While there are many stakeholders, both the fleet manager and business leadership must be involved in the truck specifying process. - Photo: Gettyimages.com/alphaspirit

While there are many stakeholders, both the fleet manager and business leadership must be involved in the truck specifying process. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/alphaspirit

If you don’t know what job your vehicle needs to accomplish, you will not be able to spec the right equipment for the job. 

“A fleet manager needs to be able to forecast their fleet needs properly, determine a delivery schedule, and work closely with their FMC and OEM to determine vehicle availability, production capability, pricing, and upfitting requirements and capabilities,” said Mark Oldenburg, senior national fleet operations manager for Toyota. 

If you don’t know what you need to haul, you won’t know what truck you will need. 

“The biggest mistake we see is a truck that can’t carry or tow the necessary payload because it doesn’t have sufficient gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR), front gross axle weight rating (FGAWR), or rear gross axle weight rating (RGAWR). Remember, payload is revenue,” said Nate Oscarson, commercial truck brand manager for Ford.

Assumptions lead to most mistakes when spec’ing any truck — fleet or retail. When spec’ing a truck, you need to start with accurate information.

“You need to know what the clients’ products weigh for a full load, how they are packaged to be hauled, what temperatures need to be considered for the product, and whether you are delivering a diminishing load or picking up an expanding load,” noted Brian Tabel, executive director of marketing for Isuzu Commercial Trucks.

Also, consider the driver and their activity with the truck and the body, such as maneuverability, visibility, and safety. 

“Along with the body weight and configuration, this information will help spec the right chassis to accommodate the cargo’s payload, size, and, more importantly, the driver’s safety and productivity,” Tabel added.

Necessary specs, such as the need for power take-off (PTO), will also cause headaches. 

“Sometimes the person spec’ing the truck forgets to order the PTO provision or inputs the wrong wheelbase. Both issues can be corrected after the truck is delivered, but they add cost and time,” Oscarson said.

But remember, more is not always better, and vehicles can be over-spec’ed. 

“Spec’ing a vehicle for the most difficult operating condition a fleet might face and then ordering all vehicles to meet that condition when only a small percentage of vehicles require it can lead to issues, such as less than optimal fuel economy. One-size-to-fit-all-needs may not optimize a fleets life cycle costs,” said Mark Namuth, commercial sales manager for Nissan North America.  

And don’t forget the impact of drivers on the spec’ing process. There may be times when a specific feature may not seem like much, but a small investment can make a significant impact on driver happiness and overall productivity.  

“Another mistake we often see is a failure to understand that a happy driver will be a productive driver. Drivers are in the truck every day. This is their “office,” and they are the face of your company to your customers in many cases,” said Dayle Wetherell, vice president of medium-duty sales for Mack Trucks.

Who Should be Involved in the Truck Spec’ing Process?

It all starts with understanding the fleet, operations, and needs. 

“The larger the number of trucks in the fleet, the more people may be involved in the spec’ing process. For customers operating a small fleet, say one to five trucks, it’s likely the owner of the company is the key person involved in the spec’ing process. In this situation, the owner would work directly with their local Mack dealer to source the truck. The dealer would provide the expertise and coordination to configure a body application that meets its needs. The dealer takes the lead here,” said Wetherell of Mack Trucks.

Wetherell added, “At the other end of the spectrum are large fleets, those operating maybe 250 or more trucks. This type of customer could have multiple people involved in the spec decision process, including:

  • A fleet manager who might spec the truck cab/chassis independently from the body and equipment that is added. The fleet manager is also the coordinator of equipment and in-service activities, including registration, tags, signage, etc. 
  • A fleet service manager who oversees full or limited in-house service to support their fleet. This usually means they will have one or more repair shops.
  • A finance controller involved to source financing and make sure the assets are accounted for correctly. 

“Larger fleets operate over broader territories, which may encompass multiple dealers. The Mack dealer in this scenario is directly involved in crafting and meeting the customer’s truck needs. Excellent dealers will also be able to provide support to the customer for some or all the other needs to make the truck functional,” said Wetherell of Mack Trucks.

While there are many stakeholders, both the fleet manager and business leadership must be involved in the truck specifying process. 

