A vocational truck is a work truck at its core. These trucks are typically dump trucks, garbage trucks, or mixers, and are used to haul equipment or materials, and, in general, get a job done. However, some fleets are finding unique and innovative ways to utilize their vocational vehicles to do more than just “get the job done.”
Work Truck magazine spoke with several fleet managers to see what’s new in their use of vocational truck applications.
Verizon Considers Form, Fit & Function
Operating 42,000 total vehicles, Verizon utilizes its fleet of vocational vehicles to provide telecommunication services (wire line or wireless) across the U.S., driving around 270 million miles annually.
“Verizon has been looking toward the future of its fleet and at the daily required tasks our technicians to serve our customers,” explained Wayne Farley, fleet director for Verizon. “In looking at the work loads and daily tasks the need for vehicles that are designed for fit, form, and function for our technicians is what we have designed.”
In 2013, the communications provider purchased 1,000-plus new Ram C/Vs, designed for the company’s FiOS installation technicians fitted with Sortimo modular units.
“They offer durable, lightweight modular-designed units that allow Verizon technicians’ professional looking setups and modular design with compartments that are removable. This saves time and improves efficiencies at the jobsite,” Farley said.
The company also looked for ways to operate more efficiently in New York City with the traffic, parking, and worker productivity.
“We worked with our user group and designed and deployed 25 Verizon FiOS buses. These units are able to transport 14 technicians per bus to their jobsites in New York City and the boroughs to service our external customers,” Farley noted. “We also carry their daily supplies and tools and with a host of features like charging station for cordless drill batteries, microwave and a refrigerator.”
The buses run specific routes, allowing technicians to work a high-rise apartment or condo complex without worrying how far away they are parked. Technicians are dropped off in front of the building and picked up at the end of their day or when moving to the next area of work.
“In doing so, we were able to reduce our fleet by 300-plus vehicles reducing maintenance costs and our carbon footprint, as some of the busses were fueled with compressed natural gas (CNG),” Farley noted.
According to Farley, the most difficult challenge when upfitting a vocational vehicle to fulfill unique requirements is changing the mindset of business partners (Farley’s term for internal work groups) to be able use a different vehicle than traditionally purchased.
In spring of 2012, Verizon held a vehicle standards summit showcasing existing designed vehicles, with user representatives present to discuss what our business needs are.
“As we looked at designs, payloads, and what we are asking our telecommunication technicians to perform in their daily tasks for our customers, we designed the current vehicle platform,” Farley explained. “Once we developed the prototype, we deployed it for technician feedback. We have held a series of communication discussions with our business partners and explained how we incorporated the fit, form, and function of the vehicle in the design.”
According to Farley, The Ram C/V is a smaller version of the traditional design, “yet it is a better overall setup for our business needs.”
Farley recommends that any fleet looking to be innovative with vocational vehicles involve business partners, but don’t design a vehicle around special circumstances.
“If you are designing for that one time the vehicle didn’t do one thing you are headed down the wrong path and need to refocus the team,” he said. “Also don’t underestimate the need to establish a mission statement for the team to keep the focus on the team’s objectives.”
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority Keeps the Lights On
With approximately 25,000 square miles of land, the Navajo Nation controls three times the amount of land as the next largest tribal group. And, with land spread out in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, it's up to the Nation’s own utility department, the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA), to keep power, water, and gas flowing.
For Jimmy Bekis, NTUA's transportation superintendent, that means a fleet of 80 Class 6-8 trucks domiciled at seven locations, with the main hub being Fort Defiance, Ariz.
“We have more than 34,000 electric customers and a lot of territory to cover,” he said. “So maintaining the power lines is a big job with about 70% of the roads we travel being ‘off-road.’ ”
To ensure its trucks can navigate the rolling, hilly terrain in various weather and road conditions, NTUA choose all-wheel drive as its standard spec. The Nation’s latest order of vehicles has been Kenworth T370s in both 4x4 and 6x6 configurations.
“Two of the 6x6s are being used as pressure diggers,” Bekis said. “They’re units with augers powered by an auxiliary engine in the rear of the truck. We use those to drill holes for power line poles.”
The T370s in the 4x4 configuration are equipped for various service, including work as aerial bucket trucks, digger derricks, and as dump trucks (five to six yard capacity) with hitches to pull service trailers.
With mileage targeted at about 24,000 miles a year, the Kenworth T370s will be on the job for a number of years.
DISH Network Uses a Mix of Vocational Units
DISH Network utilizes its vocational vehicles to serve new and existing residential and commercial customers across the country. The vehicles are driven 20,000 miles per year on average, varying across rural and metro areas. The vast majority of the fleet is comprised of ¾-ton Chevrolet Express cargo vans. The fleet also includes some ¾-ton 4x4 pickups with service bodies for off-road and/or heavy snow areas, and 200 ROUSH CleanTech propane-autogas-powered Ford E-250 vans as part of the company’s alternative-fuel strategy.
