AMSTERDAM - Europe's truck industry is headed for restructuring, said Kurt Lauk, Daimler-Benz board member responsible for commercial vehicles.
'I am convinced of a massive change on the horizon,' said Lauk in an interview at the Amsterdam commercial vehicle show. 'But because of European anti-trust regulations, I don't see any European truckmaker taking over another.'
Lauk said European carmakers could expand into commercial vehicle production. Volkswagen AG is reportedly interested in buying Volvo's truck operations, Scania, or Germany's MAN.
North American truckmakers could expand in Europe, Lauk said.
'But that will result in American manufacturing systems being implemented in the European industry,' he added.
American truckmakers are less vertically integrated than European counterparts.
Currently, only Paccar, based in Seattle, Washington, has a European foothold. Paccar owns Peterbilt and Kenworth in the USA, and Daf Trucks of the Netherlands and Foden in the UK.
Unlike European truckmakers, Paccar does not produce its own engines and drivetrains. DAF still makes its own engines.
Lauk predicted that some European truckmakers will not be strong enough to develop their own product concepts in all categories.
The trend is already visible, he said. Daf and Renault are working on a joint vehicle concept in the 6-16 tonnes segment. Volvo is studying a similar strategy with Mitsubishi. Volkswagen's talks with Scania have also centered on the same idea.
Lauk said Japanese truckmakers are a threat to the European companies.
'They have taken initiatives in all segments up to 16 tonnes gross vehicle weight,' he said.
Isuzu, a General Motors affiliate, has begun marketing medium-class commercial vehicles in Europe. They are built by Leyland Trucks in the UK.
Lauk expects Nissan and Toyota to increase commercial vehicle sales activities in Europe.
'Even if they build up a small market share of 3-6 percent, it implies further pressure on the European truck industry,' he said.
Daimler-Benz is the world's largest truckmaker, with the Mercedes-Benz nameplate in Europe, and Freightliner and Sterling in the USA.
Daimler suffered from a worldwide sales slump in recent years. But 1997 truck revenue increased 24 percent to DM39 billion ($21.5 billion). Units sales were 417,000 vehicles, ranging from light delivery vans to heavy trucks.
In Europe, Mercedes-Benz holds 21.4 percent of the over-16-tonnes segment. It is market leader in all categories from light vans up.
'After 10 years of losses we made profit last year,' Lauk said. 'But we must improve further to reach our target of 12 percent return on investment.'