What did it take for fleets to make it through the pandemic? According to Tom DePorter, senior director of fleet maintenance at Forward Air Corp., the answer is flexibility. “Every day you are going to be faced with something that you did not think was out there. You need flexibility to roll with the punches,” he said, speaking on a panel at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue.
The panel was designed to give the parts manufacturers and suppliers in attendance insight into how fleets are dealing with challenges related to the pandemic and supply-chain problems that have resulted in slowdowns in truck production and shortages of parts.
Relationships, Communication Key to Parts Access
Mike McDonald, director of maintenance at Benore Logistics, said his big takeaway from the pandemic was “how important relationships are if you are trying to find a part or get a truck in the shop or find someone to go out on a road call.”
Shane Barnes, vice president of maintenance at PAM Transport, agreed that relationships are important. “It is essential that you have a relationship not only with your OE, but also with the suppliers of all the parts you need.”
The good news is that at least for these three fleets, supplier support was available. “A lot of it is good communication,” McDonald said.
And speaking of communication, Forward Air’s DePorter had some advice for suppliers: “You have got to talk to us and give us a heads-up if you see a hiccup. Don't keep things from me. Help me understand what is going on.”
He added, “There are surprises around every corner. The more you can share with us in advance, the better we can make our plans.” Put more succinctly, “I want bad news as soon as you know it.”
Older Trucks, More Parts
The pandemic and the resulting supply chain disruption caused these fleets to take a close look at their maintenance practices. Because of allocations and fleets not getting all the trucks they ordered, many of them are running older trucks.
At PAM, “we are just going to keep taking good care of them,” said Barnes. “We know it is going to cost us some extra money [to keep the older trucks operational], but wheels turning should offset that.”
Benore’s McDonald did not see the situation of truck availability improving. “When you look at how far they pushed out our new truck build and our new trailer builds, there is going to be older equipment staying on the road for the next 18 to 24 months. We are going to need suppliers to provide parts to keep those older trucks running. We are going to need more parts for the foreseeable future.”
Shortages and inflation also mean prices of parts have gone up. “In the good old days, we used to try to negotiate price,” DePorter said. “Nowadays in most cases, it is ‘thank you for bringing it over,’ and we just adjust the price in our maintenance software.”
“There are enough suppliers out there to keep everyone honest,” Barnes said, adding that price increases are passed along in freight rates.
McDonald said, “Our customers are aware of the situation. This year in our talks with suppliers we are just talking about, ‘Can you get it for us.’ In the past we talked about price. Now we are talking about availability.”