MATS on the mat: the Mid-America Trucking Show 2018

By: Steve Brooks


MATS Lead Pic The Mack Anthem. It represents a new era for the bulldog where the ultimate goal is to rebuild Mack's presence in North American line-haul. The big news is a stand-up cab and 70-inch sleeper, and yep, the cab is headed our way, but only after a prologned Australian test program. Up close and from behind the wheel, there are plenty fo improvements and the good news is almost all will eventually come our way. As for the uncharacteristic snout, believe me, it's definitely better in the flesh. MATS Lead Pic
MATS Pic A Kenworth collection. Lookin' good, but its a fair bet US build quality wouldn't do in our part of the world. MATS Pic A
Paccar Powertrain, Kenworth and Peterbilt were pushing the all-Paccar barrow, but it's a marketing mirage. The engine is Paccar's MX, but make no mistake, the automated transmission comes from Eaton and the drive tandem from Meritor. Paccar Powertrain, Kenworth and Peterbilt were pushing the all-Paccar barrow, but it's a marketing mirage. The engine is Paccar's MX, but make no mistake, the automated transmission comes from Eaton and the drive tandem from Meritor.
MATS Pic C1 Peterbilt pride of place went to a 579 model with the new Ultra-Loft 80-inch sleeper. The real star, however, was the 567 model, the millionth Peterbilt ever built and given away to the person judged the brand's greatest fan. How they came to a decision is beyond me, but a bloke named Rick McClerkin from California got the gong. Nice win, mate! MATS Pic C1
MATS Pic C2 Peterbilt pride of place went to a 579 model with the new Ultra-Loft 80-inch sleeper. The real star, however, was the 567 model, the millionth Peterbilt ever built and given away to the person judged the brand's greatest fan. How they came to a decision is beyond me, but a bloke named Rick McClerkin from California got the gong. Nice win, mate! MATS Pic C2
MATS Pic D Starship enterprise: Shell has partnered with the Airflow Truck Company to develop what it calls 'a hyper-aerodynamic, super fuel-efficient Class 8 concept truck, bringing together the best of today's existing and custom technologies'. With a carbon fibre cab, the truck took three years and 18,000 hours to build, and while it looks futuristic, it's completely road legal. Slippery! MATS Pic D
MATS Pic E Lonesome Lonestar. Whatever the future for International, its flagship model will always be great retro design. MATS Pic E
MATS Pic F Light 'n' lively. Cummins X12 and Eaton;s new 12-speed Endurant automated shifter make a potent, super-light powertrain. Imagine how good this would be in, say, a Japanese heavy. MATS Pic F
MATS Pic G Cool combination with a full-body sliding cover, but you'd have to worry about ground clearance on the trailer, wouldn't you? MATS Pic G
MATS Pic H It wouldn't be Mid-America without massive sleepers on a huge wheelbase. In this case, a Western Star 5700 on a 322-inch wheelbase sporting a 144-inch ARI Legacy 'mobile home' as well as a relatively standard 34-inch 'walk-thru' Stratosphere sleeper MATS Pic H
MATS Pic J When Henry had heavies. A 1974 Ford WT9000 leads a line-up of classic cab-overs, including a Freightliner FLB. Mid-America this year was as much about old bangers as it was about the new breed. MATS Pic J
MATS Pic I Flashbacks to when cab-overs were common in the US. A 1979 Kenworth K1000 Aerodyne and corporate partner, a 1985 Peterbilt 362. Personally, I think American truck operators would be blown away to see what Kenworth's Australian designers have achieved with the K200. MATS Pic I
MATS Pic K Dashing Dodge. 1975 Dodge Big Horn. Apparently only 261 were ever made between 1973 and 1975, with this unit powered by a 350 Small Cam Cummins running through a 13-speed shifter into Rockwell rears. Vision through that narrow windscreen over that huge expanse of hood must've been something of a challenge. MATS Pic K
MATS Pic L Driving the message. With US demand for trucks and transport on the boil, the pressure is on to attract good drivers and owner-drivers. Mid-America had plenty of outfits and agents promoting solid returns for owner-operators and drivers alike. MATS Pic L
MATS Pic M While some Australian commentators seem to think airbag front suspensions are something new and largely the preserve of continental brands, the fact is they’ve been available in one form or another in the US for many decades. For its part, Hendrickson was keen to promote the fact that its Airtek NXT front suspension plays its part in making Freightliner Cascadia America’s top-selling Class 8 truck. MATS Pic M
MATS Pic N1 Old and new. Freightliner wasn’t completely absent from Mid-America and we found these two well apart on separate stands. The old banger is an ’88 FLC and going way back to Freightliner’s formative days in the Australian market, this model was earmarked for our part of the world before a shorter construction version (112 inch BBC) was adapted to righthand-drive and named the FLC112. MATS Pic N1
MATS Pic N2 ...Continued... Thirty years later, the current Coronado is the direct descendant of those early workhorses. MATS Pic N2
MATS Pic O Stunning! If there was a truck of the show of any age, my vote would’ve definitely gone to this spectacularly preserved 1956 Autocar DC-75 model with an original factory sleeper. Back then, big iron didn’t come any bigger. MATS Pic O
MATS Pic P Classic Kenworth from 1938. A photo just for the sake of it. MATS Pic P
MATS Pic Q1 Sweet Pete, but according to the driver, the mile rate’s a bit skinny. MATS Pic Q1
MATS Pic Q2 Sweet Pete, but according to the driver, the mile rate’s a bit skinny. MATS Pic Q2
MATS zPete 1 . MATS zPete 1
MATS zPete 2 . MATS zPete 2
MATS zPete 3 . MATS zPete 3
MATS zPete 4 . MATS zPete 4
MATS zPete 5 . MATS zPete 5
MATS zPete 6 . MATS zPete 6

