TEST DRIVE - SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Navistar International is looking to assert itself as the vocational truck market leader and over a four-week period concluding this week, has put more than 700 dealer reps through a vocational boot camp to ensure they’re up to the task.
During the final round of dealer meetings, senior vice-president of North American sales operations, Jim Hebe, told dealers they’ll be the difference-makers if International is to retain its leadership position in the market. He acknowledged Freightliner has come on strong in the vocational truck market and said no manufacturer can count on product alone to win the battle.
“We have one competitor in particular, who is working harder and investing more and providing us a bigger challenge than we’ve ever faced in this business, and that’s Freightliner,” Hebe said. “We’ve given a lot of thought over the past 18 months to how we deal with that.”
Hebe said there are three ways an OEM can gain an edge: price; products and technology; and how they manage customer relations. Hebe said International has no plans to engage in a price war and even admitted there’s no sure way to maintain a product-based advantage in such a fluid market. Instead, he said the key will be in how dealers manage their relationships with customers and in the expertise they can provide. Enter boot camp.
This is the third year in a row Navistar has hosted dealer boot camps: the first, in 2010, focused on medium-duty vehicles; last year’s showcased highway trucks and this year’s was focused entirely on the vocational truck and engine market.
Navistar brought together more than 50 vehicles – including competitive models – and gave dealers detailed training on each of them. The goal, said Hebe, was not to attack the competition but rather to highlight their strengths and gain a better understanding of how International’s vocational trucks stack up.
“What we’re doing here is teaching our salespeople as much about competitive products as we do our own,” Hebe told journalists who sat in on boot camp this week. “We don’t just tell them ‘This is how you sell against this product,’ we tell them what’s good about it. If you can tell your customers something good about the competitor’s product – something that the competitive salesperson didn’t even know – that gains you instant credibility. We walk these guys through, teach them what’s good about their products and what’s good about our products.”
In addition to putting trucks of all makes and models through their paces on a variety of courses – including a sprawling off-road course that replicates some of the harshest conditions vocational trucks will face – participating dealers were able to examine engine teardowns of various models and the findings of comparative fuel consumption test results. Some sales reps who took part said they felt that by the end of boot camp, they were as intimately familiar with competitive products as they were their own.
At the same time, Navistar was giving its dealers new products to sell. Chief among them, and coming in at the lighter end of the spectrum, was a long-awaited 4x4 TerraStar, which will enter production in February. Navistar delayed production of the 4x4 version of its Class 4/5 TerraStar so that it could offer a more robust drive axle as well as a gear-driven transfer case.
Also new is the LoadStar, a low cab forward refuse truck that’s constructed of stainless steel and boasts numerous driver-oriented amenities. (Look for a first-hand account of the LoadStar in the November issues of Truck News and Truck West).
Another addition was a previously announced sloped nose WorkStar, which is just now going into production. Navistar also enhanced the interiors of its vocational trucks, offering the high-end Eagle interior on the WorkStar.
Other new additions include: a ProStar truck, for truck and pup applications; improved wiring for body upfitters; drop center frames on certain models; and an 18,000-lb. front axle on the WorkStar.
As it transitions its engine technology to selective catalytic reduction (SCR), Navistar provided the following roll-out dates: The MaxxForce 7 will get SCR in January 2015; the DT, MaxxForce 9 and MaxxForce 10 will receive SCR in January 2014; and the MaxxForce 11 and 13 will be updated with SCR in April 2013.
Cummins engines will be rolled out across the International truck line as follows: the ProStar will get the ISX 15 in October of this year (300 ProStars with the ISX 15 are already in production); the TranStar will get the ISL G in January 2013; the 9900 will get the ISX 15 in April 2013; the 5900 SBA will get the ISX 15 in May 2013; and the new International LoadStar refuse truck will be introduced with the ISL G in July 2013.
Bob Mann, vice-president of dealer sales with Navistar, admitted SCR will be accompanied by 400 lb. of additional hardware, but noted trucks with the SkyRise roof cap will gain 100 lb. back, thanks to a new lightweight design.