Fleet owners and managers should pay close attention to changes and developments in the parts...

Fleet owners and managers should pay close attention to changes and developments in the parts and service arenas. 

Photo: Steven Martinez

The right trucks with the right specs is the starting point for fleet efficiency, but even the best trucks consume parts and need maintenance and repair from time to time. As a result, fleet owners and managers pay close attention to changes and developments in the parts and service arenas. Here’s a look back on 2018 aftermarket issues.

Technician attraction and retention

Finding and keeping technicians continues to be a major issue for the trucking industry and is one that does not look like it will go away anytime soon.

However, the industry is not sitting idly by hoping someone else will solve the problem. In one case industry and academia came together to try to make a difference. A group of California business leaders did an assessment of technical educational opportunities in the Fresno area and then held task force meetings with education partners at high schools, community colleges and universities as well as with local government officials to discuss what was and wasn’t working when it came to educational opportunities in the career and technical arenas.

They discovered that there were no medium- and heavy-Duty truck technician training programs anywhere in the Central Valley of California. The group worked with Reedley College, which is located in the San Joaquin Valley and which had an ag/diesel program to become NATFE/ASE accredited.

The group also worked with a career technical high school to develop a truck technician-training program and even had a new building constructed.

Mike Betts, chairman and CEO of Betts Co., and one of the driving forces behind the effort attributes the program’s success to business not trying to go it alone. “You need to form an alliance. You work with educators and you work with industry together. You form a vision and you take inventory of what is available in your area and where the gaps are.”

He adds, “If you gather industry support and then bring educators into the conversation great thing will happen.”

However finding technicians is just half the battle. Once you find them you need to keep them. Fleet consultants say the condition of the shop is one of the key components for retaining technicians. Jack Legler, technical director at the Technology & Maintenance Council, says, “[Fleets] are going to have to make life more pleasant, more professionally satisfying and make it easier for technicians to do their jobs if they want to keep them around.”

Making the technician’s job easier means having current tools available and ensuring technicians are trained on the latest repair procedures.  When it comes to professional satisfaction, make sure you have outlined a career path for your technicians. “You have to have step levels of progress not only from a compensation standpoint but also from a challenge standpoint, says Bruce Stockton, president of Stockton Solutions.

Relationships, partnerships matter

Dealer partnerships with suppliers are gaining traction. In 2018, Summit Truck Group announced one such strategic partnership. Under the terms of the partnership Fontaine Fifth Wheel will be the exclusive supplier of fifth wheels for all stock trucks ordered by Summit, and will also be the standard fifth wheel on retail sales unless the customer specifies another brand.

Steve Dupuis, COO of Summit, explains the dealership looked at how it went to market and how it could leverage scale with Tier 1 vendors “that share the same customer service philosophy and approach to business we do.” He says fleets benefit from discounted prices with better service.

Dupuis says the dealership is working on other partnerships for the future.

While data shows that e-commerce is gaining ground as a method for purchasing parts, fleets told MacKay & Co. that one of the reasons they don't buy online is they don’t want to lose the relationship they have with their local dealer or distributor.  Given the complexity of today’s trucks and all of the new technological developments taking place in the trucking industry, fleets still want someone who can help them navigate all the available choices in replacement parts.

John Blodgett, vice president of sales and marketing at MacKay & Co., says, “The last line of defense a fleet has [in proper parts purchasing] is the person selling the part. The fleet needs [a parts seller] that will go through the process of trying to figure out where the truck is in its life cycle, what the applications is and what is the best fit.”

Fleets rely on their dealer and distributor partners to make decisions about the quality of the part before selling it to them. Relationships continue to be important, according to Rick Reynolds, president and owner principal of Peach Stare Truck Centers and 2018 ATD/HDT Truck Dealer of the Year. “While purchasing behavior may change because of the complexity of how a truck is engineered there will always have to be interaction with people,” he believes.

While relationships are likely to continue to play an important role in the truck parts aftermarket, parts suppliers are stepping up their on line presence and making changes to their online parts catalogs.

