Here I sit, fingers hovering over the keyboard, staring at the blank screen where this column will be built. It’s late February and I’ve resolved to write about the technological innovations that impressed me in the last few seriously amazing years. There were many.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that, for me, the most interesting thing about recent years might just be a moment, one particular week. It’s about the contrast between two events I experienced in that seven-day stretch. I was transported from one technological extreme to its opposite, from one trucking culture to a comprehensively different one. It was both fascinating and instructive, and I’ve thought about it many times since. Written about it in a couple of ways, too. I think it’s a key issue.
That week started pretty well with a flight to luxurious digs in California’s Napa Valley, wine country. A few days later I was in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, a very little town in northwestern Quebec. From extreme sophistication to almost no sophistication at all, at least not in the way we usually conceive it.
In Napa I was with the Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) aftermarket crew, three prominent dealers, one fleet customer, and the brass from a telematics company. I was in very good, very civilized company, mixing with big minds, and the conversation was about things that interest me greatly, among them the highest of high technologies like predictive diagnostics. Like the “connected” truck.
Predictive diagnostics is closer than you might think, by the way.
“I don’t think we’re further than five or 10 years away,” said Friedrich Baumann, then senior vice-president, aftermarket at DTNA, now with Navistar.
The idea is that the moment of a turbocharger’s failure, for instance, will be predictable, and with some accuracy. That’s mighty compelling. Just think what that could mean to you in practice.
So there was that.
And in Quebec there was the roar of trucks in drag-race competition, some of them purpose-built for racing alone with maybe 2,500 hp under the hood, pulling loaded 140,000-lb B-trains up a 12% grade in the middle of that little French town. It’s called the Rodeo du Camion and it’s legendary. Thousands of people whooping and hollering for their favorites, all the more so when a driver throws torque at the matter in such a way as to lift the left front wheel a foot or even two feet off the ground when the lights turn green. Some especially strong trucks are still lifting that wheel on their second or even third shift. Impressive.
All of this is fuelled — not by fine Napa wine, heaven forbid — but by thin beer carried in six-packs hanging from almost every guy’s belt.
There hasn’t been this much fun since somebody invented laughter.
I had good conversations up there in the north, too. As usual I met a few faithful readers and I ran across a couple of southern fleet managers who had made the trip because at heart they’re gearheads like me. We had good chats, one common theme being the shrinking ranks of true truck people.
Up there telematics isn’t a thing. Up there trucks are sold to loggers, flatdeck owner-operators, and independents. Maybe small farm fleets. Old-school guys, not highway people. Very sophisticated in their knowledge of trucks and trucking but many of the modern gizmologies aren’t on their radar. Some of those new techno-tricks wouldn’t work terribly well up there anyway, though some would be a boon.
I’m left wondering, how do we make the latest technologies attractive — or even just comprehensible — to folks who don’t pull white vans down smooth highways? Predictive diagnostics could mean a lot to them, after all.
The industry forgets about these people too readily, too often.
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