“We have a customized upfitting solution that meets the needs of our business and how we use and store our tools and products,” explained Abe Stephenson, fleet & administration manager for DISH. “A great deal of time and thought is applied to how our drivers interact with the cargo space and upfitting in their vehicles. Our upfitting also incorporates a heavy dose of DISH branding by using our DISH red color scheme and logos.”
As part of the company’s strategy around sustainability and alternative fuels, the new propane-autogas vans will help the company save money and greatly reduce emissions with clean, domestically produced fuel. “It will also provide a unique operational opportunity for fueling our vans onsite with above-ground propane autogas tanks provided by Ferrellgas,” Stephenson said.
DISH worked with Leggett & Platt for its upfitting on the vans and trucks, and Omaha/PALFINGER provides the service bodies for the 4x4s. ROUSH CleanTech provides the propane-autogas system.
“One of our primary challenges is the changing and growing nature of our business. This includes new product offerings, sizes, and access considerations inside our vehicles that can change the way we need to not only store and transport those products, but possibly our other products as well,” Stephenson said. “There are also new vehicle OEM options that can change the way drivers use and interact with their vehicles. This will not only change the way vehicles are upfit, but can also change operational processes of how a company uses and stores their own products in their vehicles.”
Another challenge Stephenson noted is that the need to change upfitting occurs more frequently than the company’s ability to turnover vehicles. “It can be very difficult, and costly, to retrofit existing on-road vehicles. For various upfitting schematics we have in our fleet, we standardize where each and every product and tool is placed,” he said. “This enables our drivers, and our warehouse teams, to know where everything is in every vehicle that has that particular upfitting schematic.”
Stephenson recommended to thoroughly engage field customers in the upfitting design and vehicle selection process. “Supply chain partners can provide input and direction, but your drivers should be your primary voice for what will work best for your fleet,” he noted. “That said, it will be impossible to incorporate all opinions, with some that may conflict with each other, but you can drive consensus by including representation across your profile of drivers and internal customers. Your safety, warehouse, and telematics teams should be included as well.”
Mobi Munch Feeds the Masses
Mobi Munch is a solutions provider for the modern street food industry. The company develops, manages, and operates a portfolio of ready-to-license vehicles. The company utilizes the GMC Workhorse and the Isuzu NRR and NQR as food trucks and mobile vending units. Mileage for these units vary, depending on the number of locations and distance between where each truck is vending. Some trucks are parked at a stadium year-round, and others will drive to different venues, accumulating from 2,000 to 10,000 miles per year.
“Our innovative Isuzu-based food truck design is the Mobi Cube — a first in design, build, and engineering,” according to Josh Tang, CEO for Mobi Munch. “Our trucks are not step-van conversions, but best-in-class food trucks from the Isuzu NQR-HD Diesel chassis up to its state-of-the-art kitchen. The Isuzu chassis offers unparalleled improvements to food truck operation and efficiency.”
The Mobi Cube features a 5.2L turbo-diesel engine, with the torque to pull an 8,000 pound payload. The vehicles are clean-idle certified, and air conditioned cabs provide a cool place after long shifts or working in the kitchen area.
“By separating the kitchen and cab, our trucks boast two additional feet in kitchen, and allow three adults to sit comfortably,” according to Tang.
The cab-over chassis measures 7.5 feet high, 6.75 feet wide, and 22.25 feet long, with a detached air-conditioned cab.
Mobi Munch worked with AA Cater Truck, Inc., which designs and builds food trucks and has more than 50 years of truck body design and manufacturing experience, to upfit the vehicles.
According to Tang, most food trucks out there are not made to be a food truck from the ground up.
“They have been converted from old delivery trucks or step vans with retrofitted kitchen equipment which causes many problems and does not provide a long-term solution,” he explained. “Mobi Munch has revolutionized the mobile food truck industry by building from the ground up using an Isuzu NQR-HD Diesel chassis, giving a food truck the power that it needs.”
Most food concepts fit the company’s prefabricated design, but different food concepts may need different designs, equipment, and specifications.
“Mobi can help fleets design a truck to fit specific needs by understanding the operations and translating that in the most efficient way to maximize space and equipment on a food truck. Also, while the truck itself is very important, we also believe the wrap (artwork and design) is a crucial piece to the whole operations. Essentially the truck becomes your moving billboard. Our experienced creative team has designed numerous wraps for our clients.
Clintar Landscape Operates Whether Sun or Snow
From November through April, each of Clintar Landscape Management’s 40 Kenworth T370s face not only brutal snow and ice, but the corrosive environment that comes from exposure to road salt.
The company’s mainstay truck in its snow removal business, the Kenworth T370 in single- and tandem-axle configurations, spreads salt and a salt liquid mixture (when temperatures drop below 17 degrees Fahrenheit in government and private sector parking lots throughout southern Ontario and the Canadian Maritime provinces.
