Cummins (NYSE:CMI) investors couldn't have asked for a better new year's gift. The stock just hit its 52-week high, returning 32% for the full year. That's in line with market returns, which isn't surprising considering that Cummins' sales are closely tied to the health of the trucking industry, which is a bellwether for the economy. That also explains why shares of truck maker and key Cummins customer Paccar (NASDAQ:PCAR) have posted 33% gains year to date.

Image source: Cummins.

Cummins may end the financial year 2013 on a soft note, but the company has already set the 2014 ball rolling with an important launch this year. In fact, if major partner Westport Innovations' (NASDAQ:WPRT) projections are anything to go by, Cummins could be headed for a big 2014. Here's what investors can expect from Cummins going into the new year.

The high points this year
After starting the year on a positive note, Cummins stock crashed in May, hitting the year's low, after the company reported an awful first quarter with a 12% and 38% fall in revenue and net income, respectively. Engine volumes declined across all major markets, as weakness persisted in the heavy-duty truck and mining markets.

But investors moved over those numbers quickly and instead bet on the much-awaited launch of the year -- the Cummins-Westport ISX12G engines. There was no looking back for the stock after that. A good set of numbers in July encouraged the company to jack up its full-year outlook and also increase its dividend by 25%, making for a total dividend increase of 257% over the past four years. A month later, Cummins announced the second milestone of the year -- Nissan opted for its 5.0L V8 turbo diesel engine for its next-generation Titan pickups.

What do these products mean?
While the ISX12G engine enables Cummins to make huge headway in the heavy-duty natural-gas truck market, the 5-liter turbo diesel engine will mark its foray into the light-duty pickup market. Both are huge opportunities for the company, especially since more and more automakers and fleet operators are shifting to cleaner fuel alternatives like diesel and natural gas.

While the launch of the V8 engine could still take considerable time, 2014 could be a critical year for the ISX12G. The response so far has been good, and deliveries have already begun full swing, with Westport Innovations even reporting a 51% year-over-year jump in engine shipments under its joint venture with Cummins during the third quarter. Westport Innovations expects strong demand for the engines in 2014 and even projects the share of natural gas fuel in the truck market to improve to 4%-5% next year from the current 1% share. Cummins will benefit directly from any growth in the natural-gas market.

The biggest catalysts for 2014
Meanwhile, upcoming global emission regulation standards in key markets, including the U.S., Europe, and China, should ensure good demand for Cummins' diesel engines next year. Aside from its engines business, the company's components division, which sells filtration, turbochargers, fuel systems, and emission solutions, could gain tremendously from the implementation of the emission regulations. The division contributes nearly 20% to Cummins' total revenue.

Since Cummins engines boast 40% and 61% share of the North American heavy-duty and medium-duty truck markets, respectively, a strong trucking industry will be the key to its growth in 2014. Paccar, which contributed 13% to Cummins' total sales in 2012, reported a great third quarter, backed by improving freight tonnage and fleet utilization in the industry.

Experts, including the world's largest truck maker, Daimler, project the truck market to further strengthen next year. That's good news for Cummins, which derives nearly half of its sales from engines. With Navistar International also adding Cummins' engines to its products this year, the company is swiftly gaining ground, and with more than 50% of its $850 million spending this year going into markets outside the U.S., Cummins is rapidly spreading its wings.

The Foolish bottom line
Growth catalysts for Cummins are aplenty, and headwinds few. Even if the truck market goes slow next year, investors needn't worry because the company is ending 2013 on a solid note from a financial standpoint -- long-term debt of only $700 million, record operating cash of $2 billion, and free cash flow worth $1.3 billion for the trailing 12 months.

With Cummins planning to reinvest 50% of the cash generated into the business, and return the other 50% to shareholders over the next five years, both income and growth investors can expect something. It looks like Cummins stock will easily hit a new high next year.