Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, or so says almost anyone who wants to sell you an investment product.

But for those who want to look down the road a little and brace themselves for future changes in the commercial truck and trailer industry, past performance is one of the better tools out there.

Over the next few months leading up to the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association’s 75th anniversary, be prepared to see plenty of looking back as TTMA, Trailer/Body Builders, and others pay tribute to the legacy of the pioneers of the trailer manufacturing industry.

The real benefit of looking back, though, is not nostalgia. The value comes from putting today in context, learning from the past (not just about the past) in order to see tomorrow more clearly.

We will talk more about the past later. But for right now, we would like to discuss the future of commercial truck body manufacturing, trailer manufacturing, and their network of dealers and distributors with you. Within the limits of the written word, we would like to have a conversation with you.

Our goal is to challenge you to think about what your industry will look like in the years to come and to share that vision with us. And while much of the upcoming emphasis on the past can be linked to trailer manufacturers and the TTMA 75th anniversary, our challenge goes out to truck body manufacturers and truck equipment distributors, too.

Here’s the deal:

For truck trailer manufacturers and truck body builders we propose compiling and publishing a wide-ranging report on what the manufacturing plant of the future will look like. We would like to know what you think about the following:

•  Future technology. What machine tools not currently in your plant make the most sense for a company your size? How might the materials you use be different from what currently go into your products? How will plant management change? What is the most plausible way to improve product quality or plant productivity in the years to come?

•  What potential regulatory issues do you see having an impact on your business? Is there any future action that the federal government could take to benefit manufacturing in the United States? Are you vulnerable to international competition? Why or why not?

•  What labor trends do you see? Is there a solution to the shortage of workers? If so, what? Who and how will they be trained?

•  Your market. Who buys what you build? What major changes do your customers face that will impact your position in the market?

•  External forces. History shows that cataclysmic change in an industry tends to come from outside that industry. What potential force do you think could radically change your market for the better—or for the worse?

For truck equipment distributors and trailer dealers: what will the shop of the future look like? How will you meet your staffing needs?

How will you improve shop productivity and profitability?

How will you market?

What shop tools do you need that you don’t have today?

For truck equipment distributors, what future truck technology do you think will have the biggest impact on how you install truck equipment?

Our plan is to take the information you tell us and publish it in two special issues of Trailer/Body Builders. Our “plant of the future” story would go in our Fabrication Issue in December. The “shop of the future” would appear a few months later in our annual Distributor Issue.

To make this work, though, we need to hear from you. This won’t be a poll, and you don’t have to answer all the questions above. But your thoughts can help trigger some great ideas, even if you tell us what you think about just a few of these issues. Or you can bring up concerns of your own that have yet to be mentioned. As mentioned earlier, we envision this resulting report as one that will be wide ranging. But it’s a conversation we think we should have with one another.

Here’s how you can participate: simply shoot an email this way at Bruce.Sauer@penton.com. Or if you are one of those folks who don’t like typing, just call—(713) 636-3815—and let’s talk about it. Why not tell us now how you view things? There’s not much time left. The future will be here before you know it.