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Develop a plan and stick to it

Too many vocational truck buyers are overpaying for spec’s they don’t need – all because they don’t have a buying plan. Here’s how to fix that problem, according to an Ontario Mack sales manager.


CONCORD, Ont. — Vocational truck buyers who don’t develop and stick to a purchasing plan, are often left paying more than necessary for an overspec’d dealer stock truck.

Steve Bates, Mack sales manager, Mid-Ontario Truck Centre, said there is money to be saved with good planning. Vocational trucks make up about a quarter of the Class 8 truck population, but the trucks are highly specialized by region.

“You can take a highway tractor and I can sell it in Ontario, Quebec, Vancouver, California – anywhere in North America, it’s pretty much the same truck,” Bates told an audience at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar. “The vocational trucks we sell in Ontario are unique to Ontario. If I have a vocational truck at my dealership and I can’t sell it, I can’t sell it anywhere else.”

To avoid being stuck with inventory they can’t move, dealers often spec’ trucks that are loaded with features that many vocational truck buyers really don’t need.

Bates gave the example of a municipality such as the City of Toronto looking for a tandem roll-off truck rated for 27,000 kgs. 

“If you try to find one of these at any dealership, chances are it’s spec’d out with 500 hp,” Bates said. “Do you need 500 hp? No, you probably need a maximum of 360-375 hp, that’s it. Why did the dealer put 500 hp in the truck? Because he’s going to go with what he can sell the easiest and not get stuck with, so he goes with the high horsepower. If you buy that truck, think of the consequences. You just bought a truck that’s going to cost you an additional $1,500 per year in fuel for the next 15 years. Let’s say that truck had diff-locks on it; most vocational trucks are spec’d with diff-locks. You do not need diff-locks to do what you’re going to do in the city of Toronto. Diff-locks are worth $1,000, so you just overpaid. You bought something you’ll never use. I can stand here and name another 30 items on that truck that you’re overpaying for.”

The key to avoiding this, said Bates, is to develop a purchasing plan and spec’ to your own requirements instead of buying hastily and settling for dealer stock units. 

“Having a purchasing plan will save you an awful lot of money,” he said.

Bates said customers should strive for standardization within their fleet so the trucks are easier to service and maintain.

“Standardization should be a goal. In a fleet, how many brands of trucks can your mechanics work on? How many different engines? Let alone types of transmissions, rear ends and so on,” he said.

Fleets should also plan for obsolescence, noted Bates, and retire older vehicles before they break down and require a replacement unit to be bought off the lot.

“If you wait for an engine failure, now it’s a panic buy situation and you’re looking for another truck on a dealer lot,” Bates said. “Try to plan ahead.”

This extends to the body as well; if possible, try to plan so that the truck and body will expire around the same time.

“I see people overbuy trucks and put a little body on it,” Bates said. “When you buy a truck with a body on it, you want to plan out so that the two are going to become obsolete at approximately the same time. There’s very little divorce that goes on with a truck and body – they usually stay together for life.”

Because some vocational trucks, such as cement mixers, are often kept in service for 18-24 years, a bad buying decision can have lingering repercussions.

“If you make a bad decision or purchase the wrong truck up front, that’s a long time to own that bad decision,” Bates said.

In Ontario, vocational truck operators should also be aware that the Safe, Productive, Infrastructure-Friendly (SPIF) regulations will be fully in place by Dec. 31, 2020, when the grandfather period for existing trucks comes to an end.

This means mixers built after 2002 and other vocational truck types built after 2007 will have to comply with SPIF, or be saddled with weight penalties of 5,100 kgs. Because of the long life-cycles of these types of trucks, Bates said fleets should be planning now for the conclusion of the grandfather period.

“It’s coming sooner than you think,” he warned. “These trucks will have to be modified or replaced. There are a lot of tri-axle roll-off trucks on the road that are going to be affected.”


James Menzies

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.
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