Truck upfitting is an essential part of work truck fleet management. The bare bone work trucks don’t have the equipment many work and service fleets need. This means additional time, spec’ing, and challenges are need to spec the perfect truck upfit and upfit truck.
The past two years have been unlike any other time in the history of fleet. A worldwide pandemic changed the status quo for fleet orders, operations, and much more.
Work Truck reached out to several subject-matter experts to find out what’s been going on with work truck upfitting for fleets and the trends and challenges they are seeing right now.
Overall Work Truck Upfitting Trends Today
From a macro perspective, Brent MacLean, vice president, sales, manufacturing & distribution for Holman that one of the most noteworthy trends has been a shift toward more standardization for vocational units to get vehicles on the road more quickly.
“With still somewhat limited chassis availability, component shortages, and various bottlenecks throughout the supply chain, many fleet operators are adjusting their specification strategy to navigate these ongoing challenges and minimize the impact on their business,” MacLean said. “The good news: in addition to helping get units on the road sooner, this standardization often makes the vehicles more cost-effective by eliminating unnecessary upfitting and allowing the fleet operator to source the necessary components in greater volume.”
MacLean also noted that the standardization provides greater flexibility from an operations standpoint once the vehicles are in service.
In addition to a growth in vehicle standardization, a downsizing trend is being seen.
“Overall, popularity is growing in lighter weight trucks due to CDL requirements that go together with heavier trucks. Additionally, high costs, in terms of fuel and truck maintenance, are also driving operators to choose a light- or medium-duty truck,” said Adam Oppermann, product manager at Stellar Industries.
Fleets also have to get more creative in ensuring their fleet stays on the road.
“In the last two years, we have seen a scramble in truck ownership. Trucks are not there for the commercial construction market. With both the Chip shortage and COVID, we’ve seen a shift. For example, we have seen fleets and big contractors buying three used trucks and parting them out to build one heavy-duty work truck. Now that is still good for us because they are still buying Weather Guard Boxes,” said Mike Bykowski, director of product management at Weather Guard.
Work Truck Vehicle Trends by Class
Just as a one-size truck doesn’t fit all fleets, each vehicle class sees its own trends and changes. To understand truck upfitting, we first must understand where trends in vehicle classes are going. Work Truck looked at the light-duty truck fleet segment, which includes Class 1 and 2 vehicles under 10,001-lbs. GVWR.
“The compact truck market segment continues to grow. Even the Ford Maverick has made record sales this year. Weather Guard acknowledges that and continues to study who purchases these types of trucks,” Bykowski added.
Last-mile delivery isn’t just impacting the medium-duty box truck market.
“In the light-duty space, we’ve seen a clear uptick in last-mile delivery over the past two years. The pressure will remain strong for retailers to deliver to homes and businesses at the pace consumers expect. It may be one or two days today, which will soon become same-day and then instant delivery. Food and beverage is another trend we’re seeing — home delivery locally is hectic, and home grocery delivery, in particular, has seen a large increase in demand. A third trend to mention is the increase of commercial EV offerings, and in some cases, new OEMs being created to provide fleets with a zero-emissions option,” said Chad Heminover, president of Shyft Fleet Vehicles & Services.
Fleets are again analyzing the type of vehicle they operate. Do they need the capabilities of a truck, or will a van be better?
“Some companies are shifting to transit-style vans. They are smaller, more fuel-efficient, and more importantly, they are available. Upfitters seem to be able to get a van chassis when they can’t get a truck chassis. Keep in mind, this is light-duty, roadside service, material handling service, and similar applications,” said Matt Sherrick – product manager at Miller Electric Mfg. LLC.
Fuel prices are also driving the switch to more light-duty units.
“Midsize and smaller trucks such as the Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado are becoming increasingly popular. These models are slightly bigger than previous generations, provide tremendous versatility, and in most cases, can handle many of the same roles as a full-size truck. Often, the engines in midsize trucks can deliver the same (if not more) horsepower and torque as a full-size unit with a V-8 while providing much better fuel economy,” noted Blake Heiser, fleet & strategic sales manager, manufacturing & distribution for Holman.
However, Heiser added that, from an upfit perspective, “fleet operators need to be mindful when spec’ing the unit to ensure it is not overloaded. This is one area where it is particularly important to have continuity throughout your supply chain with strong, reliable partnership and consistent communication.”
