Well, today started off with something I've never seen before at MATS - a power outage. We were in the midst of listening to the folks at Daimler talk about the new Detroit transmission when "click." Everything went pitch black. A few seconds later, the emergency lights kicked in and a murmur spread through the crowd as everybody wondered what was going on.
A few minutes later, someone came in and said the power was out in the entire Expo Center. That could make for an interesting opening day. Or it would have, if the good folks here hadn't gotten the power back on about 20 minutes later. Kudos to them for the good work.
Power blips aside, a few themes are beginning to emerge as the big companies talk about what's ahead for them. The first theme I noticed is not so much in what the companies were saying, but how they were saying it. The major truck manufacturers are back in a big way. Booths are bigger, new trucks are rolling onto the show floor, and the presentations are as over the top as ever.
No one had a bigger presentation, however, than Navistar, which pulled out all the stops on Wednesday evening to unveil its LoadStar vocational truck. But more than that, Jim Hebe, senior vice president of North American Sales for Navistar, spent a good deal of his time talking about natural gas, which is the second theme I've noticed.
Navistar is working with Pilot Flying J and T. Boone Pickens himself to establish natural gas as a major source of fuel in the coming years, and they are not alone. On Thursday, Volvo spent a good deal of time talking about its natural gas trucks, which thus far are limited to short-haul delivery vehicles, though it seems to me that's just the first step.
Make no mistake about it, natural gas is on the way. As to what that means for the future of diesel, I think it's too soon to say. But there is definitely a new sheriff in town and we will wait and see how the townsfolk take to this new brand of law and order.
The third theme I've noticed in this year's presentations is a sense of history. Navistar has a virtual museum of trucking in its enormous booth, with old-school trucks, buses and other vehicles all there for the viewing. Freightliner is celebrating its 70th birthday and has several retro-themed trucks at its booth, with paint schemes throwing back to the 1970s.
So whether it's the past, present or future you're looking for, you won't have too far to find it here in Louisville.