SIMPLICITY AND SOPHISTICATION

Rolf Lockwood

March 12, 2008 Vol. 4, No. 6

Once upon a time, the trucking life was dead simple. You threw fuel in the tank at just 30 cents a gallon or so, you turned the key to start that big and noisy 175-horse diesel, and off you went to the job site or the loading dock. Maybe you even had a gas job. You probably didn’t notice the plume of black smoke coming out of your stack, nor did anyone else. The engine leaked some oil but what the heck, a quart or two would fix that at the end of the day. You rattled your kidneys with every ripple in the road and you froze your buns off in winter. That’s just the way it was. A bit brutal, but a long way from complicated.

But as I look at the collection of new products and services I’ve written about in this edition, and all the other Product Watch newsletters I’ve done over the last four years for that matter, I’m struck by the utter lack of simplicity in this game as it’s now played in 2008. Emissions legislation plays a huge role in all our lives, of course, while the Internet offers enormous new efficiencies we weren’t even dreaming about just 10 or 15 years ago. Both of them challenge us every day, and nothing about either of them stands still.

And then there’s the other key driver in how we do business today: the price of fuel. If you’re lucky, you work in the U.S. where fuel is cheap at $3.75 or so a gallon. Here in Canada it’s at least a buck more. But pity the poor guy in England. I had an e-mail the other day from a small-fleet operator in Yorkshire who said he’d just filled up a truck in Skipton (lovely part of the country, by the way) and paid the equivalent of $12 a gallon. He noted with disgust that 67% of that price was tax and asked rhetorically how he could possibly survive.

Darned good question.

So against this backdrop of moving targets and soaring costs and endless challenges, it was somehow comforting to learn about the TICO terminal tractor that I’ve written about in this issue. It’s a veritable beacon of simplicity. Sure, a yard tractor is by definition a simple beast with a simple job to do, but this one was designed to be the antithesis of complexity. It’s a component-based tractor that’s said to be easy to repair with standard hand tools.

Gee whiz, there’s a claim I haven’t heard in a while. Sounds kinda good, eh?

It’s actually been around since 1985 or so but the TICO is only now being sold on a retail basis, which brings to three the number of players in this little niche. TICO Terminal Systems had been using other shunt tractors for use in its outsourced terminal-management services business in U.S. ports on the east and Gulf coasts, but decided to make its own with a view to simplified maintenance and repair leading to maximum uptime and minimum costs.

The Canadian distributor for all the company’s products is trailer veteran Aidan Bolger. If you’re curious, the TICO will be on display at the Truck World show in Toronto April 17-19.

AT THE OPPOSITE END OF THE SOPHISTICATION SCALE is the little Modec urban delivery truck coming out of England, Coventry to be precise. An all-electric vehicle launched from a clean sheet of paper, body and all, it was making its first tentative foray into the North American market with an appearance at the National Truck Equipment Association’s Work Truck Show a couple of weeks back. I had the chance to drive it for a couple of miles and was suitably impressed — it’s torquey for sure, dead quiet, and spins on a dime with its turning radius of just 37 ft. Outward vision is spectacular, and the stand-up cab airy and comfortable.

Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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