“Like any other tool or piece of equipment, a commercial truck is selected to perform a job. The fleet manager can provide insight into how the tool — in this case, the truck and upfit – has performed in the past, as measured by uptime, maintenance costs, and other metrics. This is all valuable information when considering the next vehicle to be added to the fleet,” said Oscarson of Ford.

The business manager also has a critical role that goes beyond the maintenance garage.

“The job of the business manager encompasses responsibilities such as brand perception, delivery of service, and revenue generation. The business manager may emphasize factors such as payload capacity, the ability to reach and deliver services to customers, and license requirements for drivers,” Oscarson added.

But, before spec’ing a truck, listen to your drivers and truly understanding how the truck is going to be used daily. 

“No one knows better than the drivers themselves. They will be able to provide key information like what kind of environment it is going to be used in, will it be used on and off-road? What skill level will the drivers have? Do they know how to drive a manual transmission, or would an automated transmission be a better choice? Properly spec’ing the truck to maximize the gross vehicle weight rating for a CDL or non-CDL driver. What kind of loads will they be hauling as this directly impacts what suspension should be selected for the truck,” said Tony Sablar, vocational market segment manager for Peterbilt. 

It’s also imperative that fleet managers to stay abreast of what is happening in the industry. 

“Reading industry trade publications like Work Truck magazine and attending industry trade association meetings and events are a great way to keep up-to-date with what is going on in the field, make contacts and see what other professionals are doing as best practices,” Oscarson said.

Work closely with your fleet management companies and OEMs to order and spec trucks to meet exact business needs. 

“Trucks are important tools businesses depend on to generate sales and profits. Over spec’ed or under spec’ed trucks do not meet the needs of the business and can have a big impact on efficiency, productivity, and bottom-line profitability,” said Oldenburg of Toyota. 

OEMs are also a source of information and help. 

“For the proper spec’ing of a truck, to be certain the truck is equipped and has the capabilities to meet the clients’ demands, an Isuzu Fleet Manager and the dealership sales associate should be working in tandem with the client’s fleet manager so that each of them can share their respective product and business knowledge. This assures that all needs are addressed, expectations are set appropriately, and the customers’ history and experience are considered so that we provide them with the best chassis for their application,” said Tabel of Isuzu Commercial Trucks.

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Spec’ing vehicles is a collaborative effort.

“Each OEM has slightly different carrying capacities. Larger fleets that operate in different parts of the country have geographic differences that impact the spec’ing process such as 4x4 specification in colder areas or larger engines when towing in the mountain regions,” said Namuth of Nissan North America.  

It might take a collective effort within the company (e.g., fleet managers, service managers, drivers). 

“Getting a better understanding of how the trucks are operating per the applications and operations. What are the fleets trying to achieve with their trucks? Better fuel efficiency? Productivity? Every fleet has its objectives when spec’ing trucks,” said Chris Stadler, product marketing manager for Volvo Trucks North America. 

Do your homework and understand internal fleet vehicle needs and exact vehicle specifications and upfit needs. - Photo: Gettyimages.com/OstapenkoOlena

Do your homework and understand internal fleet vehicle needs and exact vehicle specifications and upfit needs. 

Photo: Gettyimages.com/OstapenkoOlena

Tips for Spec’ing Light- to Medium-Duty Trucks and Vans

There is an old saying: “Don’t fix what isn’t broken.” But in fleet, when it “isn’t broken” might be the ideal time look at an issue. 

Be careful not simply spec fleet trucks based on the success of the current units. 

“The best thing a customer can do when spec’ing a truck is to understand their operations and the company’s expectations fully, and any needs to be successful. Be open-minded because as technology expands and improves the product, the same technology used years ago might not be as efficient as the technology today,” said Stadler of Volvo Trucks North America.

Do your homework and understand internal fleet vehicle needs and exact vehicle specifications and upfit needs. 

“More time spent upfront means less time needed to make decisions downstream on vehicle selection, acquisition, sourcing, upfitting, forecasting, ordering, and determining delivery schedules and logistics,” said Oldenburg of Toyota.

