. I had no idea so many Porsche models were produced and the stories behind them were unreal. Also, the museum structure was an engineering feat in itself.
As for our method of travel in touring Germany, the travel agent chartered a “bus.” This wasn’t your typical yellow school bus. Those Europeans know how to travel in style. One of our guys on the trip made a comment to the driver that he felt like a rock star ridding in this bus. He said you should feel that way- the bus driver just had Paul McCartney on the bus last week and the Rolling Stones the week before. What a ride!
On Monday we were allowed to tour the Mercedes/Daimler truck plant in Worth, Germany. This is the world’s largest truck plant. It is a massive complex and a fabulous manufacturing facility. I have toured a number of truck plants and this plant is by far the most impressive. The tour was arranged by our Freightliner friends here in the USA working with their counterparts in Germany. This was a very well organized event. One fact that impressed me was the number of parts they import into this plant that come from other Mercedes plants all over the world. Mercedes/Daimler has a truly global business plan!
Tuesday and Wednesday we toured Palfinger crane manufacturing plants in Germany and Austria. Palfinger is an Austrian company doing business worldwide. Their manufacturing facilities in Europe are extremely impressive. The precision with which they do everything is even more impressive.
For a guy who makes his own beer, I would be remiss and probably fibbing if I didn’t tell you we enjoyed several really good beers as we travelled through Germany. We took Wednesday afternoon off, before we flew back to the USA, to visit Oktoberfest in Munich. WOW! Until you experience thousands and thousands of people under one “tent” drinking beer, eating great German food, singing and overall enjoying life, you can’t comprehend the magnitude of human enjoyment and companionship. I believe if we had a lot more Oktoberfest events worldwide, we’d have a lot less world unrest!