Developing the best possible specifications for medium-duty trucks and ensuring all upfits are correct for the job at hand can be challenging. And, the number of available options can be overwhelming.
One top challenge most fleet managers face when upfitting medium-duty trucks is creating the proper specifications in the first place.
“Developing a truck spec has become challenging for fleet managers for a number of reasons. Today, they are constantly challenged with improving safety, maximizing efficiency, and increasing on-the-job performance. Many are also challenged to multi-purpose vehicles. At the same time, they are also being asked to do more with less and reduce the size of the chassis that these trucks are being built with,” said Rich Idtensohn, marketing director for Dejana Truck and Utility Equipment.
Idtensohn recommended taking the time to develop a detailed and complete truck spec that includes all the tasks the vehicle will be expected to do and feedback from the users.
Additionally, fleet managers of medium-duty trucks frequently overload their vehicles, which can cause many related issues, from damage to downtime.
“The No. 1 challenge I see in fleets is overloading of Class 3-5 work trucks, specifically crane or mechanics trucks. It stems from trying to fit these size chassis into a work category they are not equipped for and the fleet’s desire to do as much as possible with the smallest truck they can. Fleets do this for cost-saving initiatives where the short-term initial costs of a smaller truck seems like a win, but that is short sighted,” said Erik Nelson, national accounts sales manager for Stellar Industries.
Erik Nelson, national accounts sales manager for Stellar Industries.
Nelson recommended fleet managers look at the total cost of ownership or lifecycle costs of a truck constantly running at 100% or more of capacity, with increased maintenance or a great propensity to break down and incur repairs not covered in warranty.
“It is almost certain you can eliminate that concern by moving a class up or controlling the spec and option creep where we constantly try to fit more and more on a given size chassis,” he said.
According to A.R.E., selecting the right products for the job at hand is also a challenge for medium-duty truck fleet managers.
“A.R.E. works closely with fleet managers and upfitters to educate them about our product line and give them the information they need to weigh the pros and cons on each product selection. When it comes to upfitting medium-duty trucks there is no such thing as one size fits all,” said Bryan Mutchler, marketing manager for A.R.E.
One other challenge is related to product or cargo security.
“Look for products that provide the ability to store and securely lock packages, equipment, and tools inside the vehicle during the operator’s daily activities,” said Eric Mitchell, sales and business development manager for Pace Edwards.
In addition, fleet managers have a responsibility to balance practical needs their service trucks must accomplish with other valuable features that would be nice to have.
“Understanding the nuances of their staffs’ needs can help them get the most value from their purchasing decisions,” said Curtis Stephenson, director, national sales for Reading Truck Equipment. “Fleet managers must be cognizant of costs to get what they need that is practical, offer great value and key benefits. That’s why it’s critical that the companies they work with (such as Reading Truck Equipment) ask the right questions about what the end-user needs to be effective in his/her job.”
It’s also extremely important to work closely on the specs with your upfitter and to analyze the technical requirements.
“For example, there is a big cost difference — and functional difference — on what a 3,000-watt inverter versus a 1,000-watt pure sine inverter can offer,” Stephenson added.
Finally, there is also a certain driver comfort with operating many Class 3-5 trucks, as they often share the same cab as their pickup truck little brothers, making it easier to operate and more familiar to drive, according to Nelson.
“Stepping up to that big truck cab needs to come with a more professional driver and the training associated with that. Another methodology to mitigate this is inventory control. Understanding and controlling what equipment, tools, parts, and extras need to be on the truck, and which do not. We all know operators can be pack rats and want to make sure they have the one part, not used but once every blue moon. The last and certainly not least is spec’ing the right materials,” said Nelson of Stellar Industries.
What to Do When Overwhelmed
It’s easy to become overwhelmed when spec’ing upfits for your medium-duty trucks.
First and foremost, you must clearly understand the job the vehicle is intended to accomplish.
“Understand the job that particular truck has to perform and then work with companies who provide the proper tools and support to help narrow those options. A.R.E. has a fleet customer service team dedicated to this very job. You don’t have to be the expert on how to upfit a truck, but working with people who are and understand your business and goals will make the job a lot easier and ensure the proper products and options are selected,” said Mutchler of A.R.E.
Once you know what the vehicle needs to accomplish, developing a standard spec for common components can be helpful.
“Not only does developing a standard for common truck components allow the spec writer to focus on the solution-based features, but there are cost efficiencies in doing so,” said Idtensohn of Dejana.
One option may be to single-source your upfitter.
“Opt for an upfitter who can serve as a ‘one-stop’ solution, providing all the necessary items and service you will need over the lifetime of the product, instead of piecing out components to several organizations,” said Mitchell of Pace Edwards.
If you are still unsure of just what equipment or upfits to spec for your trucks, or are wondering if your specifications are the best they can be, go to the experts for help.
“Work closely with your truck body rep and fleet team to understand the nuances of what the end-user needs to do his/her job well. No detail is too small to analyze when you are making custom decisions,” said Stephenson of Reading Truck Equipment. “It’s critical to understand the nuances of what exactly what the customers need in the way of functionality so (we) can make educated recommendations for the features and benefits that will maximize vehicle space, power and ultimately, maximizing performance.”
If you work with an FMC, they will likely have a team to help with specs and vendor recommendations for the right fit, according to Nelson of Stellar Industries.
“They can substantiate the vendors that will work best for you with the knowledge and data they have gained operating in this space. If you do not have an FMC or they do not offer this service, you can find any number of qualified consultants. Just about all of the consultants in our industry are retired fleet managers who have been in this industry for many years. It’s a great benefit to us all this industry is so addicting and the people in it are so good at what they do,” Nelson said.
And, don’t forget about associations and related industry groups.
“Lastly, associations such as NAFA and the NTEA can help you find these people as well as be a truly independent resource for you in the same fashion. Even better, there are many sub-associations under them that focus on the very specific types of trucks you operate that can get you to a granular level of detail. All you have to be is a member to tap into these resources,” Nelson added.
The Bottom Line
In the end, understand exactly what your vehicles need to accomplish to complete the required job and be grateful for the options and opportunities. Nelson of Stellar Industries has one major recommendation: “We all know the level of responsibility laid down on fleet managers today having to wear many other hats and given many other responsibilities outside of truck spec’ing. Embrace it. Know that you have more diversity and choice in truck specs and equipment here in North America for any given job than anywhere else. Know that with that diversity comes a vast amount of resources to tap into for assistance."
And, when looking for upfits and add-on equipment, look for quality.
“It probably goes without saying, but upfitting product to your medium-duty truck that has the same strength and durability of the truck itself is key to staying on the job and making sure your truck or the products on your truck do not cause any downtime,” said Mutchler of A.R.E.