And, ensure open and transparent communication with all stakeholders involved in fleet. 

“To make correct decisions means the organization needs to have clear internal communication and take into account all the variables that their drivers face daily,” said Sablar of Peterbilt.  

Depend on the subject-matter experts at the OEM, but don’t forget that as the fleet manager, you are the fleet expert. 

“Our teams do a great job spec’ing body and chassis combinations, but that is in large part due to knowledgeable fleet managers. They know all the specs of their products. Fleet managers have a vision of how the truck can enhance their productivity while increasing the safety of their operations. They know from firsthand experience how the truck is used, the routes, and challenges they face in their operations. They are also aware of their cost metrics that are important and can share how those are measured,” said Tabel of Isuzu Commercial Trucks. 

When a fleet manager has a solid holistic view of their truck needs, it can take the guesswork out of spec’ing a truck. 

“There are always going to be questions and ideas to consider in the spec’ing process, but those will be targeted to deliver the best truck for the application. This way, the fleet manager does not overbuy or underbuy the truck they need,” Tabel added.

Take advantage of today’s connected vehicles. 

“The benefits of telematics and connectivity solutions are well-known to Mack’s heavy-duty customers, but the critical insights they provide are also valuable to medium-duty customers. Also, depending on the duty cycle of the fleet, fleet managers should consider customizing a warranty offer to fit their needs,” said Wetherell of Mack Trucks.

Collaboration is essential to properly spec’ed trucks of any vehicle class. 

“We recommend working with end customers to spec the right truck for their application, as well as collaborating with our customer application engineering (CAE) team and working directly with TEMs to customize the chassis. This helps ensure optimal packaging to reduce upfit time and ultimately save on the overall cost of the completed truck,” said JP Davis, vocational marketing manager for Freightliner Trucks. 

As noted time and again, in spec’ing trucks, an important factor is clearly understanding how the truck will be used, and regulations that may impact the specification of the truck — and if those regulations have changed. 

“Another key consideration when spec’ing a vocational truck is understanding the largest costs to the business. For example, if driver turnover is the highest cost, spec a truck to be easier on the driver, either while driving or entering or exiting the cab,” Davis added.

When spec’ing for light-duty applications, it’s essential to keep in mind the difference between payload capacity and payload volume. 

“If you can’t fit the cargo in the van, even though the van has enough payload capacity, the van will not be suitable. GVWR is also an important consideration in light vans and trucks, as some fleets need to keep their vehicles under 10,000 pounds GVWR, so they don’t require commercial license plates,” said Oscarson of Ford.

One common issue in the light-duty market are vehicles being overloaded.  

“Overloading is particularly a concern with the newer unibody vehicles on the market versus body on frame vehicles. One tip would be to spot check your vehicles by scaling them at different locations — what loads are you actually carrying versus what loads you think you are carrying and then compare that to the OEM’s vehicle ratings,” said Namuth of Nissan North America.  
Medium-duty trucks are vastly different from your cars, pickup trucks, or even over-the-road (OTR) units.

Ford suggests asking these questions when spec’ing a medium-duty truck:

  • How much payload do you typically carry?
  • What are the wheelbase and CA requirements?
  • Will the truck tow a trailer?  If so, how heavy are the trailer and contents?
  • Are your drivers CDL certified?
  • How many miles are driven each day/year typically?
  • Is there something unique about your business that places particular requirements on your truck selection (such as PTO, high electrical demands, extended idle, off-road use, etc.)?
  • Do you see your business changing in a way that may impact your truck needs over the next 18-36 months?

Heavy-duty vehicle technology is rapidly changing. 

“It is important for the fleet managers, or whoever is involved in spec’ing the trucks, to pay attention to what is going on in the market, to inquire with the OEMs and have a good discussion of how the OEMs can support their business. The customer again needs to have a good understanding of the key things that will help in their business and have that type of discussion with the OEM,” said Stadler of Volvo Trucks North America. 

About the author
Lauren Fletcher

Lauren Fletcher

VP of Content

Lauren Fletcher is Vice President of Content. She has covered the truck fleet industry since 2006. Her bright personality helps lead the team's content strategy and focuses on growth, education, and motivation.

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