This year has been one like no other for everyone, and the truck parts aftermarket was not immune from the changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The industry had to make adjustments to the way vehicles were serviced, parts acquired, and training completed. Technology took the place of in-person interactions. Fleets, dealers, distributors, and repair garages found new ways to not only communicate but to collaborate as well.
“Our industry is resilient,” says Tim Bauer, vice president, aftermarket, North America at Eaton. “We will find what the new balance is together. It is not going to be driven by suppliers or fleets or distributors. It is going to be a collective effort.”
The mergers and acquisitions environment came to a screeching halt during COVID, according to Tom Marx, senior parents at Hart Marx Advisors. However, neither Marx nor Bill Wade, managing partner at Wade & Partners, thinks we have seen an end to M&A activity in trucking. In fact, Wade believes the aftermarket “is still a gem for private equity.”
Filling the product information gap
The pandemic caused buying patterns in trucking to shift to mimic those in the consumer market as parts purchasing moved online. An example of how the aftermarket responded was the launch by Vipar Heavy Duty of Partsphere, a proprietary digital ecosystem that includes an order management system and a product information management system.
The industry also saw the development of Product Information Exchange Standard for heavy-duty parts and components. These PIES standards simplify and increase the amount of product information that is available. According to Shelia Andrews, director of heavy-duty programs at the Auto Care Association, “Suppliers can communicate their product information in a more robust manner.” She adds that the goal is “to make sure the end users is truly able to purchase the absolute appropriate part.”
In response to frustration about the length of time it takes to get part number information from dealers and heavy-duty distributors, Diesel Laptops launched truckpartslookup.com, which allows fleets to enter make and model number and then choose from a list of product categories to find the part they need.
Parts were not the only area of concern for fleets. Uptime and service issues were more important than ever as lanes and routes were scrambled by the pandemic.
In an attempt to offer more seamless service, 127 independent service shops across the U.S. formed the Independent Truck Repair Group. One of the goals of iTRG is to provide consistent service across the network so fleets can have confidence that technicians in all member locations will have the same training and skills.
To help fleets get information they are entitled to under a Memorandum of Understanding, the National Automotive Service Task Force developed a hyperlink forum that allows fleets to find information specific to the vehicle they are working on. Fleets can also submit Service Information Requests when they have a problem obtaining the necessary repair information.
One way dealers are addressing fleets’ service needs is by increasing their investment in mobile maintenance and repair. As I wrote last month, in essence they are bringing the service to the truck rather than asking the fleet to bring the truck to them. Sean Westlake, director of mobile service at The Larson Group, believes so strongly in mobile service that he says, “[It] is going to become the mainstream. You are going to see smaller and smaller shops and more and more mobile service trucks in the future.”
The American Trucking Associations’ Technology & Maintenance Council and FleetNet America reported this year that the cost of roadside breakdowns continues to rise. Tires, brakes, lighting, power plant and cooling systems account for 65% of the roadside repairs tracked by the TMC-FLeetNet project. The best defense against roadside breakdown is a good pre- and post-trip inspection process, coupled with scrupulous adherence to preventive maintenance schedules.