The once great Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, Kentucky was but a shadow of its former self when it opened its doors last Thursday, the victim of a crowded show market and the arrival last year of the European IAA run North American Commercial Vehicle Expo in Atlanta.

Truck and Bus News was at the show to report on the latest in US trucking.

Only three genuine Class 8 heavy duty manufacturers were listed on the exhibitors roster at Louisville last week, really only two if you consider that both Peterbilt and Kenworth are out of the same PACCAR stable and along with Mack they were the only big truck makers with stands. Ford Commercial vehicles was also there but with a small stand and an array of pick-ups and vans.

Mack was the star of the MATS with its new Anthem the only really new offering on display and attracting plenty of interest. Apart from that both Peterbilt and Kenworth had lots of shining metal and plush carpet along with a push to market its MX engines in what it described as a ‘PACCAR’ driveline, which conveniently renamed Eaton and Meritor components as PACCAR.

The absence of so many manufacturers was so obvious and made the show, once dubbed the ‘World’s Largest Truck Show’ fencing off empty space to make the smaller array of exhibitors seem less obvious.

Speculation was that IAA has made deals with the European owned truck groups such as Daimler with its North American Freightliner and Western Star andits Japanese brands, Volvo Group with Mack and Volvo and Volkswagen Commercial with its International brand for special pricing on exhibition space, based on commitment to both the Atlanta Expo and the German Hannover show in alternate years. Atlanta last year featured the Daimler brands including Freightliner, Western Star and Fuso, Volvo and Mack , Navistar’s International brand along with Hino and an array of component makers.

Like Australia, US truck brands have suffered from show overload with the Working Truck Show in Indianapolis taking place just a few weeks before Louisville and a myriad of specialist truck shows across the calendar.

It seems that the Atlanta IAA show every two years is a more attractive proposition than the once every 12 months MATS format.

Perhaps if the Anthem had not just been launched Mack may not have been in Louisville either

MATS “bread and butter however has always been owners-operators and the small and medium-size fleets.

However like Australia America is increasingly seeing big fleets getting bigger and smaller operations diminishing and Atlanta seems to be a more attractive option for most makers.

MATS’ organisers Exhibit Management Associates said through its CEO Toby Young that the small fleets and owner operators will continue to be the Louisville show’s focus.

“We’d love to have all of the truck manufacturers here, but we’re very happy with the ones that we do have here,” Young said.

A major snowstorm across the eastern USA in the days leading up to MATS caused severe travel delays for exhibitors and attendees with Louisville itself blanketed in up to 30cm of snow, but much of it had melted by the time the show kicked off.

Mack was the only truck maker to hold a formal news conference at the show, a major downturn from previous shows.

In the past MATS was widely regarded as the industry’s biggest venue for major product launches and updates by truck makers and suppliers. But not this year.

Increasingly, MATS has become a showcase for technology aimed specifically at drivers and small- and medium-size carriers.

Uber Freight was a prominent participant at MATS greeting owner drivers and offering demos of its load-booking app near the main registration area.

“It’s a great opportunity to talk directly to drivers,” Uber Freight’s director, Bill Dreigert, said of the show.

 Convoy, which offers its own digital load-matching platform, also made an appearance at MATS this year.

Meanwhile some large fleets saw the show as fertile grounds for driver recruiting amid a tight labour market, just as it is here in Australia.

However the days of MATS being the dominant truck expo in North America seem to have passed and the once great Expo which celebrated its 47th running this year lacked lustre.