From technology, to emissions to training to technicians, a panel consisting of fleets, dealers, parts distributors and repair garages had far-reaching discussions while taking a 360-degree view of the heavy-duty aftermarket at the recent Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue in Las Vegas.
The overarching theme of the discussion, moderated by Mike Delaney, president and CEO of WheelTime, was the changes occurring across the trucking industry and their impact on the aftermarket.
Lee Long, director of fleet services at Southeast Freight Lines, said some of the changing technology has been good for fleets. “With technology like collision mitigation, we have seen positive impacts on safety. And telematics have allowed us to see issues that arise that drivers may not report to us so we can take care of them before they become a problem on the road.”
Javier Rodriguez, CEO of J&R Fleet Service LLC, said that as trucks have gotten more complex it has become a challenge for him to keep his technicians updated on the latest technology.
Kyle Treadway, president and dealer principal at Kenworth Sales Co., said, “We are in a learning spiral and there is no time to catch our breath.”
Emissions is one area in which trucking has seen tremendous change. “There is another wave out there and we do not know what the technology path will be yet,” Treadway said, “EPA continues to press [the emissions issue] every three or four years, but hopefully we will not be seeing the same volatility impact we have in the past.”
Rodriguez said that more and more of the work that he is seeing at his service garage is emissions-related. John Minor, president and CEO of Midwest Wheel Companies, said that since many vehicles with aftertreatment systems on them are out of the warranty period, it presents “a big opportunity for independents.”
No discussion of the aftermarket would be complete without some comments on the technician shortage. Mike Eppes, managing vice president of parts for Rush Enterprises, Inc., said the profile for a technician has changed in recent years.
Treadway agreed, saying “they need mechanical aptitude, technical skills and they need forensic skills and communication skills.”
Minor said he has turned to more in-house training to make sure his technicians are prepared. Treadway said he is doing the same thing and commented that his dealership’s training bill had quadrupled in the last 10 years.
Telematics is helping service providers be more efficient, according to Bill Ryan, chairman and CEO of Point Spring & Driveshaft Co. He prediced the next generation of telematics devices will be all makes rather than brand specific. Long said telematics gives him “quicker predictability of what faults will be.”
Recognizing that fleets are more focused than ever on uptime, dealers are broadening their scope. “We consider ourselves an all makes parts and service supplier. We support the OEM, but everyone is looking for ways to grow and that will be with non-nameplate stuff.," said Eppes.
Treadway said dealers are watching what independents are doing. “We are taking lessons on the agility of independents and some dealers are starting their own independent operations.”
Minor reminded the audience that “the independent aftermarket is well equipped to take of today’s trucks,” even those with new technology.