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Driver group gives technology thumbs-upIt's always instructive for fleet managers to know what's on the minds of drivers. Certainly, one thought worth keeping track of is how drivers view the expensive technologies that many fleets are investing in to make driving more efficient, comfortable, and safer.After all, it's only prudent to want to ascertain how such devices will be accepted by the very

Driver group gives technology thumbs-up

It's always instructive for fleet managers to know what's on the minds of drivers. Certainly, one thought worth keeping track of is how drivers view the expensive technologies that many fleets are investing in to make driving more efficient, comfortable, and safer.

After all, it's only prudent to want to ascertain how such devices will be accepted by the very persons they are most expected to benefit. Why spend the money if drivers will resent new technology or even just regard it as ho-hum?

Hoping to find some answers to these often-overlooked questions, Kenworth recently queried members of its Drivers' Board for their input on technology acceptance. The board members' responses were positive, and should be enlightening to anyone who wonders how fleet and OEM efforts to keep trucks on the cutting edge of new technology are perceived by drivers.

The Kenworth Drivers' Board met in a special session at September's Great American Truck Show in Dallas to review various features of the OEM's "tech truck" that may find their way into future production vehicles.

According to Ted Scherzinger, KW's tech truck project manager, the driver meeting was part and parcel of the OEM's effort "to collect and measure customer expectations of product price and desirability regarding technology items."

Scherzinger says the tech truck studied by the drivers boasts a number of advanced devices and is intended to demonstrate how they can be integrated to work as a system to boost vehicle functionality.

The truck's features include an in-dash computer display, a global positioning system, sophisticated diagnostics, an electronic "vision system," advanced exterior lighting, an integrated radio and stereo system, and accesses for phone, cable TV, and Internet hookups. 0 The Drivers' Board reaction to all this, according to Scherzinger, was consistent with comments received from other drivers and customers. "People are astounded by all the technology," he reports.

"The Kenworth tech truck is impressive," noted David Staggs, an owner-operator leased to Marten Transport who currently drives a Kenworth T2000. "Technology is happening so fast that the things we see today will probably be standard equipment in 10 years. It's amazing how trucks have evolved in just the six years I've been driving."

If that statement alone isn't indicative of how accepting of technology drivers can be, Staggs went on to say he "especially liked" the demo truck's safety features and low-maintenance items. "Price and weight are also important to me," he added. "I'm a businessman. Anything extra I put on my rig needs to pay me back in added revenue or bring an extra layer of comfort."

That's an outlook fleet managers should bear in mind as well. Especially Staggs' point about extra comfort. Often fleets will be quick to adopt new technology that can be proven to boost freight revenues.

On the other hand, the impact of improvements aimed at lessening driver fatigue or enhancing job satisfaction is often harder to quantify. Yet it can be argued persuasively that making the cab a safer, more comfortable, and more efficient place to work will pay big dividends in terms of greater driver productivity and lower turnover rates.

As for when some of this whiz-bang stuff will wind up on a Kenworth near you, Scherzinger is understandably circumspect. "We look at technology items that cost a lot now because we know prices can eventually drop," he points out. "This helps us to discover issues involved in putting a particular system in a truck - and enables us to bring the technology to market when the timing is right."

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