SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - It was billed as a "Heavy-Duty Boot Camp," and saw North American Navistar dealers converge on Salt Lake City, Utah, to learn the ins and outs of their own products while also getting a close-up look at the competition....
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It was billed as a “Heavy-Duty Boot Camp,” and saw North American Navistar dealers converge on Salt Lake City, Utah, to learn the ins and outs of their own products while also getting a close-up look at the competition. The camp not only gave the folks in attendance a chance to drive the new Internationals equipped with MaxxForce engines, but to do it head-to-head along with their chief competitors. And if that wasn’t enough, examples of the heavy-duty trucks’ engines were on-hand, torn down so attendees could see what made each one tick.
It wasn’t Navistar’s first such boot camp, but it was by far the most extensive.
“We started these on the medium-duty side about a year ago all over North America,” said Jim Hebe, Navistar senior vice-president, North American sales operations. “We went into that camp for the single specific reason that we were getting a lot of new competition and to some extent it was competition we’d never seen before.”
That competition, Hebe told assembled editors, coupled with changes to the overall medium-duty business, prompted the company to “get out in front of all our dealer salespeople and communicate with them directly all the things we were doing, as well as give them the opportunity to see all the competitors products face to face, head to head – to drive them and let them make their own decisions.”
Hebe said last year’s camp was such a success that “when we met with our dealers afterward, they said we had to do it for the MaxxForce 13 and the ProStar.”
So they did, not by retooling the medium-duty camp but by going in a different route entirely. It ended up being perhaps the most monumental marketing event the company has ever taken, Hebe said, making last year’s Boot Camp look like “a quarterly staff meeting.”
“We had been on the defensive with our emissions strategies and our engine decisions and where we were going with 13-litre versus 15-litre,” Hebe admitted, “so we decided to start playing offence, but with facts, with a sales team that understands not only our product but our competitors’ product as well.”
One big difference between last year’s Boot Camp and this year’s, besides the change in focus, was the location. Last year’s extravaganza was more or less a travelling road show, but they decided to do it the other way around this year: set up at a single venue and people come there instead.
“Last year, we had seven different events in seven cities,” Hebe said, remembering what turned out to be a logistical nightmare. “The worst day was when we hired a company to move trucks into Canada and found the guy doing it had a criminal record. He was in jail and our truck was impounded at the border! We didn’t want to go through that again!”
And that’s why they set up this year at Miller Motorsports Park, located in Tooele, Utah, about an hour outside of Salt Lake City. Opened in 2006, Miller Motorsports Park includes a 4.5-mile, 23-turn road course the owners claim is the longest track in North America. It’s an excellent facility and, as it turned out, it was perfect for Navistar’s needs.
“This is the only place in North America we could find where every single one of our salesmen, whether he has a commercial licence or not, could drive the trucks for three-and-a-half miles on an inside guarded course pulling 80,000 lbs,” Hebe said. Attendees also participated in a seminar dealing with market forces such as CSA, hours-of-service legislation and EOBRs. “Not only what they are,” Hebe said, “but how they’re going to affect our customers and how they’re going to affect us.”
The senior VP admitted that the sessions showcasing the differences – and the similarities – between Navistar’s MaxxForce engine and those of competitors such as Paccar, Volvo, and Detroit Diesel took a bit of extra commitment on their part to get up and running.
“We went and bought trucks and took the engines out of them,” Hebe explained. “We have every single one of them disassembled; we’ve weighed all their components and we’ve said ‘here’s where their engine’s good, here’s where what they’re saying is, frankly, BS, and here’s our engine and here’s why we did what we did’.”
“If someone beats us in something, you’re going to see it,” Hebe added. “We’re not going to hide that, because our salespeople have to know we’re not pulling punches. If they’re going into a situation where they’re up against Freightliner, for instance, they need to know where they’re better than we are, if it’s good technology or something we never thought of.”