Whittling away as North America's premier truck event, the 2018 Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky, was jsut a dull shadow of former glories. Even so, there was still enough glitz 'n' glamour to keep the good ol' boys entertained.

 

There was a time not so many years ago when the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) was a world-class event, showcasing all that was hot and happening in the North American truck business.

Just as you’d head to Hannover in Germany to see the latest trends and technology in Europe, or to the Tokyo Motor Show to see Japan’s best and brightest, historically you’d head to Mid-America in Louisville, Kentucky, to catch up on America’s newest load haulin’ hardware. Not anymore!

Call me biased, but judging by what was on show in Louisville this year, I’d now rate our own biennial Brisbane Truck Show as far more informative and professional than its US counterpart.

Nowadays, MATS has strong competition from rival events and with ever-watchful eyes on the corporate wallet, America’s truck, trailer and component brands are no longer automatic starters when it comes to signing up for a truck show, anywhere.

It appears to be a case of each event measured on its merits of appealing to dedicated markets.

Among the big brands, only Mack and Paccar’s Peterbilt and Kenworth travelled to Mid-America again this year, largely capturing the new truck side of the event to themselves. As it turned out, that was a particularly good thing for Mack, intent on letting everyone know its new Anthem with a stand-up cab and sleeper is aimed squarely at bring the bulldog back to some prominence in the North American line-haul business.

For a handful of Australian visitors, it also meant we could, for the first time, get up close and personal with a rejuvenated bulldog eventually headed for our part of the world – but more on that in an upcoming feature story.

Other than Mack and Paccar, though, Louisville was slim pickings indeed for new trucks from the big boys of the business. No Freightliner, or its corporate cousins Detroit and Western Star. No International other than a very lonely Lonestar courtesy of the local Louisville dealer. No Volvo, highlighting the fact that in the US, Mack and Volvo definitely go their separate ways. No Japanese truck brands despite an ever-increasing presence in the US. And of course, no Cat.

As for new technology, only the Shell ‘Starship’ truck and trailer concept went some way towards showcasing the efficiency merits of advanced aerodynamic design. What’s more, and despite the fact that most major US truck brands are now digging deep into advanced technologies such as autonomous trucks, the only indication of autonomous behaviour at Mid-America appeared to be the public rush to anything labelled ‘free’.

Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, there was absolutely nothing from Tesla about electric trucks and, likewise, zilch rom Cummins about its similarly fast-paced push into electric propulsion. I didn’t see it, but an Australian product manager wandering around MATS told me the only electric vehicle he saw was a battery-driven go-kart tucked away on the small nondescript stand of a research outfit.

By comparison, the Tokyo Motor Show late last year was awash with electric technology, led by Daimler’s Fuso with the launch of its dedicated electric brand E-Fuso, and a highly advanced prototype model called Vision One.

Still, truckin’ in America isn’t all about new-fangled gadgets and gizmos. Never has been, and while MATS lacked plenty in big-brand presentation, it at least had enough of the new and the novel, the old and the bold, the long and the lavish to satisfy lovers of classic Yank trucks and keep the good ol’ guys ‘n’ gals mildly entertained.

Anyway, check out our gallery above for a pictorial summary of Mid-America 2018, a show with a touch of everything but on the other hand, not much of anything.

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