After hearing the sad news that one of the iconic truck brands of Australia may have finally bitten the dust, now is probably a good time to ask the question, is it really the end for International? The answer is, of course, how can you be sure?
The history of the International brand is one of series of false sunsets (preceded by false dawns). The late eighties saw International Harvester, who had been manufacturing the brand in Australia since just after the Second World War sell its agricultural side of the business, joining with the massive Fiat group as part of Case New Holland.
The independent truck making arm struggled financially and went into administration. The brand’s future hung by a thin financial thread. Several years of hurt led to Iveco taking over the brand in Australia in 1992 as part of its push into the local truck market.
In the USA, the truck side of the International business ended up passing into the ownership of Navistar. However, Iveco Trucks, retained the right to sell the brand in Australia. This entity developed a strategy of mixing the European engineering of Iveco with some traditional International design, like the long lasting Acco.
However, some of the attempted technology mixing recipes were not so long lasting. Another strong performer, the S-Line was dumped in favour of the Iveco Powerstar. This model appeared under a number of guises over many years, but never really grabbed enough attention to persist.
A few years later the US designed International was back on the scene with Iveco assembling International models, The 9900 and 7900. This period of International was relatively short lived, although you can still see plenty of International Eagle 9900 trucks out on the highway, especially in country areas.
After another dormant period, the latest iteration of International appeared, under the Caterpillar brand name to begin with, and then the International ProStar made its debut in Australia in 2017. Again, the Inter enthusiasts were pleased to see the brand’s return, but the numbers of sales never really took off in a meaningful way.
Now, Navistar say the right hand drive International, is no more. This should be the end of the story, but at the same time as this announcement has been made, a new bid from Traton, who own Scania, MAN and Volkswagen trucks, has increased its valuation of Navistar.
We shall have to see how the long running negotiations take shape. Navistar is not a company willing to sell readily, but it is now under pressure having had technological and financial problems over the last 20 years. It has also lost a lot of market share to Freightliner, especially in the heavy duty market.
International is up against a group of rivals in the US, Freightliner, Volvo, Mack, Kenworth and Peterbilt, all of whom are part of large global truck manufacturing businesses. They have access to a large global research and development budgets, International does not.
The kind of technology Traton will be able to bring to the table will, almost certainly, tip the balance in favour of a takeover and new funding for new trucks. Some of these new designs may even make their way over here to Australia. However, will that mean we just have yet another false dawn, followed by yet another false sunset?