Next, we looked at trends related to the Class 3-7 medium-duty market, including vehicles between 10,001- and 26,000 lbs. GVWR. A few of the trends were similar.
“The trends in most of the light- and medium-duty truck markets are primarily less available payload over time, increased complexity of the electric system, and more safety technology being implemented. All these pose challenges to the upfitter because they are trying to do more with less to give the customer the same vehicle for the application. The level of electrical integration and collaboration with the upfit increased substantially over the years, and seems to be accelerating with the upcoming releases. Safety technology is increasingly used on vehicles, and it is making its way into larger GVWR vehicles over time. These technologies, while great at protecting the occupants, cause issues with upfits, especially if those technologies must be moved or disabled because of their location,” said Chris Weiss, vice president of Engineering at Knapheide.
You can’t dig into the medium-duty truck market without talking about last-mile delivery.
“With the e-commerce and last-mile-delivery increase over the past few years, you’ve got more mixed cargo of different shapes and sizes packed into medium-duty vehicles. This means heavy items like refrigerators, washers, dryers, couches, and other heavy furniture are often in the same truck with fragile items made of glass and ceramic,” said Ralph Abato, president/managing director at Doleco USA.
Heminover of Shyft also noted the impact of the last-mile segment in this vehicle category.
“Looking at the medium-duty category, we see an increase in demand for last-mile delivery vehicles here, for example, with customers such as FedEx Ground. We have dealers ordering our Utilimaster walk-in vans by the thousands because they can’t keep them on the lot. They are either pre-sold or they’ll quickly be sold because fleet managers are struggling to keep up with demand driven by last-mile delivery,” Heminover noted.
And, like light-duty, medium-duty fleets are demanding more safety-related technology such as 360-degree cameras, collision avoidance, telematics, and lane assist.
“We know drivers are used to these features in their cars and trucks, and it makes sense to increase safety and convenience in their work vehicles as well,” Heminover added.
Moving on to heavy-duty, Class 7-8 vocational trucks, which include anything 26,001-lbs. GVWR and up, some trends are quite like the light-duty segment.
“Some companies are switching to 19,500 GVW or lighter trucks to avoid requiring their technicians to acquire a commercial driver’s license (CDL). This helps ease the pressure on fleets that are struggling to find and retain skilled service technicians with a CDL. It’s one less thing for those fleets to worry about when hiring. Most, if not all, techs are mechanics and don’t have CDLs unless they came from a different company and the equipment used required one,” Sherrick said.
Additionally, the bigger the vehicle, the more the challenge.
“Whether you’re hauling heavy equipment, like a backhoe, or rolls of coiled steel, securing cargo on open-deck vehicles can be intellectually and physically taxing. Load securement devices commonly slacken as cargo shifts during vehicle movement. Drivers are required to inspect both their cargo and its securement before driving their vehicle and after traveling 49.7 miles from where the cargo is loaded. Periodic inspections are also mandatory when there is a change in duty status for the driver, the vehicle has been driven more than three hours, or the vehicle has been driven for 149.127 miles,” Abato noted.
Due to this, regular re-tensioning of cargo securement chains is a repetitive task for drivers yet it is crucial in keeping loads safely anchored to vehicle platforms.
“The job of re-tensioning can become far more cumbersome when a load binder becomes completely retracted. Unable to take up more slack, the user must fully loosen the binder to disconnect the chain, extend the spindles for more tensioning distance and then reconnect to a new link in the chain,” Abato added.
Additionally, tech is growing in the heavy-duty vehicle market.
“People are beginning to invest in upfitting their trailers with sensors. By adding telematics to their operations, the results are technologically advanced and healthier trailers. Brakes, lights, and tires account for the highest percentage of CSA violations. When a fleet implements sensors to monitor these components, they see an immediate decrease in points, which in turn save fleets money,” said Jessica Smith, VP of Customer and Data Insight at Phillips Connect.
Fleet Truck Upfitting Trends (That Aren’t Electric)
While going electric continues to be a major vehicle trend, there is a lot more going on in work truck fleets than electrification efforts.
“One trend that continues to gain momentum is the last-mile delivery van. This segment is perhaps the fastest growing in the industry, and fleet operators continue to find new, innovative ways to use these versatile units, which offer a virtual blank canvas for truck upfitting. Our engineering team has a group dedicated to learning more about how these units are being used in the field and developing new components and equipment to transform commercial vans into vocational powerhouses,” said MacLean of Holman.