“You couldn’t find a more corrosive environment for a truck to operate,” said John O’Leary, Clintar’s vice president of operations. “During the winter months their sole operation is spreading salt to keep parking lots free of ice so that business and government operations can safely remain open. We look at it as emergency service — when our customers need salt and an ice-free lot, they need it now and we must deliver with equipment that’s reliable.”
Five years ago, Clintar ordered its first Kenworth — a T370 salt truck. “With its aluminum cab and the way we spec the truck with as much aluminum as possible, along with undercoating for added protection, it’s great at resisting the ill effects of salt and salt spray.”
Since Clintar is a franchise operation with locations throughout Canada and in the United States, O’Leary is in charge of central purchasing for fleet needs.
According to O’Leary, about 50% of Clintar’s revenues come from its snow removal operations. The rest comes from grounds maintenance, litter control, landscape enhancements, parking lot maintenance, and line painting. Scheduling salting is weather-dependent and each franchise has employees on standby ready to move out for salting operations. Most salting operations occur during the dead of night. Depending on snowfall and the size of the lot to clear, Clintar has dedicated plows, which range in size from Ag-type tractors with 16-foot blades to skid-steer bobcats with eight-to 10-foot blades. Then the Kenworth salt trucks finish the job.
“Each night they’re used, a typical salt truck will make three runs to get loaded on salt,” O’Leary explained. “One thing we're particular proud of is our specs on the Kenworths and salt spreaders. We actually have nine pages of specs just for the truck cab and chassis alone. We also have four more pages covering the aluminum dump body and salt spreader bodies, along with breakdowns on hydraulics and computerized controllers.”
During the spring and summer months, the salt boxes are removed and the Kenworth T370s are put to landscape tasks, such as hauling gravel and mulch. Some of the trucks are even outfitted with 1,000-gallon tanks so Clintar can use them for watering sod installations, or for power washing operations.
Deli Express/E.A. Sween Chooses Sustainability
Deli Express/E.A. Sween is a family-owned food service company. Gregg Hodgdon, CAFM, head of Deli Express/E.A. Sween’s fleet operations wanted a fuel-efficient, lightweight, and cost-effective truck.
Hodgdon worked with Deli Express/E.A. Sween’s fleet management company to explore a variety of alternative technologies to determine which fuel type could work for the organization.
The final roster for the new vehicle included Isuzu for the diesel chassis, Johnson Truck Bodies for the lightweight shell, and Thermo King for the refrigeration unit.
The company’s objective when selecting the ideal chassis was to identify a platform that could adequately haul Deli Express products while conserving as much fuel as possible.
The Isuzu ECOMAX was selected. The turbocharged, four-cylinder, 3.0L engine delivers 150 hp and 282 ft.-lbs. torque, and has “plenty of power to move the lightweight body, daily cargo load, and driver without breaking a sweat,” according to Hodgdon.
An electronic high-pressure common rail fuel injector system helps to maximize fuel economy. Other notable features include a premium low-cab forward design for improved visibility and maneuverability, a B-10 engine life rating of 310,000 miles, an Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission with double overdrive, and a 12,000 pound GVWR.
Additionally, the truck’s curb weight was reduced by using a thinner gauge steel frame. “Despite a gauge that is 1 millimeter thinner, the steel alloy is unchanged and provides the same tensile strength as its heavier predecessor,” according to Hodgdon.
Once the ECOMAX chassis was selected, Deli Express/E.A. Sween Company focused on a truck body that would carry a typical day’s product load without adding any unnecessary weight.
Built in Wisconsin with food service and delivery fleet needs in mind, the GuardianLT is larger than previous designs, yet offers unparalleled weight savings, according to Hodgdon. The body’s lightweight, durable design also allows it to be used several times on different chassis — “the true definition of sustainable,” Hodgdon said.
In addition, Hodgdon noted that Johnson’s truck body’s overall thermal rating is very high. “This higher thermal performance results in reduced consumption of the electricity and fossil fuels needed to keep the body and cargo area at the desired product temperature. Reducing energy consumption also meant lower fleet operational costs for Deli Express/E.A. Sween Company,” he said.
Finally, with the chassis and body lined up, it was time to pick a refrigeration unit to complete the new lineup. The decision was made to utilize Thermo King’s new V-520 RT Spectrum direct drive unit.
A heating system enables productivity gains by allowing specialized thawing applications to occur on the truck rather than in a warehouse, according to Hodgdon.
“The slim profile roof mount condenser provides the necessary refrigeration capacity while presenting an aerodynamic profile to maximize the overall truck efficiency,” he said. “The refrigeration system is capable of maintaining the required temperatures throughout Deli Express/E.A. Sween Company’s geographic reach, which includes both hot and cold climates.”
The Spectrum uses electric standby to reduce fuel consumption and corresponding emissions. Electric standby also enables rolling warehouse applications where the product is stored on the truck for later sale. The unit also uses a low amount of refrigerant, which reduces its impact on the environment, according to the manufacturer.
The fleet now consists of approximately 30 trucks.