Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood

Here I sit, fingers hovering over the keyboard. It’s early January and I’ve resolved to write about the technological innovations that impressed me in 2015. There were many.

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that for me the most interesting thing about last year is a moment, one particular week. It’s about the contrast between two events I experienced in that seven-day stretch. I was transported from one technological extreme to its opposite, from one trucking culture to a comprehensively different one. It was both fascinating and instructive.

The week started with a flight to luxurious digs in California’s Napa Valley. A few days later I was in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, a very little town in northwestern Quebec. From extreme sophistication to no sophistication at all.

In Napa I was with the Daimler Trucks North America aftermarket crew, three prominent dealers, one fleet customer, and the brass from telematics company Zonar. I was in very good, very civilized company, mixing with big minds, and the conversation was about things that interest me greatly, among them the highest of high technologies like predictive diagnostics. Like the “connected” truck. 

Predictive diagnostics is closer than you might think, by the way.

“I don’t think we’re further than five or 10 years away,” said Friedrich Baumann, senior vice president, aftermarket at DTNA.

The idea is that the moment of a turbocharger’s failure, for instance, will be predictable, and with some accuracy. That’s mighty compelling. Just think what that could mean to you in practice.

So there was that.

In Quebec there was the roar of trucks in drag-race competition, some of them purpose-built for racing alone with maybe 2,500 hp under the hood, pulling loaded 140,000-pound B-trains up a 12% grade in the middle of that little French town. It’s called the Rodeo du Camion and it’s legendary. Thousands of people whooping and hollering for their favorites, all the more so when a driver throws torque at the matter in such a way as to lift the left front wheel a foot or even two off the ground when the lights turn green. Some especially strong trucks are still lifting that wheel on their second shift. Impressive.

All of this is fueled — not by fine Napa wine, heaven forbid — but by thin beer carried in six-packs hanging from almost every guy’s belt.

There hasn’t been this much fun since somebody invented laughter.

I had good conversations up there in the north, too. I met a few faithful readers, and I ran across a couple of southern fleet managers who had made the trip because at heart they’re gearheads like me. We had good chats, one common theme being the shrinking ranks of true truck people.

Up there telematics isn’t a thing. Up there trucks are sold to loggers, owner-operators, and independents. Maybe small farm fleets. Old-school guys, not highway people.

And I’m left wondering, how do we make the latest technologies attractive — or even just comprehensible — to folks who don’t pull white vans down smooth highways? Predictive diagnostics could mean a lot to them, after all.