IAA 2014: Driving the future

It may not be as glamorous a show as the bi-annual sister event in Frankfurt am Main, but Hanover’s IAA variant can confidently call itself the world’s leading trade show for the commercial road transport segment. And according to Matthias Wissmann, President of the Union of the German Automotive Industry (VDA), the upcoming edition will again demonstrate why.

At a press workshop held in June, he announced that optimistic economic data from North America and China could give the weeklong truck show a timely boost in 2014. “Western Europe has seen three per cent growth in the commercial vehicle market sector this year, while the US has recorded double-digit growth and China increased by four per cent,” he told a group of 150 journalists at a meeting in Frankfurt – indicating that the stage is finally set to celebrate the end of economic volatility in the commercial vehicle world. 

“The industry’s healthy situation is also indicated by the proportion of the workforce involved – one quarter of the more than 760,000 employees in the domestic automotive industry work in commercial vehicle segment. That’s around 190,000 people,” he explained.

According to Wissmann, business in the trailer and body building industry has been especially dynamic recently. “New registrations in this segment were up 14 per cent in the period between January and May,” he commented, not hiding the fact that there are still some challenges to be met on the CO2 front.

In Hanover, the industry will therefore make a strong stand for environmental performance again, but also commemorate what has already been achieved. Most importantly, it will continue to set itself apart from the automotive segment – much like the Hanover show itself. According to Wissmann, that differentiation is especially important in a legislative context.

“Heavy-duty commercial vehicles cannot be compared to passenger cars or vans,” he said at the press briefing in June, pointing out the importance of making vehicle dimensions more flexible to allow for aerodynamic improvement. He also said much has been achieved in the commercial vehicle world without even having a political agenda to go by.

“The commercial vehicle industry is like a football team – it doesn’t only have defenders, but also midfielders and strikers. The range goes from tipper trucks to delivery vehicles all the way to long-distance haulage trucks, many of them tailor-made. [As a result,] the industry has pushed for a reduction in fuel consumption for many years now – even without the help of a dedicated CO2 regulation.”

Wissmann indicated that while Hanover may see a continuation of the political debate around trucking’s environmental footprint, the equipment on show may help decision makers understand just how far the industry has come.

“Forwarders already calculate very carefully, right down to the last cent, and demand ever-greater efficiency from their trucks. We already have trucks that consume only one litre of diesel for each tonne of goods transported over 100 kilometres when operating at high capacity utilisation in long-distance transport.”

According to Wissmann, IAA 2014 will seize the opportunity to reflect that commitment to continuous improvement. One area where it will become particularly apparent is the oversized trailer market. Part of Germany has been involved in a ‘long truck’ trial for some time now, but it wasn’t until recently that the Federal Constitutional Court paved the way for a nation-wide roll out.

“Experience gained so far indicates that the long trucks live up to our expectations – [leading to] fewer journeys as well as lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions,” he said. “I am appealing to all German states not yet participating to become active in the field trial. It tackles the important issue of whether we can exploit the advantages of long trucks. This is relevant to all of Germany and also to [the rest of] Europe.”

With preparations for the show already in full swing, the next IAA could set the course for the future of the ambitious trial and modern trailer design in general – especially since the industry has been lagging behind the powered vehicle segment for a while now.

Unsurprisingly, Thomas Heckel, Member of the Board at German trailer OEM Kögel, used the pre-IAA press meeting to emphasize the importance of an integrated approach to commercial vehicle design. “Why is it just the truck which has to be state-of-the-art, but not the trailer? Is it possible that we, the trailer manufacturers, have been sleepwalking over the last few years?” he asked. “If you think a trailer has no bearing on fuel consumption, let me tell you, yes, it does. A trailer can actively contribute to fuel economy.”

Heckel whetted the audience’s appetite by pointing out just far-reaching the trailer building industry’s influence on vehicle performance already is – not only by adding length to a standard semi, but by supporting the development of smart technology.

“Think quick-opening curtains, energy recuperating axles or telematics,” he said – bouncing the ball back into the EU’s court. “We trailer manufacturers are already very well prepared from a technology point of view. Now we need a suitable legislative framework. If we were given a little more freedom, we could make goods transport by road much more efficient and environmentally friendly.”

While that freedom is still wishful thinking, Heckel said the upcoming IAA trade show will still not disappoint and demonstrate just how modern and efficient modern semi-trailers can be. “We, the manufacturers of bodies, trailers and semi-trailers, are proud of the fact that we can provide growth and prosperity with our ideas and products.”

Despite that optimism, Hanover’s bi-annual industry gathering could be the most challenging one yet for the supplier community, which is often forced to decide between cost leadership or technology leadership, as Michael Hankel, Member of the Board at ZF Friedrichshafen, outlined at the IAA press meeting.

“Possible strategies might be to aim for cost leadership and sell standard components at the best prices, or to drive innovations as a technology leader and develop products that offer a significant competitive advantage.”

According to Hankel, the struggle between quality and quantity will be more palpable than ever before at the 2014 IAA as transport businesses pass on cost pressure to OEMs – but there could be a middle ground. He said added value can come from volume – i.e. products are supplied to several manufacturers while still allowing them enough scope for differentiation – and proximity to the target market.

Based on the foretaste given at the Commercial Vehicle Show in Birmingham, the component industry is likely to follow the high-tech trend, with weight reduction being a top priority in the axle/ suspension and braking market. More complex electronic support systems are now entering the trailer sphere too, with local powerhouses BPW and Knorr-Bremse likely to go head to head with Belgian rival Wabco. Safety and automation will be a third main focus, especially in the often-overlooked landing leg market.

The question is how the component community will handle the added cost pressure. According to ZF’s Michael Hankel, those who find the right balance between cutting edge technology and cost effectiveness will be the true winners of the 2014 IAA.

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