MONTREAL, Que. — Navistar International came to ExpoCam last week bearing gifts for the Canadian market. It launched a new ProStar ES 110 spec’ for applications with a GVWR of up to 110,000 lbs and officially launched its OnCommand Connection remote diagnostics platform here.
We caught up with Bill Kozek, president, North America Truck and Parts and Mark Belisle, president of Navistar Canada for an interview just prior to the show. We talked about Navistar’s renewed commitment to uptime, the future of its N-series engine and the evolution of the Canadian dealer network.
Navistar has not been shy about declaring its new slogan: “It’s uptime at International.” However, all the OEMs are declaring war on downtime in various ways. What makes International’s focus on uptime any different?
“We spent a lot of time talking about, it’s not just keeping the trucks on the road. It’s how do we design them? Are we designing them so that ultimately, manufacturing is able to build them and get them to the customer in a one-piece flow?” Kozek explained. “Then it’s design. Does it stay on the road? OnCommand Connection is a huge piece of that. The truck is now talking to you. The goal is that the truck predicts when something might go down, versus when something actually does go down. That’s the next big piece of OnCommand Connection.”
Currently, Navistar’s OnCommand Connection monitors diagnostic information from Navistar and Cummins engines as well as Eaton transmissions. Kozek said Meritor’s sensors will soon be monitored by the system with others to follow.
“The goal of the entire system, of the whole uptime deal, is zero unscheduled downtime,” Kozek said. “I don’t know that anybody does it well in the industry, so if we can differentiate ourselves on that piece of it, that’s just one more thing and one more competitive advantage for us.”
Belisle said before long, real-time diagnostics will be able to indicate to the operator, for example, when an oil change is required.
“That sort of change is going to happen in the trucking industry as we get to that evolution of diagnostics,” he said.
“We know from where we came from, we need to be better than the competition,” Kozek added. “That’s why this is so important to us. We need to be able to get our dwell time – our time to repair – we need to get that down to industry-leading. The truck goes in diagnosed, the parts are there and it’s out the door in one day. That’s the goal.”
On the future of the Navistar engine
Internally and in conversations with customers, Navistar has dropped the MaxxForce name from its engine line.
“We’re calling it an N13,” Kozek confirmed. “We decided to go away from the MaxxForce brand for really one reason and everybody knows what that reason is. We like the engine. We’re doing the work for GHG2017 so for the foreseeable future, we will have that particular engine. We will continue to have a 13-litre engine ad infinitum. That’s the plan and it will be an N13.”
Kozek added the engine will have to perform well to overcome the perceptions that have in some cases persisted from its earlier-version EGR-only MaxxForce engines.
“We’ve just got to make sure it performs,” he said. “It’s lightweight, it gets good fuel economy, it’s quiet – all those things that were good about the engine – and we just want to make those things better, especially in 2017.”
Belisle said there’s strong demand for a 13-litre engine in Canada, especially among north-south fleets. But he added it’s equally important to have the 15-litre Cummins product available for domestic carriers.
“I think both options are required,” he said. “Anybody who’s running north-south is more weight-conscious, so they’re looking more towards a 13L, but fleets that are running strictly in Canada, they’re really more interested in a 15L product. When you think about the secondary market here in Canada, it’s still all about big horsepower and big torque and big rear ends.”
Asked what solutions exist for small fleets that may have purchased the early-generation EGR-only MaxxForce engines – and now find demand in the secondary market to be lacking for those engines – Kozek pointed to Navistar’s Diamond Renewed program, which updates software calibrations and in some cases hardware, to improve the reliability of the engine.
“We understand, and our data says, that the 2013 version of that engine is better than the 2012, which is better than the 2011, which is better than the 2010,” Kozek said. “We’ve spent an enormous amount of time, resources and money to fix those components and we’ve got a very good idea of what the data is on that particular vehicle being ready to go, to fix it. We’ve got a program called Diamond Renewed and when we take a truck back or a dealer takes a truck back they can Diamond Renew the vehicle. Think about it like a certified pre-owned vehicle.”
The truck undergoes a 180-point inspection and problematic parts – for example, an EGR cooler of a certain vintage – are replaced.
“We believe that, and our data is saying that, when we do those things with all the latest hardware parts, with all the latest software configurations, the vehicle’s going to do a much better job of performing and being reliable,” Kozek said.
The Diamond Renewed program is available through participating International dealers.
“You can’t turn it into an SCR (engine), but you can turn it into a much more reliable vehicle,” Kozek said. “That’s the intent of doing it.”
On the evolution of the dealer network
The trend towards consolidation that’s evident on the carrier side of the trucking business is also occurring within Navistar’s dealer network. Belisle said International truck dealers are consolidating as dealer principals near retirement age. This is resulting in the exodus of smaller mom-and-pop dealers and the creation of larger dealer organizations.
“The smaller dealers are retiring out and are selling to the larger dealers,” he explained. “I think you’re seeing a natural progression of consolidation within the dealer network in Canada, but it certainly hasn’t decreased the number of service points we’ve had. In fact, I think it has augmented our service points and you’re really seeing, the larger dealers are able to service a customer base much better…I think you’re going to see our customers and our dealer networks both becoming larger and more consolidated here over the next few years, even at a greater pace than there has been over the last five or six years.”
At the same time, dealers are looking to become “one-stop shops,” where customers can go for work on whatever equipment they’re operating. International dealers are employing trailer technicians, for example, so their fleet customers can bring in all their equipment for servicing.
“That’s a huge paradigm shift for the Canadian dealer network, where they’re really becoming a one-stop shop,” Belisle explained. “The amount of capital they continue to infuse into their network is pretty astounding. There’s a new dealership going up in Red Deer. It’ll probably be one of our largest dealerships in Canada when it’s completed. Kevin Tallman and the Tallman organization continue to expand and really add a lot of product lines and depth of knowledge that hasn’t been there historically. We’re seeing that across Canada as the larger dealers really embrace how to go from a mom-and-pop dealership to a real larger corporation that is out there to service the customer.”
Kozek added “I think it’s gotten to the point where, really the dealer body wants to be a solutions provider. They’re not a truck dealer. If you have a truck, we want you to bring it to our place and we will do everything…That’s the intent: one time, one invoice, one stop.”
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