In a similar vein, MacLean noted that mobile service vehicles (typically vans as well) are another rapidly growing segment.
“As consumer habits shift and individuals prioritize convenience, a greater number of automotive repair vendors are beginning to offer mobile service options. Larger commercial vans such as the Ford Transit and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter can easily be outfitted as a mobile service center, allowing vendors to bring the “repair facility” directly to the consumer,” MacLean added.
Utilimaster is seeing more mobile workspace solutions for users to use their truck for more than simply hauling items and tools.
“We also see an increase in features aimed at keeping the driver alert and comfortable while driving. These can be as simple as better heating and cooling systems and seats that provide more comfort. Like many of today’s industry trends, this is another trend we believe will continue,” said Heminover of Shyft Fleet Vehicles & Services.
Additionally, another trend affecting truck upfitting is the drive to be more plug-and-play with the body solutions.
“Limited staffing has been driving away from a higher hour upfit approach to times that assembly is less time. Also, a larger portion of work truck solutions is now being painted at the manufacturer instead of the upfitter. This is driving more engineering time at the equipment manufacturer to make sure everything works well together with the chassis ahead of the upfit,” said Weiss of Knapheide.
Continuing with ease of use, Jason Buckles, sales account manager at BOLT Lock/STRATTEC Security, sees the need to continue making work trucks more convenient for their operators to use.
“Whether it’s something as simple as our locks that work with the truck key, so they aren’t wasting time finding keys, to new onboard storage solutions. The goal will be to make using their work truck as easy and painless as possible,” Buckles noted.
As noted previously, light-weighting efforts for increased payload and reduced fuel economy are once again top of mind.
“In addition to trucks, we’re seeing an increased interest in upfitting lightweight service vans. The benefit of choosing a service van is that it provides an easier and more affordable way for customers to service their light-duty equipment,” said Oppermann of Stellar Industries.
Ensuring efficient vehicle use is also important with staff shortages, higher fuel and operating costs, and more.
“When it comes to getting the most out of your upfitted truck or van, telematics continues to prove beneficial. Telematics helps optimize fleets by using historical data to understand how equipment is used. This information can help to select the correct size crane, which will determine the size of body and chassis needed. With this information, fleet managers will better understand when trucks and their accessory equipment need to be repaired or replaced. Some telematics can even let fleet managers know when preventative maintenance is due,” Oppermann added.
Additionally, power is very important for work truck fleets.
“More fleets are installing 12V charging systems, usually powered by the truck’s battery, and an inverter to charge cordless tools. This helps ensure tool batteries are charged as needed without the concern for draining the truck battery as electric tools become more commonly used,” said Sherrick – of Miller Electric Mfg. LLC.
Additionally, tech is trending in vocational work truck fleets and upfits.
“We’re seeing health sensors trending, along with anything that will help a fleet increase utilization. Remotely controlling things is the wave of the future, and fleets are recognizing this and jumping on board. And with the inevitable advancement of autonomous trucking, sensors are being produced to work in congruence with this technology,” said Jessica Smith, VP of Customer and Data Insight at Phillips Connect.
With tech, you can’t ignore autonomous vehicles.
“The rise in autonomous vehicles will critically impact the cargo control sector. The need for cargo securement offerings that accommodate driverless vehicles will increase substantially. From an upfitting perspective, this could mean introducing new and more complex cargo securement devices that could require additional consideration in trailer construction,” noted Bob Dissinger, director of sales, U.S., for Kinedyne.
Fleets are also looking for sleeker, more modern upfit options.
“Users are looking for a more sleek, almost matching profile to their truck. Buyers are looking for a modern look with newer technology,” said Bykowski of Weather Guard.
And finally, pent-up demand will influence the entire supply chain in the months (and years) ahead, MacLean noted.
“Unfortunately, the automotive supply chain has been severely disrupted for two-plus years. While these disruptions are beginning to subside, the entire industry will be working to navigate the lingering effects for the foreseeable future. Supply is still rather limited, and demand remains near all-time highs. Many fleet operators now have vehicles that have remained in service much longer than originally anticipated and need to get replacement vehicles into service ASAP,” MacLean concluded.
Want more info on truck upfitting? Check out these three upfitting trends that focus on long-term success.
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