Claes Nilsson, tapped to be executive vice president of the Volvo Group and president of its global Volvo Trucks unit back in March, and Gӧran Nyberg, president of Volvo Trucks North America (VTNA), believe that North America still remains a region that offers “the biggest opportunity” for future truck sales as well as for “organic growth.”
In a sit-down with reporters at Volvo’s New River Valley (NRV) assembly plant here in Dublin, VA, Nilsson and Nyberg – currently in the midst of a 12-city U.S. tour of Volvo facilities, dealerships, and top customers – think that the Volvo brand remains relatively “young” in North America, compared to its much longer-term presence in other global markets, and thus has more room to grow.
“The last four years we’ve focused on consolidation and synergies within our global organization; so we’re much more cost efficient but maybe we became too internally focused,” Nilsson said. “Now we’re really looking for organic growth and we really see North America as a most important market in parallel with Europe; it offers the best growth opportunity.”
Nyberg noted that while Volvo is sticking to its 250,000 total Class 8 sales prediction for North America in 2016, he stressed that the market “is a bit more challenging” now after first and second quarter order rates became “a bit soft” in his words.
“If you look at warranty registrations, you can defend that 250,000 [Class 8 unit] prediction,” he added. “But order intake points to considerably lower volume.”
Nyberg pointed out that North American Class 8 inventory also is high, at roughly 60,000 units, with Magnus Koeck – VTNA’s vice president, of marketing & brand management – noting that order intake “will stay soft if that inventory is not pushed out.”
Still, Nyberg expects third and fourth quarter order rates to “be somewhat stronger” compared to the start of this year, pointing out that comparisons with 2015 are difficult due to record-setting sales numbers posted last year.
“Even as we level ourselves with this ‘new normal’ in orders, we will still see a top 10 or top 15 year in truck sales for 2016,” he said.
Other items touched on by Volvo executives during the roundtable meeting:
Nilsson said “attitude and personality” will be key attributes for the organization going forward. “We want to be a true customer service company; this is still a relationship business,” he explained. “We’re looking for those determined to go the extra mile for customers.”
Nilsson emphasized that Volvo “wants to be a technology leader” and believes truck “connectivity” will be a major future focus for fleets and truck makers alike – especially in terms of how “connectivity” translates into more predicative and proactive maintenance, resulting in more vehicle uptime.
Nyberg noted that impeding greenhouse gas (GHG) rules “create an opportunity” to win more business. They will also “force the industry to find every single opportunity for fuel efficiency.”
As a result, he thinks 6×2 suspensions will gain more traction in the U.S. market to the level of automated manual transmissions (AMTs). But Nyberg also thinks it will take 5 to 7 years for 6x2s to reach the “market penetration” levels now being experienced by its I-Shift AMT.
When it comes to platooning and autonomous vehicles (AVs), Nilsson said AVs will be deployed first but in “non-public” worksites such as mines and construction zones. “AVs will be commercialized far quicker in areas outside of public roads,” he said. What will hold platooning back is not the technology but the “legal challenges” faced by truck platoons when deployed on public roads.
Turning back to GHG rules, Nyberg noted that Volvo and other OEMs are asking for a slower pace.
“If we mandate too many improvements at the same time – aerodynamics, emissions, waste-heat recovery, etc. – my gut feeling is that the industry will more reluctant,” he stressed.
“A step-by-step approach will lead to greater acceptability.”
But the key to all of the industry’s GHG efforts, Nyberg emphasized, is finding value for customers. “Yes, we need to meet the regulations, but we need to find enhanced value for customers,” he noted. “We’ll work with the regulatory and legislative hurdles but at the end of the day what will drive our efforts is finding benefits for customers in all of this.”