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Truck Talk: Pancakes and chicken edition

Culinary delights, semiconductors and serious stacks of SPAC cash

Welcome back to Truck Talk. Subscribe here to get it in your inbox every Friday. 

This week, we’re looking at TravelCenters of America resuming conversion of restaurants to International House of Pancake outlets; Bosch’s new semiconductor plant that, while impressive, is too late to help with the current chip shortage, and a very busy week at Mack Trucks.

With sprinkles on top

The deal to convert up to 94 TravelCenters of America restaurants into International House of Pancakes outlets preceded CEO Jon Pertchik’s arrival in December 2019. It’s one of the things he has kept during a massive makeover of the business. It is not the industry’s weightiest issue — unless you eat too many New York Cheesecake Pancakes. We asked Pertchik about restarting the pandemic-stalled conversion program.

How confident are you that dine-in restaurants will resume service in coming months?

Our guests and people everywhere are all clamoring to get back out there. And we look forward to continuing to roll out our partnership with such a highly regarded restaurant brand like IHOP at more TA locations.

What do customers tell you about visiting IHOPs versus some of TA’s other offerings?

Who doesn’t love pancakes with whipped cream smiley faces and sprinkles? In addition to drawing families and other breakfast regulars, IHOP restaurants offer an exceptional full-service dining option for our professional drivers. IHOP’s robust online ordering system makes dining even more convenient.

What is your favorite menu item?

I’m pretty traditional. I create my own pancake combo: the original buttermilk pancakes with scrambled eggs, hash browns and sausage links. That’s part of the reason why IHOPs are such a great fit at our TA travel centers – everyone can get what they want, the way they want it!  

“Who doesn’t love pancakes with whipped cream smiley faces and sprinkles?”

John Pertchik, TravelCenters of America

International House of Pancakes at TravelCenters of America in Greenville, Tennessee
(Photo: TravelCenters)

Just as the brilliant idea of swinging by an IHOP was forming, here comes Love’s Travel Stops with its take on good eating: high-protein, low-carb, antibiotic-free chicken. The new meal offerings come in made-fresh, hot-to-go sandwiches, chicken tenders and drumsticks. But what about wings?

A semiconductor primer

Making semiconductors takes a long time. That is part of the reason for the current shortage affecting car and truck makers. When automakers canceled orders during the height of the pandemic, chip makers shifted capacity elsewhere. You don’t just flip a switch and start making them again.

Robert Bosch describes the process as the Tier 1 supplier nears bringing a massive facility online in Dresden, Germany. Fabricating round discs of silicon known as wafers involves 250 individual steps, including depositing minute structures with dimensions measuring fractions of a micrometer onto the wafers. That takes six weeks.

It takes 700 processing steps over 10 weeks to turn them into finished semiconductor chips. The facility will use 300-millimeter fabrication, allowing a single wafer to accommodate 31,000 individual chips.

Bosch began construction of the 100,000-square-meter facility — roughly the size of 14 soccer fields — in June 2018. In the final phase of construction, 700 people will keep an eye on the machinery.   

“While Bosch’s new facility in Dresden is an important addition to the world’s auto IC [integrated chip] manufacturing capacity, it does little to address the current shortages,” Dan Hutcheson at VLSI Research tells me. 

Photos: Bosch

Mack’s busy week

We covered Mack Trucks’ reported out-of-the-gate success of the new MD Series medium-duty trucks earlier this week. But there was more product news out of Greensboro just in time for Friday’s presentation at the NTEA virtual Work Truck Show.

Vocational customers needing improved stability and greater traction on jobsites can save weight and add payload by pairing the mRIDE-spring leaf over rubber-block suspension with proprietary Mack axles

Available at 40,000-pound and 46,000-pound suspension ratings and with standard track axles, customers can save 140 pounds with drum brakes and 146 pounds with air disc brakes as a result of casting suspension components into the axle housing. The mRIDE’s parabolic springs are thickest at the center to ensure the clamp load area offers the greatest strength and are tapered to improve driver comfort.  

Photo: Mack Trucks

Sibling Volvo Trucks North America calls it Dynamic Steering. Mack prefers Command Steer. The driver fatigue-reducing active steering system is now available in Mack Granite axle back models.The technology helps reduce the physical demand on work on a jobsite by combining an electric motor with the Mack Granite model’s existing hydraulic steering. Multiple sensors throughout the truck monitor the terrain, driver inputs and environmental elements more than 2,000 times per second. The collected data varies steering effort through its electric motor. It adds torque as needed to make it easier to keep the truck on the desired route.

How much did you say?

Freshly public electric infrastructure supplier Chargepoint Holdings (NYSE: CHPT) held its first quarterly earnings call this week to go over its Q4 results. Chargepoint’s reverse merger with special purpose acquisition company Switchback Energy Acquisition Corp. created some serious stacks. 

“We’ve raised $480 million in net proceeds as a result and have $650 million in cash on our balance sheet to fund growth,” CEO Pasquale Romano said. “That is more cash than we have net spent in our 13-year history to get to this point.”

Electric pickup truck roster grows

Add Los Angeles-based electric vehicle startup Canoo to the roster of battery-powered pickup truck makers. Canoo will take preorders in the second quarter of 2021, with deliveries set to begin as early as 2023.

Natural gas, hydrogen or both?

Cummins Inc. (NYSE: CMI) and Cummins Westport are offering a fully integrated heavy-duty natural gas version of the ISX12N mated with the Endurant HD N 12-speed automated transmission from Eaton Cummins. On the same day as Monday’s announcement, Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger co-signed an op-ed in Morning Consult urging the Biden administration to get serious about hydrogen as a zero-emissions technology for long-haul trucking. 

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading.


Alan Adler

Alan Adler is an award-winning journalist who worked for The Associated Press and the Detroit Free Press. He also spent two decades in domestic and international media relations and executive communications with General Motors.