A fleet’s total cost of ownership is based not only on the initial cost of the vehicle, but also on its maintenance and repair costs. Access to parts and service bay availability keep downtime to a minimum. This causes fleet owners and managers to focus some of their attention on what’s going on in the parts and service aftermarket in order to take advantage of trends and developments. Here’s a look back on some of the key aftermarket issues from 2019.
Proliferation of All-Makes Parts Programs
Perhaps it’s the result of fleets’ abilities to buy truck parts on Amazon, but most manufacturers and component suppliers are now offering value line parts. These offerings often are part of an all-makes strategy that allows truck makers to sell to fleets that have trucks from multiple manufacturers and/or of various ages.
While all-makes parts programs are not new — Paccar’s TRP brand celebrated 35 years in business in 2019 and Freightliner’s Alliance brand has been around for 20 years — we’ve seen a growth in the number of standalone locations selling these brands. TRP has 52 retail stores in the U.S. and Canada, while Alliance has 13. The manufacturers pick strategic locations for the stores — those that see a great deal of truck traffic and cater to drivers who are out on the road away from the local parts supplier.
The parts portfolios for these all-makes programs include items like accessories, batteries, brake drums, lubricants, coolants, steering and electrical components, belts, hoses, etc.
The manufacturers say fleets benefit because these all-makes lines offer selection, value, quality, reliability, availability and support.
In many cases remanufactured parts are an integral part of an all-makes parts program. Reman parts fit nicely into the all-makes strategy because they are available at a lower price, but also are built to OEM quality standards.
Expect additional developments in the all-makes parts programs from the expansion into new product categories, to more stand-alone locations as manufacturers jockey to get more of the maintenance and repair parts business from mixed fleets and from owners of older trucks.
Technology’s Impact on the Aftermarket
Technology is impacting the aftermarket in several ways, most notably facilitating a switch from preventive to predictive maintenance and also in the area of technician training.
At least one company is using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to help fleets identify potential problems. Data from the vehicle’s telematics device is combined with what is called contextual data (weather, traffic, operating conditions, etc.). Data science is used to detect specific failures and to then predict when a failure will occur. The sooner the fleet finds out about an impending failure, the more options they have for resolving the problem. Addressing problems before they result in a breakdown should not only help reduce maintenance costs, but also improve operating efficiency. With its ability to learn, AI might be just the tool the industry has been looking for to more accurately predict a developing problem.
Another way that technology is affecting the aftermarket is in the area of technician training. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are ways to bring more training into the shop. Younger technicians, who grew up with technology and expect to be able to use it in the workplace, will be especially open to learning via these methods.
AR and VR training are becoming more widely accepted and less costly to execute. There is a difference between AR and VR. AR overlays digital information on a real-world situation to enhance the real-world by providing additional information, images, text, etc. With VR, the technician will be immersed in a computer-generated reality where the user is completely in a digital environment.
While it is unlikely that AR and VR will replace existing training, they will be a good way to supplement it and can be one additional thing for fleets to tout in their technician recruiting efforts.
Technology is not the only thing that will help with technician recruiting and retention. The trucking industry needs to become more involved in career and technical education programs. This means meeting with administrators and instructors at local schools offering technician training programs and talking about the skills needed by today’s entry-level technicians. These schools also need equipment for hands-on training. This needs to be more than donating some 10-year-old truck. Today’s students need to be trained on today’s equipment and the only way that will happen is if they actually have the latest equipment on which to practice.
Supplier Support and Distributor Relationships
While fleets face a variety of challenges, aftermarket parts suppliers want fleets to know that they can help them successfully navigate those challenges.
One of the biggest ways suppliers can do that is providing fleets with access to information. Many suppliers offer training and educational programs to fleets especially when it comes to new technology.
Suppliers also say they are trying to design parts that are simpler to repair in the field. These parts can easily be removed, repaired, and replaced, saving time.
In addition, suppliers are trying to understand the future needs of fleets and focus on developing products which allow fleets to increase their uptime and manage their total cost of ownership.
Suppliers want to develop trust relationships and need to actively communicate the real value of new parts and make sure they are easy to do business with.
In a similar vein, it was interesting to learn at Heavy Duty Aftermarket Dialogue that when asked why they don’t buy truck parts online, many of the fleets responding to a survey said they were concerned about losing their relationship with their distributors.
Relationships still matter in the trucking industry whether those relationships are between fleets and suppliers or fleets and the dealers and distributors they buy parts from.
The Question of Tariffs
The truck parts industry was not exempt from the effects of tariffs on goods from China and fleets probably ended up paying more for parts.
Fortunately, fleets have lots of options when it comes to purchasing parts. All-makes parts programs may have been the big winners here as they may have become on option earlier in a truck’s life cycle than they traditionally have been.
Remanufactured parts, because they typically are cheaper than new ones, may now be getting more consideration as fleets look for ways to mitigate increased parts costs.
The best strategy for dealing with the increases in parts costs caused by tariffs is a combination of buying better, stretching maintenance cycles where it makes sense, and passing along some of the costs if possible.