DTNA’s CEO: Little chance of fleet pre-buy before 2010

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Chris Patterson, outgoing president and chief executive officer of Daimler Trucks North America, sees little chance of a pre-buy by carriers seeking to avoid the more costly 2010 model trucks featuring new low-emissions technology.

Patterson spoke with Randall-Reilly editors during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., shortly after he announced plans to retire June 1. He will be succeeded by Martin Daum, who is head of operations at Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz plant in Woerth, Germany.

Patterson suggested carriers might be “better off waiting for new engines because of fuel economy.” Once the economy picks up, diesel prices will increase again, making fuel economy top of mind for truckers once again, he predicted. Daimler projects its 2010 Detroit Diesel engines using selective catalytic reduction will use 5 percent less fuel than previous models.

When the economy rebounds and carriers need to add trucks or replace aging equipment, they will have little choice but to buy new because “there won’t be enough reasonable trucks available to meet demand,” Patterson said. Currently, there are ample used trucks equipped with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 2004-compliant engines, but when carriers are ready to buy, those trucks will be “getting pretty long in the tooth,” he said. Beyond that, much of the surplus capacity has been sold offshore. While no one knows the exact number overall, “we know of 10,000 used Freightliners in Russia,” he said.

For now, those who might want to buy trucks still may not be able to get financing. “Daimler is a very strong company and can still borrow and lend money,” Patterson said. The problem is not so much availability of credit as the ability to qualify, he said.

As he reflects on his tenure as head of the world’s largest heavy-duty truck producer, Patterson said he’s most proud of the shift in how his company’s products are perceived in the marketplace. Historically, the company has been “viewed as not producing the most reliable trucks and not having the best service,” he said. “We’ve changed those perceptions in seven years.”