For most lumber and building material dealers, corporate truck fleets not only drop loads at jobsites, they also deliver a mobile branding message to contractor customers via logos and slogans ablaze on their sides. But what gets painted on the cab door is only a small part of the picture when it comes to the considerations that go into selecting the right vehicles for your yard. Trucks are an integral part of almost every dealer's business, and they're enormous investments that can play an important role in increasing competitiveness and customer satisfaction.
When it comes to trucks, the entire construction industry is becoming more knowledgeable about the models available and how they can best be utilized.“Today there are major corporations, associations, and information that create a more professional expertise in what the construction industry is doing, and that is reflected in the type of trucks that are purchased,” says Todd Bloom, vice president of marketing for General Motors Isuzu Commercial Truck.
In the past, some dealers may have had the mind-set that “a truck is a truck”and that there's not much difference between a 10-year-old vehicle and a new model. But there is. Truck manufacturers have been hard at work in recent years striving to meet government operating requirements for diesel engines while at the same time satisfying customers' emerging needs. Aside from some aesthetic improvements, you might not be able to see these differences on the outside of new trucks,but from inside it's an entirely different story.So here's a look “under the hood”at the developments most likely to get your engines revving.
On the Road Cab Comfort: Over the past 10 years, the comfort and convenience of truck cabs has improved steadily. Where cabs were spare and utilitarian even as recent as five years ago, many are now as well-appointed as cars. And what fleet owners used to view as unnecessary extras and upgrades are now recognized as instrumental in keeping drivers happy and productive, including air conditioning and heat,radios and CD players,insulation against wind and road noise,and seats that are well-cushioned and more ergonomic for better back support. In addition, instruments and controls are being positioned for maximum ease-of-use to keep the driver's eyes on the road, improving overall safety.
“There is a greater emphasis now on operator comfort, as this goes directly to operator retention,” points out Bob Hess, product applications manager for Mitsu-bishi Fuso Trucks, hitting on a key added benefit for driver-thin dealers.
In addition to comfort, many fleet operators have switched from manual to automatic transmissions, despite higher fuel consumption, because automatic transmissions contribute to extended engine life and eliminate the guesswork and difficulty of shifting gears on medium-and heavy-duty trucks.
It's also another personnel bonus: “With automatic transmissions, someone who's used to driving their personal auto with an automatic transmission can get into one of these trucks and start operating it with minimal training,” says Jim Crowcroft, manager of product marketing for Sterling Trucks.
Trailer Brake Control: Some manufacturers have started to integrate trailer brake controls into the main control panels of their trucks, rather than forcing operators to get the brakes added after-market as is normally required. “We know from talking to our customers that 70 percent of them are having a trailer brake installed after-market, either at the dealership or by another installer,” notes Doug Scott, truck group marketing manager for Ford Motor Trucks. “The disadvantage of this is that the trailer brake controller is not very well integrated into the electronics of the vehicle's braking system or in appearance.”
Installing the trailer brake control at the factory fully integrates it into the truck's system, says Scott, providing much more proportional braking in trailering applications.
Diesel Engines: Between 90 and 95 percent of the medium- and heavy-duty trucks used in the LBM segment are diesel-fueled, manufacturers estimate. Throughout the 1980s and '90s, several rounds of government regulations mandated emissions improvements, but manufacturers have also concentrated on overall performance: improved fuel efficiency, higher horsepower, more durable engine components, and more advanced electronics. “Old diesels were noisy and smelly, but they got good fuel economy,” says Craig Fisher, director of commercial vehicle marketing and product planning for Daimler/Chrysler. “Today's diesels are just as quiet as a gas engine, you can't smell them, [and] they're far better in performance than a gas engine because of the torque in them.”