I’ve attended hundreds of press conferences over the past 20 years — supplier-orchestrated events designed to inform the media about new products, services, strategies and, on occasion, not much at all. And I’ve also seen these press conferences become increasingly elaborate as industry suppliers work hard to put their best foot forward. There’s nothing wrong with that. The point, after all, of going to the expense to stage such events is that business journalists such as myself will be impressed enough to write about them and you will be interested enough to read about them.
But as companies try to make their best impression and all new products get billed as “unique and “leading edge”, designed by “forward thinking” companies and manufactured with “state-of the art” technologies, the every-day challenges trucking professionals face can get glossed over by the slick marketing message.
That was not the case when Volvo Trucks North America held a press conference at its new (and very impressive) Nacarato dealership in La Vergne, Tenn., in early January to discuss the critical issue of uptime. In addition to the regular media crew, the OEM invited several owners of small and medium sized fleets and asked them open-ended questions about the challenges they face in keeping their trucks on the road.
The fleet owners obliged with a dose of reality. They complained loudly about declining engine reliability, which when combined with less than efficient dealer practices, is causing far too many headaches and far too much downtime for their operations. They didn’t single out any particular nameplate – there is plenty of blame to go around for all OEMs, the truck executives stressed. (see my “Downtime is getting worse” story in this issue.)
They pointed to the futility of programs aimed at providing quicker diagnosis of truck repairs when overly tight parts inventories leave them waiting 3 or more days for the necessary part. They decried the frustration of listening to OEMs pitching their continental reach when each dealer in the network is actually independently owned and has the attitude of “if you didn’t buy it here, get in line.” And they fumed about dealers who hold their truck and driver hostage until the repair has been paid in full rather than sending the bill. How many carriers give their drivers credit cards with spending limits of $3,000 or more to cover such repair emergencies?
What else was refreshing about a press conference which made time for real truck owners to freely discuss real world issues, was the response of the organizers. No journalist in attendance was quietly asked to “tone down” what he heard; no OE executive tried to downplay the concerns expressed. Volvo executives listened, then pointed to some solutions such as the company’s efforts with Remote Diagnostics (see my story on that, also in this issue) or increasing parts inventories. But there was no attempt to pretend they had a solution to all the issues presented. As Mike and Joe Nacarato, the owners of the Nacarato dealership, replied: We want to know what you need (even if sometimes it means an hour-long conversation) and we want to know when we are not succeeding.
And the simplicity and humbleness of that statement struck me as the best marketing message of all. The first step to producing products and services that address industry issues is actually listening to what the industry needs.
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