In the world of trucking, there’s good, there’s better, but nothing beats ‘robust’

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The good folks at Kenworth were very excited a couple weeks ago about the official introduction of their new W990 model. Who could blame them? This is the heir apparent to the W900 series, a superstar of the trucking industry since the Kennedy administration.

It was such a big deal to them that they flew 16 of us trucking journalists to Las Vegas a couple weeks ago and put us up overnight in a nice hotel just so we could bear witness to the great unveiling.

The gesture wasn’t lost on me, nor was the fact that they rented out the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the night as the setting for the W990’s debut. During the reception, they even arranged to give guests free rides around the track in supercars driven by professional racecar drivers.

Kenworth was pulling out all the stops for this one. Still, it felt like something was missing.

After dinner, we all went outside for speeches and a video that made the W990 look like a bona fide movie star. Then came the big moment, as eight shiny new W990s paraded out under dramatic lighting and boisterous rock music. The production was like a cross between Fashion Week in Paris and the introductions at an NBA championship game.

It was a doozy of a rollout, and yet, I was still waiting for that one element that would put this celebration over the top.

The next morning, Kenworth took us to a local dealership where we could experience the W990 up close. As I sat in a conference room between test rides, I listened to Kenworth General Manager Mike Dozier talking with a couple of my colleagues.

That’s when he evoked the magic word that in trucking signifies all that is truly magnificent.

The W990, he said, is “robust.”

The entire trucking industry is hopelessly in love with the term “robust.” It’s a vague term, but it has become the most coveted all-purpose compliment that can be paid to any product, any policy, any industry trend.

Look how many times you can find the term in this or any trucking publication. That new tire doesn’t just promise dependable performance, it promises robust performance. That carrier isn’t just offering substantial signing bonuses, they’re offering robust bonuses.

I get it. “Robust” is one of the most virile of adjectives. Just hearing it makes you feel like going out and chopping some wood. Is the industry experiencing healthy growth? That’s nice. Substantial growth? Good to hear. Robust growth? Yeah, that’s what we’re talking about!

You hear “robust” and you imagine a dude with a booming voice and so much muscle he can’t even button his shirt all the way up. Then again, I’ve also heard that “robust” is just a diplomatic way of saying, “he’s fat, but he has real good posture.”

The actual dictionary definition is pretty broad, but it’s more in line the first image, so it’s no wonder trucking executives and the PR flaks they hire spread “robust” around like testosterone-laced fertilizer. Trucking is still mostly a man’s world, and what guy, even the most enlightened, sensitive, 21st-century type guy, doesn’t like to feel a little jolt of “robust” now and then?

You may not have even noticed. Maybe it’s a writer’s thing, but to me the endless “robusts” are like the person sitting next to you who won’t stop drumming with their fingers or snapping their gum. It makes me want to shout – but to who? – “Hey, there are approximately 42,869 adjectives in the English language. Try another one for a change.”

Whether it’s cheesy (but effective) manipulation or unconscious redundancy, who knows? Maybe they are suckers for the “robust” rush themselves. In any case, I’m pretty sure this is something I’m going to have to learn to live with.

But thanks for hearing me out. See you back here in two weeks or so. Depending on when  you read this, here’s hoping you and yours have/had a safe, happy – and above all, a robust – Halloween.

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