They sell trucks against all odds

by Abdul Latheef

BRAMPTON, Ont. – Longtime truck salesman Kevin MacDonnell was blunt in his assessment of the current situation.

“To do sales and deliveries, and keep social distancing (at the same time) is hard.”

Vision Trucks
Vision Truck Group is a Volvo dealer. Photo: Vision

So, the account manager at Volvo dealer Vision Truck Group has been meeting customers over the phone, outside the building and at their yards to close deals.

Still, following the health and safety protocol is the easy part.

A bigger issue is the uncertainty hanging over the economy under Covid-19.

“The customer is cautious about what he is doing, whether it is the right time to buy a truck,” MacDonnell said.

“We are trying to work through this situation, and make sure that the customer gets the right equipment for their needs.”

He said OEMs and finance companies have come out with a bunch of incentives, and are helping move some of the inventory on the ground.

MacDonnell, who works at Vision Brampton, said April was a “dismal month.” May was better, but “a very low month.”

Transport intelligence provider FTR said this week that May orders for Class 8 trucks were down 37% year-over-year to 6,600 units.

It said fleets are more worried about what is happening today, about their manpower needs and short-term issues, than ordering trucks.

Signs of life

Despite the gloom and doom spawned by the pandemic, truck sales are showing signs of life again, according to Syed Ahmed, account manager at Cervus Equipment – Peterbilt of Mississauga, Ont.

The trigger for new sales was the reopening of the construction sector.

“This is like a lifeline,” said Ahmed, sounding relieved.

Syed Ahmed - Peterbilt
Syed Ahmed (left) with customer Sheldon Fray. Photo: Cervus Equipment – Peterbilt

He said until Ontario reopened the construction sector in mid-May, purchasing a truck was the last thing on anyone’s mind, and salespeople were the last people anyone wanted to talk to.

Sales have picked up quite a bit since then.

Ahmed, who has been working from home since March, is now back at his office as customers have begun returning to the showroom.

“They are buying trucks. I just did a deal for seven trucks, and the guy needs another 15.”

Ahmed said some longhaul drivers are now moving into the construction industry amid the economic slowdown.

He said all sales and deliveries are conducted in an extremely safe environment.

Help from technology

East Coast International Trucks, a major dealer for International trucks in Atlantic Canada, is relying on technology and social media to sell trucks during Covid-19.

“I do believe that there is business out there. We just have to be safer and smarter to earn it,” said Marks Lockhart, sales manager.

East Coast
Marks Lockhart (right) with customer Mike O’Blenes. Photo: East Coast

He said a sales app, launched by International’s parent company Navistar before the pandemic struck, has been of big help.

“It can provide things like configuration, diagrams and brochures, all at the swipe of your phone,” said Lockhart.

He said Covid-19 has forced people to think differently, and utilize some tools that perhaps they haven’t had to use in the past.

It is not all virtual, though.

Person-to-person interaction is still involved in the delivery process, but the company makes sure that all vehicles delivered are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

Lockhart acknowledged that there has been a decline in sales due to Covid-19.

“We are moving with it, and I feel that that we will certainly get through this.”

Customers are anxious

“I think business has calmed down a little bit, not a lot,” said Dwayne Frewin, manager of fleet sales at Freightliner dealer Premier Truck Group in Mississauga.

“Customers are a little bit more tentative to close the deal because they don’t know what the future is holding for themselves and for their company.”

Premier Truck Group is a Freightliner dealer. Photo: Daimler Trucks North America

That anxiety is reflected in a 20% to 30% drop in sales since the coronavirus outbreak, he said.

Frewin said most sales are being done over the phone, and he meets customers face-to-face only by appointment, may be once a week.

He said salespeople at the dealership follow the company’s social distancing guidelines, and customers appreciate that.

“We both have jobs to do, and they realize it, we realize it,” said Frewin.

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