Have You Already Put Your Money on This Turnaround Story?

Neha is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

If only I had faith in this company. If only I had followed Carl Icahn’s footsteps. If only I had put in something in this stock. Just some of the thoughts haunting investors who gave Navistar International (NYSE: NAV) a miss after a tragic 2012. After all, the beleaguered truck maker’s stock has gained a mind boggling 51% in last six trading days (till March 12) alone.

Better-than-expected numbers, a new CEO, and lots of positive thinking did it for Navistar. Management has outlined steps that it feels will help the company sail through. But, will it be as easy to convert words into action? I am not too sure.

Pedal on the new

One focus area will be new products. Navistar has some significant launches lined up, and it wants to make sure they hit the road on, or even before, time. The truck maker already set the ball rolling when it launched its 15-liter ProStar Plus trucks in November 2012 ahead of schedule. It was one of the most awaited launches for two reasons. One, it is Navistar’s first selective catalytic reduction, or SCR technology offer – the same technology that the company had bypassed earlier for its own adventure, which ultimately pushed it down the cliff. Two, it belongs to the critical Class 8 truck segment, where Navistar is furiously losing ground.

With ProStar Plus, Navistar also takes its relationship with Cummins (NYSE: CMI) to the next level, as the truck will be Navistar’s first to run on Cummins’ 15-liter ISX engines. It must not have been easy on Navistar though as it was working hard to get its own 15-liter engines in the market soon. The dream stands dead today. But with the ProStar Plus, Navistar has finally put to rest the tens of thousands of questions that swarmed when its ambitious emissions-technology project went bust last year with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refusing certification. Now that is has decided to go for the SCR technology (not that it had other options on its plate), Navistar can hope of winning back some customers. Especially because it comes inside a Class 8 truck.

Class action

Preliminary data released by ACT Research shows Class 8 truck orders for February are at their highest point since January 2012. January 2013 was the second best month in the past 12 months, according to the research house. Which means demand for Class 8 trucks is on the rise after a relatively dull 2012. So Navistar’s launch has probably come at the right time. But will it be easy for Navistar to win back customers it lost while battling internal issues? Ironically, Cummins will be the toughest to beat.

Cummins has gained the most at the cost of Navistar. While Navistar’s, as well as Paccar’s (NASDAQ: PCAR), shares in the North American engine market fell last year, Cummins’ inched up by more than a percentage point to 40.4%. Interestingly, Paccar was also Cummins’ biggest customer, accounting for 60% of its engine sales. Cummins reportedly delivered the highest number of 15-liter engines (the same that goes into ProStar +) last year.

As for Class 8 truck sales, Navistar’s International brand was the only one to lose ground in 2012 with a 3.1% drop in sales compared to 2011. Comparatively, Daimler’s Freightliner, which was also the top seller, gained more than two percentage points in market share last year while Paccar’s Kenworth brand’s share inched 1.1%. Yes, Navistar’s warranty issues and management’s dream- plans-that-went-bust hit its reputation hard, and that’s where the game will get tough.

The staunch supporter

Navistar probably realizes that, which is why it is also ramping up its engine product line with its own 13-liter engine. It was long due, but has finally been submitted to the EPA for approval this January. After a long time Navistar sounds confident – It has already started production of Maxxforce 13 and expects to start shipping by the end of April. These engines will use Cummins’ SCR gear. Okay, that explains Navistar’s optimism.

Why a 13-liter engine? Well, that’s where the excitement will likely be in the years to come -- 13-liter is being touted as the latest trend in the Class 8 truck segment. According to truckinginfo.com, this category has outstripped 15-liter engine sales in recent months. It’s a first in history.

The bigger positive for Navistar is that Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) continues to use its existing 13-liter engine for vocational trucks CT660. The SCR-powered engines, once approved, will also make way into Caterpillar’s trucks. Caterpillar has been an old and strong partner for Navistar, and intends to remain so despite the turmoil Navistar was caught in. After the CT660, the two are now working on a new cab-over vocational truck that will be sold in markets across the globe.

Caterpillar would have also embraced Navistar’s 15-liter engines had they seen the light of the day. Now that it has been dropped, some suggest that Caterpillar might stick to 13-liter for now, while some feel it may reach out to Cummins for support. Investors will know the status before 2013 ends.

The Foolish bottom line

Despite all, there’s no question that Navistar has an uphill task at hand as it tries to regain lost market share in core business areas. Management might sound upbeat, and the market may be getting mushy over Navistar, but it’s a little too early to confirm a turnaround.

Though it looks like Navistar’s management is working pretty hard to prove itself. These launches are just one of the tools Navistar will use to chart its growth. There are other equally important focus objects lined up. I’ll take you through them in my next post, to help you decide better if Navistar is worth your money, especially after its wild recent run. To make sure you do not miss it, add Navistar to your stock watchlist. Click here to do it.

Neha Chamaria has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Cummins and Paccar. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cummins and Paccar. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own!

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