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How to Spec Trucks to Optimize Productivity

May 27, 2014

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The best way to optimize truck productivity is to spec the right vehicle for the fleet application. This may sound like I am stating the obvious, but, as many truck professionals will attest, it is often not the case. Without fully understanding the fleet application requirements and operating parameters, it is impossible to spec the best chassis, powertrain, and body necessary to optimize productivity. Fleet managers understand how their trucks are intended to be used in the field; however, intended usage often does not match real-world usage. Consequently, the first step to correctly spec a truck is to meet and talk with the drivers or technicians who will be using the vehicle. By understanding the day-to-day application, you will be able to build a truck that meets their needs. If possible, schedule site visits to see firsthand how a truck is being used in the work environment. This will also give you the opportunity to confirm firsthand what is really needed as opposed to what a driver or technician may want.

Build the Truck to Match the Application

The key objective of your discussions with drivers or technicians is to match the truck with the fleet application. When meeting with end users, ask questions about their current vehicles. For example, is the powertrain right for their application? Similarly, investigate whether the gross vehicle weight is adequate for the payload carried? Or, is gross combination weight rating  high enough if the vehicle will be towing a trailer?

When talking with employees who are actually using the trucks, you may discover they have problems unknown to you. It is common to discover problems with loading height, cab access, lack of bins, limited visibility when backing, or insufficient tool storage. This is your opportunity to ask a lot of questions to determine vehicle or upfit deficiencies. For instance, ask employees about passenger requirements, whether there is a high idling requirement, how the payload is distributed, whether the vehicle will be fully loaded, or operating with a diminishing load, and how they load and off-load cargo.

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Look at the existing truck and investigate the maintenance records. What type of problems has this truck had, if any? This will help you determine if the current vehicle is under-spec’d. If it is, then take the necessary steps to correct it. Usually, the majority of trucks that have unscheduled maintenance problems are under-powered and overloaded, which, in addition to increased shop time, results in increased driver downtime. Your maintenance records will reveal that most of the vehicles that experience repeated mechanical failures are under spec’d.

When you’re building a medium-duty truck, there are a number of key factors that must be spec’d correctly, or you’ll make an expensive mistake. The foremost consideration when building a truck is payload. The weight of the payload determines the engine, transmission, size of tire, frame, and just about everything else.

It is also important to understand how a vehicle will be loaded and unloaded to determine whether a liftgate or pull-out ramp should be chosen for the truck body. Ask how employees will load the payload? Do they use pallet jacks or forklifts? What are the dimensions of the payload? It is important to know the height requirements of the truck. For instance, if payload will be loaded and off-loaded at a dock, what is the dock height? If a forklift is utilized in the loading or unloading payload, it is essential to have the forklift reinforcement option included in the body specifications. Also, know where and how your drivers are securing the load. Take into consideration the height and bulk of your product to ensure the truck has the proper cargo restraint system.

Balancing Between Under- & Over-Spec’ing

After compiling the input gathered from the field, next review budgetary considerations. The type of truck your field personnel would like may not always fit the annual fleet budget. One factor that can sway the decision on which chassis to acquire is a manufacturer’s incentive program. Although initial cost is a major consideration, it is essential that maintenance and other operating costs, along with projected residual value, be factored into the selection decision, using a total cost of ownership calculation as the ultimate determinant of what is specified.

Building a truck is a complicated process. Specifying the right truck requires hundreds of decisions and choices – and each choice potentially impacts another. Where it gets tricky, is finding the balance between over-spec’ing and under-spec’ing a vehicle, each with its own unique set of consequences. Over-spec’ing a truck increases the capitalized cost of the vehicle, while under-spec’ing increases maintenance cost. Another consequence to an under-spec’d truck is that it may require multiple trips due to limited payload capacity. When spec’ing a smaller GVWR truck than required, the tendency is to overload the vehicle. Besides accelerating replacement of wear items, such as brakes, an over-loaded vehicle also increases the company’s liability exposure if it is involved in a preventable accident.

It is common for a company to allow budget restraints or commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements to drive GVW decisions. For instance, there is a tendency to under-spec trucks to avoid exceeding the 26,000-pounds-GVW threshold, which requires drivers to have a CDL and triggers the need for compliance with increased regulatory requirements.

Don’t Have the Operation Conform to the Truck

Vehicle specifications should be defined by the application and mission requirements. You should solicit input from field personnel to ensure that local issues affecting the vehicle’s operation are taken into account. To properly spec a truck, you need to talk with the people in the field to understand what type of service the truck is expected to perform and how it will be used.

In the final analysis, it is important to design a truck that will accommodate your operational requirements rather than trying to make your operation conform to the truck.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]

By Mike Antich

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Author Bio

Mike Antich

Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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