Five terminal tractor buying trends

by Sonia Straface

With all the different options available, buying a shunt truck isn’t a simple task anymore. You can spec’ your terminal tractor with endless options to suit your fleet’s needs and even make it a comfortable and functional work space for operators.

We spoke with several shunt truck dealers who gave us the scoop on the latest options buyers are steering towards, and found many shoppers are opting to make the shunt truck a more luxurious space in an effort to attract and retain operators.

Heating and air conditioning
One of the most noticeable trends in the last five years has been that air conditioning in terminal tractors is now standard, the dealers told us.

“A couple years ago, this wasn’t the case,” George Cobham Jr. vice-president of sales and marketing, Autocar dealer Glasvan Great Dane said. “Because there was a reason not to spec’ it. Some people said drivers going from a 65-degree cab to 90 degrees outside is not good for you. But for drivers today, air conditioning is a pretty important thing. Some people might refuse to work if it’s too hot. So, buyers keep that in mind.”

James Blake, vice-president and general manager of Tico Eastern Canada agreed.

“Two or three years ago, air conditioning was an option, but now it comes standard,” he said. “Just like on-highway drivers, retention is important for shunt truck drivers too. So many of our customers are finding that having air conditioning will keep drivers happy.”

In the winter, Cobham Jr. said that many more customers are spec’ing auxiliary heaters.

“Shunt trucks don’t produce a lot of heat,” he said. “They have small motors – two-fifths the size of a highway truck – so they don’t produce as much heat. So, we’re seeing a lot of people putting in auxiliary heaters as another heat source.”

Not only do the heaters keep the drivers warm during the winter months, but they can also keep the windshield defogged and are a fuel saving option that many are fond of, Cobham Jr. added.

“Because of how many times the doors are opened in the winter, we are finding that many customers like to have a secondary heating system,” agreed Michelle Sedlezky at Tico dealer Checker Flag Leasing. “Especially our customers in the Ottawa area.”

There has also been a major move towards spec’ing LED lighting, according to Sedlezky.

“The LED lighting provides better visibility for the driver and makes it safer for the drivers in the yard,” she said, adding that many owners are opting to upgrade to LED lighting for the safety factor alone.

John Uppington of Kalmar Ottawa confirmed this trend.

“We’ve seen for many years now that almost all our trucks are being spec’d with LED exterior lighting. It provides better quality light for the driver and they can see what’s going on around them much better than with traditional incandescent lamps or halogen lamps.”

Comfortable seats
“What we’re really seeing a lot of recently is more buyers opting for comfortable seats,” said Uppington.

He said that buyers are more aware of the effects of full body vibration caused by being in the truck all day.

“Many are choosing to go with the Bose Ride seat on their new trucks,” he said, adding that the company recently sold 45 units with the Bose Ride seats to a major Canadian client. “They work like noise canceling headphones and isolate the driver from being tossed around. The seat works to help keep the driver healthy. Even though this issue isn’t exclusive to terminal tractors, we are seeing it go in the terminal tractors more and more.”

The car experience
According to Shawn Rogers, national sales manager for Train Trailer, more and more shunt trucks are getting spec’d to resemble a car.

“Drivers – even shunt truck drivers – are getting older,” he said. “So making the cab a more comfortable place for the driver is becoming more popular. So with that, we’re seeing OEMs trying to give truck drivers the car experience where there’s Bluetooth hookups in the cab and things like that to make life easier for the drivers.”

Sedlezky confirmed she is seeing this with her customers as well, adding many are asking for entertainment systems in the cab.

“We’re seeing customers asking for the trucks to come with radio, MP3 player capability, and chargers for their phone and tablet,” she said.

And just like GPS systems for drivers, shunt truck operators want their yard management systems mounted to their dashboard for easy access, Uppington added.

“These drivers really just want the same comforts as highway drivers,” acknowledged Blake. “So, with a simple fix like adding AM/FM radio to the shunt truck – five years ago, no shunt trucks had that, and now it’s a popular option today.”

Sticker shock
The biggest trend Cobham Jr. is recognizing more than any spec’ is the face of a customer who hasn’t been shunt truck shopping in a while.

“Anyone who used to buy off-road yard tractors is so surprised by the cost of new technology and the complexity of it all,” he said. “That surprise is one of the biggest trends I’ve noticed. If you haven’t bought a yard truck in six years, chances are it had a Tier 3 diesel motor that was very simple, but times have changed. That’s thanks to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). It wasn’t my idea or my competitor’s idea. But we get that surprise constantly. We always get asked, ‘Why is this so much money?’”

Have your say

This is a moderated forum. Comments will no longer be published unless they are accompanied by a first and last name and a verifiable email address. (Today's Trucking will not publish or share the email address.) Profane language and content deemed to be libelous, racist, or threatening in nature will not be published under any circumstances.