Sometimes we're given so many choices that we don't really have one. Cellphone service is a perfect example. Put together all the variables in hardware, coverage and rates from even just the handful of major providers, and I defy anyone to identify the one best choice for their particular needs.
Still, it's very difficult to come out publicly in favor of limiting choice no matter what the situation. We're still that nation of rugged individualists who resent anyone else deciding what's best for us.
Take heavy-duty trucks. We've become accustomed to choosing both major and minor components from data books whose thickness is measured in feet, not inches. Truck makers and their major suppliers never miss an opportunity to assure customers that they're committed to maintaining that state of affairs. And I've yet to hear a fleet manager campaign for fewer spec'ing choices.
But the largely unacknowledged truth is that spec'ing options are shrinking. Not going away, but shrinking to more rational levels. For a number of reasons, this shift is inevitable.
The two major drivers in this shift are legislation and the advanced electronics needed to satisfy the growing legal demands for cleaner, safer trucks. The move to a more global economic structure is also a factor even here in the world's largest single market for heavy trucks.
Clean air regulations for diesel engines now require a high level of engineering effort to make sure a specific engine delivers reliable performance in a specific chassis configuration. Change any component in the powertrain, and you change that carefully developed equation.
To a large extent, electronic controls have proven to be the path to lower diesel emissions and improved vehicle safety. Extracting the maximum performance and productivity offered by the new electronics again requires engineers to devise a fine balance specific to each engine and drivetrain combination.
Finally, the costs involved in developing engines to meet future emissions requirements are so large that they need to be spread across world markets to be made affordable. While electronics will allow tweaking to accommodate regional operating differences, the only sensible economic solution is to develop common iron.
Quietly, truck manufacturers have begun choosing engine partners with an eye on preserving choice in displacement, output and performance characteristics while avoiding unnecessarily high engineering development costs.
Similarly, the pressure to meet the twin requirements of low cost and high productivity are leading to a rationalization of all other data-book options both major and minor. The options aren't going away, but the lists are getting shorter.
The market, which is you, simply can't afford to support unlimited choice anymore. The trick now is to find the right balance between choice that delivers benefit in trucking's widely varied operations and cost-efficient standardization. It's a balance that will benefit everyone involved.