The initial price of new heavy-duty trucks is getting pushed further down the list of priorities for customers, according to John Fay, International Truck and Engine Corp.’s heavy vehicle marketing director in an interview with Fleet Owner.
Factors such as driver shortages, safety, and upcoming near-zero emissions diesel engine technologies have popularized value-adding options like never before.
“The top three points we’re finding customers are concerned about are drivers, fuel, and maintenance cost/vehicle productivity – not initial purchase price,” Fay said. “So, for us the challenge is to come up with solutions for each of those areas.”
In a push to attract and retain drivers, adding options such as premium sound systems and wood-grain trim interiors have increasingly become a standard for fleet owners— not ‘options.’
“If you look at the cars they drive, they have big comfortable seats, satellite radios and nice stereo systems – that has to transfer into the truck,” Fay said. “We have to entertain the driver, make them feel good about driving a truck, and electronics help us do that.”
Attracting drivers also means simplifying their job, for example, by spec’ing an automatic transmission. “We have an 8000 regional tractor package equipped with a C-13 or ISM engine and an Allison transmission that costs only a few thousand more than a manually equipped tractor,” noted Fay. “Also, the drivers coming into these regional P&D type tractors are moving up from 22-foot straight vans equipped with automatics. With the automatic in the tractor, the learning curve is shorter and their productivity is higher – plus retention is easier.”
Safety is becoming an increasingly market-driven concern, too. “We’ve got to look at ways at improving blind-spot detection – make it easier to see around the vehicle they’re driving for peace of mind,” he said.
And with new reduced-emissions 2007 engines expected to have poorer fuel economy, there is an opening for hybrid technologies. “We can only go so far with aerodynamics to recover some of those fuel losses, so we need to look at other technologies,” Fay said. “The hybrid systems being introduced on medium-duty trucks, for example, as well as better auxiliary options to reduce the need for engine idling.”