4 ways to realize an ROI from truck upgrades

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ATLANTA, Ga. – Every truck option comes at a cost, but with some careful planning those costs can transform into investments and deliver true financial returns.

Here are four ways to realize an ROI on truck-related investments, as shared during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC).

  1. Ask drivers to contribute to comfort-related upgrades

Creature comforts don’t tend to deliver a direct financial return, but there’s no denying that they play a role in recruiting and retention strategies. It’s why Hirschbach Motor Lines equips trucks with everything from high-speed internet to upgraded seats and premium mattresses.

Drivers pay for such upgrades, however, and the approach has helped to ensure they get the comfort-related features that they truly desire.

While the fleet had provided a satellite-based entertainment system, for example, 70% of the drivers admitted they would rather opt for internet service. A full 95% of those under 35 even see high-speed internet in the cab as a basic necessity.

“You can apply a small weekly fee,” said maintenance vice-president Nick Forte. “Most people are happy to pay $10 a week, $5 a week.”

The shift has even led to $940,000 in annual savings for the fleet. About $400,000 comes in reduced maintenance costs because there are no satellite dishes to damage when coupling trailers. Satellite subscription fees are gone.

Money has also been saved by ordering sleepers without mattresses, and letting drivers choose between a standard, premium or elite mattress if they cover the costs of the more expensive offerings. The fleet, meanwhile, uses its buying power to secure preferred pricing.

Before the strategy was introduced, the fleet discovered that the vast majority of mattresses installed by OEMs were thrown away within six months.

“Mattresses are an individual preference,” Forte explained. “They want the option to pick what they sleep on. Makes sense.”

“It’s well worth the investment – and in four months you have the cost of equipment covered,” he said, referring to the cost sharing.

  1. Collect quality data

“Getting a real return on investment from fleet monitoring is all about increasing your visibility,” said Joshua Phillips, customer success manager at Fleetio, a supplier supplier of fleet management software.

But some savings can be realized by automating and integrating the data stream, eliminating the man hours required to build reports.

It’s also important to focus on meaningful data, he added. “Do you have data paralysis? Is there too much data there that you couldn’t possibly do anything with it?”

“You get to make better decisions. You have all the data in front of you,” he said, offering the examples of big savings that can emerge when actions are based on score cards that identify high-risk drivers.

Still, anyone involved in the data collection tools need to know how to use them, Phillips said. He also stressed that it’s important not to overestimate a fleet’s competence with data when deciding what information should be gathered. “You can always grow and expand on this,” he said, “but being honest about it now is going to help you get that money back.”

  1. Tackle the idling, but keep drivers comfortable

Fleets can adopt several strategies that limit idling but also keep drivers comfortable, said Dave Schaller, industry engagement director at the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). And a 10% annual reduction in idle time equates to about a 1% boost in fuel economy.

The anti-idling controls involve more than engine parameters, he explained. The need can also be eased by spec’ing the highest-available level of cab insulation, a diesel-fired heater, light paint colors, and engine start/stop systems. A dark-colored sleeper, for example, takes 20% more energy to cool.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s how do multiple items come together for the best solution.”

Granted, the returns are not all realized when it comes to re-sell the truck.

“Not all these items are perceived in the resale market as having a strong resale value,” he said.

  1. Embrace advanced safety systems

It’s difficult to calculate the financial return on something that doesn’t happen. But that’s one of the factors that comes into play when choosing vehicle safety technologies that are meant to prevent collisions.

“New features are likely going to dramatically increase the return on investment,” said Kevin Grove, senior research associate at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, referring to features such as automatic emergency braking. Lane departure warnings and lane keeping assist systems can reduce the risk of collisions caused when trucks run off the road, too.

He’s also a fan of video-based monitoring.

“The video data can be used to train or prevent crashes of almost any type,” he said. “This is very dependent of what your fleet is doing with the data.”

About one in three crashes are lane departure events, each averaging about $5,300, said Ananda Pandy, technical specialist for ADAS systems and autonomy at ZF Friedrichshafen AG.

“The more effective the system is, the more the savings is.”


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John G. Smith is Newcom Media's vice-president - editorial, and the editorial director of its trucking publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, and Transport Routier. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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  • Drivers pay for such upgrades, however, and the approach has helped to ensure they get the comfort-related features that they truly desire….just more proof that the driver shortage is and always will be imaginary. If the driver shortage was real fleets would absorb these costs and use them as recruiting tools