When I discuss with industry suppliers the cost challenges their owner/operator and fleet customers face, I’m often asked what would be the best way they could help truckers reduce their costs.
Before addressing the ways to help, it might be best to address the one way NOT to help. And that’s through pushing sub-standard off shore parts.
The trickle of cheap offshore knock-offs that started 10 years ago is becoming a torrent. It’s estimated that the big three North American truck lighting manufacturers have lost 15% of their business to offshore knock-offs in the last few years. Our own research has found that 20% of fleets and 10% of owner/operators have purchased cheap offshore tires in the past year. Braking systems and fifth wheel components are also popular targets for knock-off products.
The best operators, like Bill Arthur at LE Walker Transport, already disapprove of distributors who try to push offshore products. He told us he uses four distributors that are committed to offering brand-name parts.
But for fleets and owner/operators running on thin profit margins, it will prove hard not to be enticed by these products when they offer 20% or 30% savings off the regular purchase price for aftermarket parts. They will actually be pushing their suppliers to offer them.
Rather than taking the attitude of “the customer is always right”, and moving towards offering such products, I hope suppliers will instead take the time to school fleets and owner/operators on the true LONG TERM costs of cheap offshore knockoffs. Truckers sometimes need to be reminded that while their profit margins may be thin, so is their margin for error.
From the experts we’ve spoken to, these knock-off products may look the same – right down to having the same bubble pack and printing on the box, but they don’t perform the same. Some imported LED lamps for example tested at 50% lower than the minimum intensity. Some have actually been tested at 90% below the minimum requirements.
We’ve heard of knock-off brake valves that look so identical to the established brands that even our own engineers have trouble visually distinguishing the difference between the knock-off part and their own. Yet, a detailed inspection finds wall castings so thin that a rupture could occur in the side of the valve causing the brakes to come on at speed; o-rings made out of lower-quality material that wears out quickly because it can’t handle temperature extremes.
Our own research found that the majority of fleets and owner/operators using offshore tires are not bothering to retread them.
The impact of poor or failed performance extends beyond the knock-off item. A failed knock-off brake valve, for instance, can have a trickle down effect that impacts other components of the brake system. Using a knock-off rebuild kit can void the warranty of the original components.
Ed Roeder of Muir’s Cartage told us he learned to avoid knock-offs because of something as innocuous as a poorly woven rear door strap. The $6 offering broke free just as a driver was using it to support himself – almost sending him into traffic.
Particularly disturbing is when the industry thinks it is buying genuine parts, and in fact it is not. Makers of knock-off parts tend to label them with parts numbers that are the same as on the genuine components. Legally, parts numbers are NOT protected. And even if there is a violation involved with a knock-off, chances are it will go unnoticed. For example, there are about 3,500 manufacturers of trailers, buses and motor homes in Canada. Yet Transport Canada has just seven inspectors.
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis