NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If football is a game of inches, trucking is a business of minutes. Every minute a truck spends in unproductive downtime costs dearly. Yet the latest truck technologies, engines in particular, are adding to the problem rather than alleviating it.
That’s the stark message trucking company owners gathered for a press conference at Volvo’s new Nacarato truck dealership in La Vergne, Tenn., passed on to dealer and OEM officials. The declining equipment reliability when coupled with less than efficient dealer practices are greatly adding to downtime.
Volvo asked the motor carriers for their frank comments on their challenges during a candid one-hour discussion. It then referred to them in framing its argument that the industry had to place greater focus on uptime and while bringing the media and truck owners up to speed on its latest strategies and tools towards this regard.
“The biggest challenge that we struggle with is the engines that we have. I spend so much of my time dealing with engine maintenance issues,” said Stan Pritchett, owner of Beacon Transport, a 133-truck fleet.
Referring to engine manufacturers in general, Pritchett said his truck downtime “has become tremendous.”
“No longer can I say that because I buy new equipment, I’m not in the shop a lot. I’m looking to run new engines and I want my equipment to stay running,” he reinforced.
Mike McFarlin from M&W Transportation, a 95-truck fleet out of Nashville, Tenn., certainly sympathizes with Pritchett’s issues. He is bearing the same burden.
“Downtime is horrendous,” he said, adding it is particularly bad when trying to get service at a dealer different from the one where you purchased your trucks. He emphasized this is an industry wide problem, stressing that the ability, training and staffing of technicians at many dealers needs to be considered in view of the technical problems being caused by ever more complex equipment.
Kirk Rutherford, whose private fleet serves Bridgestone dealers, also complained loudly about independent dealers who don’t work as a network.
“I can bet on 110% performance from the home dealer. But at other dealers, you get the attitude that you didn’t buy it here so get in line. The local dealer is taking care of the people he goes to church with and his kids play soccer with,” he lamented, adding that as result if his trucks are within a few hundred miles from the home dealership he prefers to bring them there rather than deal with the closest dealership.
“When we roll in to your dealership someone needs to be looking out for my own interests. We need support across the country,” he stressed.
McFarlin conceded that tools brought in by OEMs to better diagnose equipment are helpful but questioned the value of a quick diagnosis if it then takes several days to get the part necessary to complete the repair.
“In my opinion that part should be in stock,” he said.
Pete Carpenter, president of PAC Trucking, another Nashville-based trucking firm, said there also needs to be improvement in communication. Downtime is particularly important to Carpenter as his entire 21-truck fleet is contracted to serving FedEx. But he said accurate information is more important than continued but vague assurances that his truck will be worked on.
“The information is more important than the truck at times. I want to be told that it’s going to take three days to fix it rather we’ll get to it as soon as we can,” he said, explaining the right information gives him more time to make alternative plans.
Another issue raised was flexibility – or rather the lack of it – when it comes to payment. For example, dealers may decide to not release a truck until payment for the repairs has been made.
“I work for a $13B company, our name is on the trucks, and I’m going to stiff you for a $2,000 charge? Fix it, and I will deal with the bill later,” Rutherford said.
To which Carpenter added that no matter how much he may love his drivers, he doesn’t think it wise to give them a credit card with an unlimited spending limit to handle any emergency.
Volvo executives and the owners of the Nacarato dealership acknowledged these industry concerns and answered with a variety of strategies, programs and tools they hope will address them. For more on that read our continuing coverage on the Volvo press conference on www.trucknews.com.