Cummins and TRP Parts are just two examples of companies that have beefed up their online parts catalogs with expanded product lists and better search options.

Katherine Stevens, Cummins’ aftermarket information program manager, says, “With features like a part number search, individual parts graphics and parts catalog language translation, users feel confident that the part they see on the website is the correct part to keep them running.”

Matt Treadwell, general marketing manager for Paccar Parts, says the company has developed a new way of using VMRS codes to display product information. “This strategic solution helps users identify the parts they need faster and maximize uptime.”

Making changes to improve service, avoid breakdowns

A TMC/FleetNet America study found that fleets had a breakdown every 9,135 miles, but best-in-class fleets had breakdowns every 33,809 miles. Tires, lighting, brakes, exhaust systems and wheels/rim/hubs/bearings accounted for 58% of all repairs.

Jim Buell, executive vice president of sales and marketing for FleetNet America, spoke with the best-in-class fleets to find out what they were doing that resulted in fewer breakdowns. “In each case, the maintenance leader was able to point to a practice they implemented which they felt drove superior results,” he says.

Fleets told Buell extra training, heat shrinking connectors and “goody bags” of replacement bulbs were winning strategies when it came to avoiding lighting issues.

With exhaust systems, one fleet invested in extra personnel to monitor fault code lights and make careful assessments about whether the repair needed to be done immediately or could be deferred.

Buell believes that if fleets are going to reduce breakdowns they first need data and must understand miles between repairs and breakdowns. “Fleets need to know where they are best-in-class so they don’t inadvertently change something that’s working for them.”  They also need to  “identify where they can make improvements that will give their company the best return on their maintenance team’s time,” he says.

Labor costs usually make up 60% of a repair invoice with parts and accessorial fees making up the other 40%, Stockton says. He advises fleet manager to scrutinize every repair invoice to see if the percentages align with the industry average.

He also cautions fleets not to focus solely on labor rates, but rather to look at the hours it takes for a repair to be completed.  His advice is to insist that all bills spell out in detail how many hours were spent on each repair.

It’s also a good practice to keep a close eye on accessorial fees which include things like shop supplies, environmental fees, hazardous waste fees, fuel/oil/grease charges, etc. He says a reasonable and acceptable shop supply percentage is 5% of total labor.

What’s out on the horizon?

There are several developments that are in their infancy that could affect the aftermarket, and that fleet mangers need to keep an eye on.

The first is blockchain. Steven Lerner, head of blockchain research at Wade & Partners, says blockchain has the potential to have an immense impact on the aftermarket. He believes it will lead to better and more comprehensive vehicle maintenance histories. “This will improve the capability to assess, diagnose and predict problems,” he says.

Bill Wade, managing partner at Wade & Co., adds, “Eventually anything that comes off the IoT will be able to tell [a fleet] about things like the shape the suspension is in, what shape the electrical system is in, how long was the ‘hotel system’ used and how much of a drain was that.”

David Gerrard, managing partner at Cornerstone Growth Advisors, sees blockchain as a natural fit when it comes to roadside breakdowns. “There are so many disparate participants in the process and it lacks every single thing that blockchain provides which is visibility, trustworthiness and transparency.”

The other development that could be transformative to the aftermarket, according to Erik Starks, chairman and CEO of FTR, is 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

3D printing could bring more customization to the trucking industry. Angela Timmen, aftersales purchasing manager for interior/exterior cab and major components, Daimler Trucks North America, says, “In the future, technologies like 3D printing could give us new ways to mass-customize our trucks and provide better service to our customers.”

Gerrard says fleet thinking is moving from weeks today to hours to get parts. “As long as [3D printing] takes cost and time out of the supply chain than it is incredibly beneficial to fleets.”

About the author
Denise Rondini

Denise Rondini

Aftermarket Contributing Editor

A respected freelance writer, Denise Rondini has covered the aftermarket and dealer parts and service issues for decades. She now writes regularly about those issues exclusively for Heavy Duty Trucking, with information and insight to help fleet managers make smart parts and service decisions, through a monthly column and maintenance features.

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