Playing Favorites

By Jack Roberts on

download (2)The one question I get asked more than any other as a truck journalist is some variation on, “Which truck is your favorite?”

And it’s not just drivers, fleet managers or industry figures who want to know: My parents, my cousins, my friends have all asked me at one time or another which truck is my favorite.

Of course, as a journalist, I’m supposed to be impartial. And I try to be. Later this week, I’ll be at the ATA Show in Orlando early with other trucking journalists to judge this year’s entries in the Truck of the Year review. Impartiality is crucial to giving each entry a fair shot at winning the award. You simply cannot let any preconceptions or prejudices cloud your evaluations of the vehicles.

Now, when asked I directly, I usually mutter something about “impartiality” and then point out that “everybody makes a great truck.” And that’s true for the most part: Mistakes get made. International clearly had problems recently with its emissions strategy. But, climb up into a ProStar+, and it’s as nice a truck as anything else on the road today. And it’s worth noting that recent troubles aside, a great many International customers hung tough with the brand, and the company’s recently-posted sales figures indicate the stirrings of a marketshare turn-around. Those two things wouldn’t be true if International trucks didn’t have a whole host of outstanding design features going for them.

In the world of wine-making, there’s a thing called terroir. It’s a French word for a pretty simple concept: Little things make a big difference.

The thought is that you can have to vineyards side-by-side: same weather, same amount of sunlight, same soil conditions and so on. But the wines from the two vineyards may vary wildly when it comes to flavor. And that’s because each wine-maker has a bunch of little things they do differently that affect the final product.

As an example, think about poundcake. Your mother’s mother makes hers one way. And your father’s mother makes hers another. Both pound cakes are pretty similar. Both pound cakes are very good. And yet you prefer one over the other. Maybe it’s because your Granny uses a whole stick of butter in her recipe or maybe Nana adds a pinch of cinnamon to hers.

The same concept holds true with trucks: The OEMs keep a close eye on one another. As soon as they can, they all get their hands on new competitive vehicles, engines and transmissions and their engineers tear into them with unbridled glee to discover any secrets they can.

And you can bet that any good ideas one manufacturer has will quickly be coopted by its competitors in form or another.

And yet all trucks aren’t the same. That’s because Mack understands what its customers wants, the same way that Freightliner understands what its customers wants. And their interpretation of those needs and desires show up in both subtle distinctly different ways on the final products.

Kenworth and Peterbilt are prime examples of this: Both companies are owned by PACCAR and obviously share common frames and other components. But Kenworth and Peterbilt customers are distinctly different and want different things from their trucks. And the respective Pete and KW engineers design to those requirements. And that’s why you have die-hard Kenworth customers out there who would never consider buying a Pete – and vice-versa.

Now, all this said, as it happens, I do have a few favorite trucks. But I’m not telling you what those are in this blog. You’ll have to buy me a beer first.

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts is executive editor for CCJ and equipment editor for its sister magazine Overdrive. Roberts joined Randall-Reilly in 1995 as associate editor of Equipment World magazine and began covering both heavy-duty and light trucks in 1996. In 2006 he was the founding editor of Total Landscape Care before joining CCJ's staff in 2008.

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